October 20th, 2011 / 1:00 pm
Craft Notes

Reflections from a Shiny New Creative Writing Teacher

I’m writing this in between grading my (first ever!) students’ second poems. I’ve been teaching for about a month.

One of the first things I learned about teaching: grading takes an ungodly amount of time. There are several steps, which include:
1. Excitedly read through first batch of student poems on the bus home from class.
2. Read poems at home.
3. Read poems aloud to roommate (also a teacher) to make sure you’re not missing something.
4. Write comments on poems in pencil.
5. Worry comments are too prescriptive.
6. Erase comments and try again.
7. Agonize about putting numbers on poems.
8. Briefly consider flaunting university guidelines and not grading poems.
9. Put numbers on poems.
10. Reread poems and compare grades.
11. Hope students read comments instead of just staring at their grades.

I’m hoping veteran teachers (read: teachers who’ve been at it longer than a month) can skip a few of these steps without losing sleep at night. I’m hoping I’ll stop losing sleep at night anyway. I’m hoping I’ll soon stop getting nauseous before every class.

I’m doing my best.

I was a nerd in high school. I came to every class prepared, participated, and did all the extra credit assignments. I was voted “teacher’s pet” in the yearbook and was proud of it. I looked down on the students who didn’t care. This trend continued through college.

Now, twice a week I stand in front of fifteen undergrads, talk about Stevens and Plath, and pray someone will raise a hand with a comment. I want my students to be as excited as I was, as engaged as I was. But that isn’t fair to them: I’m at a Big 10 school, this course fulfills an elective, I’m obviously nervous, and half of them would rather be at the gym than learning the basics of metaphors. Still, there are sparks of excitement when we discussed the ‘Polish rudder’ in O’Hara’s “To the Harbormaster” and wrote to the Civil Wars’ “Barton Hollow” video. It’s more than enough to keep me motivated, to keep me invested and trying.

The thing is, they’re my first class, so I like them just a little too much, and (because I had a bad experience with my first workshop instructor) I desperately want them to like me back. I want them to learn and to have fun. When I ask a question and get blank stares in return, I think their silence means, “You’re not getting through to us and we don’t like you,” when it’s probably just, “I’m tired because I’m an undergrad.” Perhaps I’m over-thinking the situation, but so are they.

I am convinced (based on my undergrad experience, a month of teaching, and a crash course in pedagogy) that teaching creative writing is less about ‘teaching’ and more about ‘getting students to trust themselves’ and ‘getting students to understand it’s ok to let go of the grade, to play.’ Aubrey Hirsch already discussed something like this in greater detail. Students have been told time and again that poetry is serious business, that you have to read a poem twenty times to even begin to understand its complexities.

And while that may be true, it puts a great deal of pressure on new writers. Not only do students have to turn in a poem to be graded, they’re under the impression that good poems have to be complex enough to deserve—nay, require—a dozen readings. So they load their poems with competing metaphors, odd rhyme schemes, abstractions, and antiquated language, as I once did, expecting me to reward their hard work with a high grade. And because that often means they’ve ignored the assignment or failed to implement what we’ve gone over in class, I can’t. They see a low grade and they shut down. One student’s already accused me of giving his work low grades because I don’t personally like it.

There’s a lot to unpack, and it’s not like I can just shake them until they forget everything they’ve been told about writing, until they realize this class is about so much more than the grade. Their history is there; it can’t be ignored. So we have to find ways to trick them. The best poetry instructor I had as an undergrad, Peter Jay Shippy, worked with our desire to impress by attaching published poems to our workshop poems. By looking at what similar poets were doing in their work, we could learn to imitate better versions of ourselves.

That should be the goal of any writing class: to learn to fake it until you make it, which you can’t do if you haven’t (temporarily) let go of the formal, lit-crit baggage you’ve been carrying for years. Poetry is largely imitation. Imitation is play. And at the end of they day, if you’re not at least trying to play, your students are only going to care about their grades and you’re not going to get anywhere.

