Posts Tagged ‘how to grade essays’

Computer-Graded Essays

Teachers recognize the value of essay compositions as vital tools for learning, self-expression, and assessment. The essay remains a staple of college and post-graduate applications, as well as job applications. In terms of formulating coherent explanation, analysis, or argument, the essay best provides that means. Even a well-constructed objective exam cannot match the essay in assessing the degree to which teaching objectives have been mastered.

“Essays are considered by many researchers as the most useful tool to assess learning outcomes, implying the ability to recall, organize and integrate ideas, the ability to express oneself in writing and the ability to supply merely than identify interpretation and application of data. It is in the measurement of such outcomes, corresponding to the evaluation and synthesis levels of the Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy that the essay questions serve their most useful purpose.” (Valenti, Nitko and Cucchiarelli 2003)

However, essays are rather subjective vehicles of expression. Even the best attempts to develop objective evaluation criteria with analytical rubrics and check-lists fall short of unbiased objectivity. Yet, this shortcoming has not eliminated the cherished role of the essay in the British and American educational establishments.

There’s just one problem. Essays just take too much time to read, respond to, and evaluate. A conscientious teacher may realistically spend an hour per student essay if that teacher responds to multiple student drafts in the context of the writing process evaluates the final published essay.

Of course, teachers can spend less time, if they use simplistic holistic rubrics or buy into the convenient notion that making comments on a student’s essay somehow disenfranchises the autonomy of the writer. However, most teachers recognize that interactive dialogue between student and teacher on the student’s essay is unavoidably essential. And it does take time.

Enter the age of computers. Is artificial intelligence going to be able to grade essays

Computer-scoring of student writing is being actively marketed to K-12 schools and universities. Multinational corporations, such as Educational Testing Services (ETS), claim that current technology is able not only to provide objective assessment, but is now also able to give accurate and useful feedback to the student writer. Criterion, a machine-reading service marketed by ETS, has become widely popular in both American K-12 schools and universities. Other similar automatic grading programs are open for business.

Both of the new assessment consortia that have been delegated the tasks of developing national assessments for the Common Core State Standards (now adopted by 43 states) have indicated that they are using machine-scored essay software. “Automated assessment systems would provide consistency in essay scoring, while enormous cost and time savings could occur if the AES system is shown to grade essays within the range of those awarded by human assessors,” suggest the aforementioned researchers.

But, what to teachers say about computer-graded essays?

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) summarizes its position on machine-scored writing:

We oppose the use of machine-scored writing in the assessment of writing.  Automated assessment programs do not respond as human readers.  While they may promise consistency, they distort the very nature of writing as a complex and context-rich interaction between people.  They simplify writing in ways that can mislead writers to focus more on structure and grammar than on what they are saying by using a given structure and style.

“Writing Assessment: A Position Statement.” Nov 2006

The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) summarizes its position on machine-scored writing:

“We oppose the use of machine-scored writing in the assessment of writing.” Automated assessment programs do not respond as human readers. While they may promise consistency, they distort the very nature of writing as a complex and context-rich interaction between people. They simplify writing in ways that can mislead writers to focus more on structure and grammar than on what they are saying by using a given structure and style… We believe ourselves that machine-scoring fundamentally alters the social and rhetorical nature of writing—that writing to a machine is not writing at all.”

The CCCC Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments

But, is there a middle ground? Can teachers use technology to save time and doing a more thorough job of responding to student essays? Can teachers maintain autonomy in the evaluation process and exercise their own judgment about which comments need to be made, which grammatical errors need to be marked, and which grade needs to be assigned?

Perhaps so. There can be a balance between technological efficiency and teacher judgment.

Press Release e-Comments

e-Comments Press Release


Here’s a resource that just might make life a bit easier for teachers committed to providing quality writing feedback for their students… You can both save time and improve the quality of your writing feedback with the e-Comments Chrome Extension. Insert hundreds of customizable Common Core-aligned instructional comments, which identify, explain, and show how to revise writing issues with just one click from the e-Comments menu. Add your own comments to the menu, including audio, video, and speech-to-text. Record the screen and develop your own comment sets. Works in Google Classroom, Canvas, Blackboard, etc. Check out the introductory video and add this extension to your Chrome toolbar: e-Comments Chrome Extension. Includes separate comment banks for grades 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and AP/College. Cheers!


