A while back Jonathan Zittrain tweeted a suggestion about academic grading that I like, so I’m adapting it for my classes in England this summer. Formal papers are difficult to do in these circumstances, so I’m having my students write journal-like responses to what we read, responses in which they need to quote the texts and quote critics but are not obliged to formulate a thesis. Their writing must remain text-centered but they are free to be more speculative and personally responsive than is usual in my classes. But how do you grade such writing? Here’s the explanatory email I recently sent out:

So, friends, here’s how you can interpret the grading of your journals — which is not easy, I grant you, since I’m encouraging you to write conversationally and I’m tending to respond conversationally:

1) If I use words like “excellent,” “outstanding,” “first-rate,” and the like to describe your entry, your grade is W00T.

2) If I say the entry is “solid,” or “good,” or if I don’t make a qualitative comment but just respond to the content in some way — by adding information, or offering a correction, or the like — your grade is WIN.

3) If my comment is of the “yes, but” variety — which happens primarily if you either don’t offer enough of your own responses or if you stray too far from the text you’re supposed to be writing about — your grade is MEH.

4) If I tell you that you’re just off-track — which happens primarily if you offer no responses of your own (instead summarizing either one of our writers or a critic) or if you don’t really talk about the literary text at all — your grade is FAIL.

5) And if you fail to turn in a journal, your grade is EPIC FAIL.

Everybody got that?



Text Patterns

July 14, 2011


  1. While you are using different language, this is similar to how I grade journals and informal writing for my students. I'm basically looking for a certain level of engagement that would correspond with each "grade," and I try to spell out, as you have done here in a fun way, what each level of engagement looks like in their writing and my comments.

    I hope you are having a great trip!

  2. The only grading system I've ever been able to like at all was the one they use at New College in Florida. "Satisfactory," "Unsatisfactory," or "Incomplete" with, of course, a narrative from the professor.

  3. I think your idea is kind of mildly amusing here, but "woot" is not clearly better than "win". You need to have clear parallelism in the scale, so "win" and "epic win" would be much better.

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