Doug Paul Case teaches a section of introductory creative writing at Indiana University, where he is an MFA candidate in poetry. His work has appeared in PANK, Annalemma, > kill author, and others.


  1. Nate

      As someone who will be teaching their first CW class in the spring, I dig this.

  2. Purplepeopleeater

      Placing grades on poems is a terrible idea. You should stop. Grade something else they do: responses, craft essays, participation, quizzes, how purple their farts smell, etc.

      I wonder:::  Who here has gotten a letter grade on an actual poem? (that goes out to any who reads the question)

  3. Leapsloth14


      1.      Excitedly? Ah, youth. Detach yourself.

      Twice? Someone needs to give you a few
      committees and a mortgage.

      You have a kind and tolerant roommate. Or possibly insane.

      What comments?

      Are they? Why?

      You’ve already spent too long on this poem…

      Don’t do it.

      I doubt your university is acting you
      specifically to place numbers on a poem. Have objective aspects of the class,
      have aspects that allow for subjectivity innate to the process and form. It’s
      your class.


      A third reading? Someone please give this guy a
      meeting, committee, student to advise, rec letter to write, festival to organize,
      graduation to attend and speak at, breakfast with president, meeting, committee…

  4. r. huynh

      OK, so they weren’t poems, they were plays, but I did get letter grades on them.

      The problem with giving letter grades only to the peripheral work done for the class (analyses) is that it then makes that work the most important, and incentivizes students to shift time away from creative writing and toward the writing that will get graded. This is a problem, when they probably already spend the rest of their undergraduate lives writing critical essays. If this is not the place to get serious feedback on creative work, then what is?

      I have no problem with creative work being graded if creative work is the cornerstone of the class. And frankly, I’d be glad to have any teacher who put that much time and thought into it.

  5. r. huynh

      As Tom Stoppard’s Bernard Nightingale said about the proper role of an English don: “Teach? God, no. Let the brats sort it out for themselves.”

  6. Leapsloth14

      11. Students will read the comments. They will.

  7. 0_o

      Hey writing teacher, it’s “flouting,” not “flaunting.”  

  8. MJ

      You guys are a bunch of assholes. Except Nate. He seems kinda dope.

  9. ENGcomments

      Having taught composition and rhetoric, I can relate. I want to give them comments and be sure that they are graded fairly, but it’s difficult because there is a large amount of subjectivity in writing. At least with essays, I have tried to make the directions very specific with time, which helps. You can’t really do that with poems.

  10. Nate

      I liked this, so I’m now an a-hole. :/

      I agree with the comments about not giving grades on poems, but comments seem to be tricky, too. I’d imagine especially for beginning writers who are still figuring it all out.

  11. Tom McAllister

      And, also, if the poems aren’t graded, they won’t write them.  

      It sucks, but grades are THE motivating factor for 98% of students.  Without attaching grades to assignments they either don’t get done, or they get done terribly.  There is no way for an individual creative writing teacher to change this reality. 

  12. Psych333

      I’m in awe– all you who are critiquing Mr. Case, where do you teach? If so, recall your own first semester experience and instead of being a dick about how Mr. Case approaches his classroom in a public forum be humble enough to recognize. Yes, just recognize. 

  13. Anonymous
  14. Anonymous
  15. Ocean Vuong

      Not true. We can suffice this need for grades by simply grading poems by giving full credit to those who handed one in, i.e pass/fail. This would be enough to motivate grade-orienated students to do the work, Those who aren’t serious probably won’t be much more passionate about it in the course of a semester. But putting a number on a poem will do nothing but shut a student down, often times before he or she even discovers whether they have a propensity for creative writing. 

      I think this is a learning process, which often means a failing process, for a lot of us, and I think Doug is quite brave for sharing his experience . 

  16. Roxane

      I’m afraid I disagree. More students prefer grades than don’t. I’ve experimented with not grading and students complain like holy hell. Now, I understand that the complaining comes from being inculcated into a rigid system of assessment from kindergarten forward, but I don’t have time within the space of a semester to re-orient their thinking about grades AND teach creative writing. Putting a number on a poem does not shut a student down. It reminds them there work is being evaluated, for better or worse.

