I am in the midst of the worst of all academic seasons– the grading of papers. I just finished about sixty essays on Frederick Douglass and am now grading papers written by students in my Colonial America course.
I grade history papers for the way that the students make historical arguments, rely upon evidence from primary texts, and provide necessary historical context, but I also take a lot of time to grade grammar, sentence structure, style, and other aspects of my students’ prose. (I have been occasionally accused of grading like an English professor). As a result, the papers I grade are covered with red ink and filled with marginal notations such as “AWKWARD” or “UNCLEAR.” I tend to be obsessive about reminding students that the period goes INSIDE the quotation marks and BEFORE the footnote. I have the bad habit of rewriting my students’ sentences. I try to give them a little paragraph at the end of the paper letting them know what they did well and what they could have done better.
I know that most students read my final comments. But I wonder how many of them actually sit down with their papers and pay attention to the various suggestions I make about their prose or style? (Today I am grading some papers written by seniors. I am afraid that I am spending a lot of time on their essays only to have them placed in some folder, never to be looked at again). I like to think that by looking closely at all of my little markings a student might actually become a better writer. Yet I find myself continually reminding the same students, semester after semester, not to justify their right-hand margin or to use the active voice.
Am I wasting my time? If you are student reader of this blog, please help me out here. Do you read the small jots and tittles that your professor puts on your papers? If you are a teacher, do you think the students actually look at all of your markings?