The e-Comments Chrome Extension


Why not use the same language of instruction as the e-Comments program for your writing instruction? Mark Pennington is the author of the TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE, Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Differentiated Spelling Instruction, and the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit.


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Essay e-Grading

Let’s face it; technology in education will grow more and more important. However, teachers haven’t always been on the forefront of using technology to improve instruction. One area in which teachers can significantly improve their instructional approach without additional investment is in using the computer to respond to and grade student essays. Whether using on-line response or simply using the computer to generate responses to print out for paper submissions, the computer will save the teacher significant time. Now, we are not talking about automatic grading programs… The NCTE has rightly produced policy statements against these applications. The teacher has the responsibility to control the quality and quantity of writing response. However, the teacher can use the computer to store often-used comments that both identify errors and teach what is good writing. Additionally, the ability to insert links and audio comments makes the stages of the writing process truly an interactive teacher-student experience.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding how to teach essay strategies from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.


How to Write Effective Essay Comments

Conscientious teachers know that merely completing a holistic rubric and totaling the score for a grade is not effective essay response or writing assessment. Teachers may choose to grade and/or respond with essay comments after the rough draft and/or after the final draft. Using the types of comments that match the teacher’s instructional objectives is essential. Additionally, keeping in mind the key components of written discourse can balance responses between form and content. Finally, most writing instructors include closing comments to emphasize and summarize their responses. Here’s how to write truly effective essay comments.

How to Use the Computer to Grade Essays

Thought I’d share how I started using computers to grade essays and offer fellow teachers a great resource to provide better essay response and cut grading time by half. Years ago I played around with the Insert Comments feature of Microsoft Word® and learned how to put in and format the bubble comments. But, it took hours to cut and paste the comments into each computer. I whined about this once too often until my computer-savvy son found a way to insert my entire 438 e-comment bank into any computer with Microsoft Word® 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013 (Windows XP, Vista, and Win 7/8 all work fine). He developed a simple download. I would love to have every teacher get this download and use these 438 Essay e-Comments.

Why Using Essay e-Comments Makes Sense

We have computers. Let’s use them! Using the computer to store and insert often-used essay comments is efficient, saves time, and just does a better overall job of essay response and grading. Moving beyond writing comments, we can also insert hyperlinks to suggest content revision. Why not insert audio files to summarize comments? Plus, the social context of computers enhances peer revision. This article helps teachers problem-solve how to manage an interactive teacher-student writing experience using both home and school computers.

Essay Comment Excuses

Teachers know that detailed essay comments are keys to effective writing instruction but are adept at creating essay comment excuses to avoid the time and energy it takes to do the job. But, how can we do a great job with essay response and still maintain some semblance of a life outside of work? Canned comments. Ones to cut and paste from your computer. But… really good ones.

Grammar Checkers for Teachers

Conscientious teachers still mark up and comment grammar and usage issues on student essays, but it’s exhausting and time-consuming. So, naturally, teachers look for short-cuts that will save energy and time, but ones which will still give students what they need as developing writers. Enter spell checker and grammar checker software. Whereas spelling checkers, either as a stand-alone software or as a tool embedded in word processing programs such as Microsoft Word®, do a reasonable job of finding spelling errors (other than troublesome homonyms), grammar checkers simply cannot replicate that effectiveness. But there are some helpful resources to lighten the teacher’s load…

For those teachers interested in saving time and doing a more thorough job of essay response and grading, check out the The Pennington Manual of StyleThis style manual serves as a wonderful writer’s reference guide with all of the writing tips from the author’s comprehensive essay writing curriculum:  TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE. The style manual (included in the Common Core aligned Teaching Essay Strategies, also includes a download of the 438 writing, grammar, mechanics, and spelling comments teachers use most often in essay response and grading. Placed in the Autocorrects function of Microsoft Word® 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013 (XP, Vista,  Windows 7, 8, and 10), teachers can access each comment with a simple mouse click to insert into online student essays or print/e-mail for paper submissions. Each comment identifies the error or writing issue, defines terms, and gives examples so that student writers are empowered to correct/revise on their own. This approach to essay comments produces significantly more accountability and transfer to subsequent writing.

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