  17. Leapsloth14

      What if the grade was based on completing 100 poems in the semester? IF you complete 100, you get 100. If you complete 50 you get a 50. With no judging of the actual poem. You could still teach techniques daily, go over professional examples, have them read books, hold discussions, etc.

  18. Roxane

      That could be workable, definitely. Have you tried that?

  19. Leapsloth14

      I had a poetry professor in graduate school who did this. 1. Made us read a ton of poetry. 2. Made us write a ton of poetry. 3. Did not grade. What he did was to stamp your work with a series of Victorian stamps, like gargoyles and angels and devils. He didn’t tell us what the stamps meant. I enjoyed the class and felt like I grew as a poet, but not once was my poetry “judged” by a grade.

  20. Roxane

      Yes, at the graduate level, I could definitely see that. In terms of grades, I’m thinking primarily of undergraduate creative writing.

  21. Ryan Sanford Smith

      So you base your grading on what students will/won’t complain about? Is that how it works these days?

  22. Roxane

      Yes, obviously. Give me a break. That’s not the case. I choose to use grades. I find them effective in reaching students. At my university, if you do not assign a grade, the students will not take the assignment seriously, without exception. At a different university, I might take a different approach, but I do what works where I’m at.

  23. John Warner

      Never taught poetry workshop, but I never put grades on fiction. I tell them I do, but I don’t give them to the students. I think grades are destructive to the creative process in that if they get a “B” they start trying to suss out what it takes to get an “A,” rather than taking some kind of creative risk in order to explore the bounds of storytelling.

      I do give them copious marginal notes and a typed comment of between 500 and 750 words, so I believe there’s plenty of feedback, but I explain on the very first day why assessment is inconsistent with what we’re trying to do in the class and for all our sakes, we’re not going to put grades on the stories. I do give them midterm grades on their participation, and pass/fail points on smaller exercises and assignments so they know how they’re doing on those. They also know that if they do all their work in a timely fashion, show up and participate, they almost can’t get lower than a B. I’ve only experienced very very little pushback on the policy over the years. In fact, by the end, I think they find it positively liberating.

      Any time one of them asks how they’re doing in the class, I just turn the question around and ask them how they think they’re doing. It’s usually a function of anxiety, and by talking themselves through their own progress, they can alleviate that fear.

      That said, every teacher has to do what feels comfortable and authentic to them. The most important thing I’ve learned is that your teaching has to flow from who you are, not some abstract notion of what a “teacher” is.

  24. Ryan Sanford Smith

      I still don’t understand how pass/fail doesn’t work; seemed to work perfectly during my undergraduate experience. They really won’t take it seriously, even if they’re going to fail? Giving out A / F only is pass/fail, but they are grades, that wouldn’t win/win? ‘If you don’t have a portfolio of # poems by the end of the semester, you fail the course’ = they will take it seriously, or they’ll fail, like any course.

      I guess I’m a fan of handling it differently because grading it the same perpetuates weird ideas that you can get it right/wrong the same way you can get a math quiz right/wrong. Then they’re worrying about writing for whatever they think an ‘A poem’ is rather than what’s interesting to them. 

      I don’t know if what seems motivating is preferable if what they’re motivated towards is missing the mark / forest/trees / etc. But obviously you’re not getting the impression of that happening or I’d imagine you wouldn’t still be doing it, so if you feel it’s working no reason to break it, either. 

  25. Carrie Lorig

      I’m teaching an intro to creative writing (undergraduate) class at the U of Minne. this semester. (It’s also my first time teaching a college course.) I require them to do a writing assignment every week, but I only grade those assignments on whether or not they are completed (+ or -). I write lots of comments on those, which I obsess over. I do tell them, however, that they always have a right to ignore my suggestions, as they are my subjective opinion. Their grades come from their poetry/fiction/nonfiction portfolios. I grade based on the amount of effort they put into trying to revise their work and whether or not they tried to use some of the writing skills/tactics (stuff about “craft”) we talked about in class. The rest of their grade comes from participation, attendance, etc.

  26. Roxane

      Because, at my institution, students interpret pass/fail as “do the minimum possible,” and then they fail. Now, I have great students, particularly this semester. They work hard, respond enthusiastically, etc. I make it crystal clear I don’t believe creativity can be graded. I once suggested I would not grade their work and they insisted they prefer grades. I don’t believe in catering to students every need and want because that’s silly but I am absolutely going to do what I find works best. I certainly know that putting a number on a short story or poem or other creative work is pretty impossible, but I make do.

  27. Tom McAllister

      I’m basically just reiterating what Roxane is saying–which aligns 100% with my experience– but the reason pass/fail doesn’t work, at least at a school like mine (a big state U)  is this: if they pass simply for handing /something/ in, they will hand in ill-considered shit.  Invariably.  So, sure, they could produce 70 pages of fiction or poetry or whatever, but it will be terrible.  

      I used to go with a system like that in fiction classes, and what happened is what has happened in every other CW class I’ve heard of– it perpetuates the perception that you take creative writing because it’s “fun” and an “easy grade” and you can scrape by doing the bare minimum of work.  Worse, it reinforces a preconception that many of the students already have, ie- all creative work is equally good and impossible to judge because it’s personal and creative and how can you judge such a thing?  And so it makes them leave the class with the opposite of the impression I’d like them to have, which is this: I’d like them to be stronger critical readers and to see that, yes, in fact, that are vast differences in quality between types of creative work, even if the person who wrote the terrible work did so with feeling and emotion.  

      The system your describing would work in an ideal class.  In a class comprised mainly of non-English majors getting their writing credit? They need grades, or they won’t care, and you’ll find yourself spending a whole semester devoting unbelievable amounts of energy to reading work that the writer never, ever cared about.  

  28. Ryan Sanford Smith

      Then fail them. They’ll start caring. 

  29. Matthew Mahaney

      I’m teaching intro to CW at Alabama for the first time and giving comments but no grades. I also know that all of my peers are using this same approach, and that none of the students are complaining, not doing the work, etc. due to not receiving letter grades. I also never received a letter grade on a poem in undergrad, just written comments.

  30. Tom McAllister

      (um, I messed something up in my replies, and this is actually supposed to be a follow-up to my comment below).

      I guess my last reply sounds really cynical, and I guess it kind of is.  But that idealism gets beaten out of you pretty quickly when you teach a bunch of undergrads at a big school with a limited devotion to the arts. It would be awesome to change the system, but the reality is I (and many others like me) are in a position where i have little actual power and am always teetering on the verge of not having a job, and so my best bet is to work within the pre-existing system that will motivate them, rather than trying to revolutionize the way school works. 

      Also, i’ve found that the good writers who care about their writing are generally pretty cool with grades.  They appreciate that someone is taking them seriously enough to engage with them in a way beyond the pat on the head and gold star that they get for pass/fail.  Plus, they tend to really resent getting the same final credit/grade as their lazy, shiftless classmates who did the bare minimum to meet the passing threshold.

  31. John Minichillo

      Grades are final. Endpoint.

      I see the workshop as engaging the work, not the writer.

      The goal of the feedback is to encourage revision, to get the writer excited about taking the draft to the next level.

      I believe the desire to impress the group is pressure enough to motivate good work on the handed-in draft.

      I believe student-writers should be allowed to experiment with new work and also allowed to fail without penalty.

      There are aspects of the workshop that are very important to the workshop that can be graded for the sake of the smooth running / logistics of the workshop, which may include: strict attendance policy, strict deadlines sending the work out, and an expectation of thoughtful and exacting engagement of the work, in a written response, in editorial comments / marginalia, and also in class discussion. The workshop is a lot of work. It requires responsibility on the part of all of the writers. If these responsibilities can be met, then there should be a fair amount of latitude and freedom.

  32. Ryan Sanford Smith

      Okay, I should elaborate slightly, obviously I don’t mean say / do nothing all term and just fail them at the end, that doesn’t do anyone any good–but under A/F if it’s obvious they spent zero time on the work and completely blew it off (e.g., an 8-line poem about a triceratops, as happened in one of my undergraduate workshops, once) you don’t count the poem, it counts as a fail. Problem solved. The prof. in my example spoke to the student privately, and the problem was never duplicated. Tangential assignments that are much less problematic to grade, such as turning in a short ‘artistic statement’ about what they themselves felt about the poem, etc. clear up many of these problems as well. Grading effort seems easy enough. 

      Really, I’m all about not breaking what’s genuinely working for any professor out there, I just haven’t seen a convincing reason to grade this way. I’m biased from my own undergraduate experience I guess, which was apparently I now learn ‘ideal’, as the idea of grading creative work this way seems very alien to me, I didn’t think anyone was doing it, even at the lower levels. If a student is blowing things off completely, you can still give them motivating Fs when deserved, and as I keep saying, just like with any other course (or life in general), they’ll care or they’ll fail, and that’s on them, not you. Babysitting and pandering isn’t doing anyone any good, either, some students need to drown. 

  33. Tom McAllister

      totally agree on this:  “babysitting and pandering isn’t doing anyone any good, either, some students need to drown.”

      That’s one of the biggest problems faced by college profs, especially those teaching freshmen– many have been babysat and pandered to for years, to the extent that their parents feel okay (as opposed to, say, ashamed) about calling the school and demanding higher grades for their kids, or demanding adjuncts be fired for not being generous enough graders.  

      I guess where our disconnect is happening is that I don’t see how it’s babying and pandering to grade students on the quality of their work, rather than giving out equivalent Passes to everyone.  If I give a kid a C- or a D on hie crappy work, I don’t think it’s pandering; it’s talking to him in the terms he understands as a student, and terms to which he responds.  

      It’s possible I’m unnecessarily drawing a line in the sand here, and I don’t mean to.  I would LOVE to be able to run a class where the creative work isn’t graded. But in my experience, I have been completely unable to run a successful class that way, and I have found it to be an approach that enables the worst students to take advantage of it.

      Honestly, a big reason I didn’t grade stories for a long time is that it was easier for me.  I don’t mean to say this is true of everyone, although I suspect it’s true of some others too.  If everyone gets an A (or, you know, sometimes the crappy half-assed story gets a B), then I never have to worry about the dirty work of teaching.  And then we all get to hang around with each other and pat ourselves on the back for how smart and clever we are, and they give good evals because they had so much fun.  That, to me, always seemed like pandering.  Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible to run a class with no grades or on a pass/fail system, but I’m not the right teacher for that, clearly, and I do think it’s a defense mechanism sometimes.  

      Plus, and this was buried in the middle of my other too-long comment (sorry), I really did think they were leaving with no particular appreciation for the way to critically evaluate creative work.  In my case, it took applying grades to the stories to force them to actively think about ways to improve.  Some were going to want to improve anyway, but, at a school like mine (which is not a bad school, but is not, say, Oberlin or NYU or something) the others need that external motivation.  

  34. Mittens

      For what it’s worth, I teach CW at a ‘large state university’ and grade their creative work pass/fail and have never had a problem with it. I also assign a lot of small assignments (in addition to ‘workshop’ pieces) and count those almost as much as I count their larger projects. I don’t think what works for one teacher/school works for everybody. 

  35. Leapsloth14

      Weak. We have a right to critique, as long as it’s not personal or rude, etc. This is a FORUM. He knows where he is posting. That’s why he posted it. All of these different opinions (and they are just opinions–no one knows the “right” way to teach poetry, obviously) bounce off one another, are shards of a prism, create a larger discussion. Saying we are being a “dick” is reductive and unhelpful and sort of weak. He posted it because he cares and wants feedback. He can do with that feedback what he wants, including ignore.

  36. Tom McAllister

      “I don’t think what works for one teacher/school works for everybody.”

      Yeah, I think this is a key point that I failed to acknowledge in my overly long comments above.  I drew too stark a dichotomy.  I find my class to be much more successful when grades are attached.  I wish I could do it without them, like others apparently can.

  37. Adam Goetz

      the teachers i respected the most were the ones that provided me with the hardest assignments and/or bad grades which i then worked to understand, correct and improve upon for the future. 
      if it was all fluff i didnt even give one crap about the class or assignment. pass/fail just meant i’d slap something together in the shortest amount of time possible prior to the works due date. 

  38. John Warner

      Inserting disclaimer about how everyone should do what they feel comfortable with in class. 

      That said, I think it’s important to define what your goals are when a teacher makes their choices, and sometimes those choices result in teacher discomfort. For example, I dropped an attendance requirement years ago in all my classes, with no specific penalty for a maximum number of absences. This left my worried about whether or not they were going to show up for class, but in the three plus years since, attendance has been better overall, and those that are attending do so because they’ve “chosen” to find value in coming to class. Of course, this also causes me to work harder to make class worth going to, but that’s not a bad thing. With this policy, I’m signaling that they’re the ones in charge of their educations and they can make of them what they wish. Now, low attendance is usually correlated with bad grades, but that’s just a function of them not knowing what’s going on.

      On grading creative work, I think that grade signals the teacher’s values. For me, then, the grade became inconsistent with what I valued, which was entering a creative mindset that’s separate from their academic studies where risk and openness is rewarded (intangibly) and safety and rule following is not necessary. If I grade, I’m saying there’s a standard, mine, and I don’t believe that, so grades ultimately undercut what I’m spending the rest of my time talking about.

      This of course makes me uncomfortable because I worry about those that are getting a free ride or not putting in more than the minimum effort, but what I’ve come to grips with is that this is their problem, not mine. You can lead a horse to water, you can even shove that horse’s face into the water, but you can’t massage the next to stimulate the swallowing reflex.

      I routinely fail their critiques of their colleagues’ stories where it’s more than obvious that the effort was lacking. I then have a conference with those who failed the critique and 9 times out of 10 it’s short and sweet, they admit they just dashed something off for credit, I explain how that doesn’t cut the mustard and it rarely happens again, or if it does, they accept the consequences.

  39. John Warner

      I should also say that I’ve taught exclusively at large state universities. I find they’re the most jazzed about pro-self-responsiblity policies once they get past the initial adjustment period.

  40. Roxane

      I dropped my formal attendance policy too and it has been wonderful. 

  41. Ocean Vuong

      These are great defenses for putting grades on creative work, but I have trouble understanding how putting a number on a poem shows more care than using a pass/fail system.

      “They appreciate that someone is taking them seriously enough to engage with them in a way beyond the pat on the head and gold star that they get for pass/fail.” 

      From my experience, the workshop is a place where all the issues in the work can be expressed and it’s a place where I’ve seen creative work get dissected with much depth and seriousness. If a teacher, as well as the class, were to engage a student during this time, isn’t this more effort and care than simply marking a number? If students aren’t motivated, is it possible to assign other non-creative assignments to be numerically graded?  There will be non-serious students in every undergrad creative writing class–I’m just not convinced grading them will suddenly inspire them to be writers. And I am sure, at least from my experience, that those students are in the minority anyway. So why fashion a grading system based on that minority? For those who are serious, I think putting a grade on writing can encourage them to write in order please the teacher, a certain style, and might hinder them from finding their own voices.
      This is a genuine question: what if a student’s work is just not strong, does she fail the course or get a D or a C despite her efforts? How will that student feel about taking another creative writing class or about her own capabilities? I guess I find this difficult because I just wouldn’t trust myself putting a number on a poem or short story. As an undergraduate student myself, I can’t imagine my peers succeeding in the numerical grading system, but I trust that it’s working for you at your institution. 

  42. John Warner

      I keep forgetting one aspect of fiction workshop that may be different from poetry, which is that with undergrads, they’re assigned dates for their stories, and if they miss them, they get a zero on that story, which essentially results in no better than a D (and a likely F) for the semester. Because of this, everyone turns in a story. Also, because their work is going to be the focus for 1/3 to 1/2 of the class period, they’re motivated to do the best they can. I also make them lead workshop discussion (rather than having the gag rule) so they’re responsible for leading us in how we discuss the work, which also means they have to be responsible for what’s on the page.

  43. Ryan Sanford Smith

      And if that effort was obvious (how could it not be?), you’d fail the assignment. This isn’t a difficult concept, I’m not sure why it continues to give people trouble. 

  44. Leapsloth14

      Depends on what level of class you mean? Working with Cathy Day has really made me think about some of my classroom balance on CREATION versus JUDGEMENT OF. Leaning more to creation and reducing judgement (workshop, grades on creative work, etc.). Anyway, it’s a process. But to just answer your question: Yes, in a summer CW class. I did that. I just made the grade on amount of words created. We didn’t judge work. BUT we did still read a ton of professional authors and we did discuss techniques. This might lead to a larger post unless I get lazy and I am generally lazy. OK, that’s not true. But distracted.

  45. Carrie Lorig

      I’m also required to give grades. I do not have a choice in this matter. My approach is to best figure out how I can reward the students for hard work vs. letting them get away with thinking writing does not require some attention to attempts at improvement and a consideration of craft. 

  46. Mike

      I’m Doug’s roommate and teach in the same program he does, and I’ve got to say,  grading poems is actually really easy. I mean, it’s hard in all the ways Doug notes, here, but it can be more objective than we might assume. Abstraction? Lose a point. Cliche? Lose a point. Didn’t follow the assignment guideline that required you to use two “magical” moments in your poem? Lose a point.

  47. Mike

      Which is to say that creative work has the same sorts of guidelines, rules, expectations, and genre conventions as do things like analysis and rhetorical writing. There are formulas. In composition, we teach the 5-paragraph essay and grade students on their ability to effectively work within that genre. Poetry can be graded similarly. Once a writer has mastered the genre conventions, then they can break those conventions effectively–both in rhetoric and creative work; but until they get the basics, it is very possible (and even effective) to grade them on their ability to learn the rules.

  48. ShelterJoe
  49. tedrees

      I’m not a professor or a TA, but during my undergraduate and graduate experiences in workshops, I never received a letter grade on a piece of writing. To be honest, I can’t imagine receiving a letter grade on a piece of creative writing.

      But, focusing on the undergraduate experience— in order to be accepted to the entry-level workshop, one had to submit a portfolio. Carol Tufts, my professor in that workshop, made it clear that we were being graded on a) whether we turned in our assignments, b) whether we showed up to class, c) how we interacted with each others’ work, and d) whether we progressed in our own work during the course of the semester, given the feedback and criticisms leveled during the workshop and in comments on the writing itself.

      However, in order to get into the next level of workshop (which was more genre-specific, i.e. Poetry Workshop, Non-Fiction, etc.), one’s grades AND one’s portfolio were evaluated. If a student was good enough— focused, interested, engaged with their own work as well as others’— the student was accepted to the genre-specific workshop of their choice. After taking three of these workshops, the student then took two Independent Studies courses with a professor whom they wanted to work with. 

      In none of these courses did I ever see a grade on a piece of paper. EVER. 

      Sometimes this led to surprises, such as when I received a B+ in my first independent study because the professor I worked with didn’t seem to grasp my occasional abstractions and asides. In retrospect, I blame John Ashbery for muddling my head and making me think that what I was doing was totally awesome, but I also wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

      In my mind, a student is either engaged with his/her own work, the work of peers, and the work coming from outside, or the student is simply not engaged. 

      The letter or number grade on a piece of creative work doesn’t indicate much about what can be worked on, or whether the work could engage the reader in a different way, or any number of other factors. What a letter or number grade does seem to indicate, to me, is a value judgment where the end result (i.e. the poem or whatever that has been written, critiqued, revised, critiqued, revised, and so on) doesn’t come into consideration in any way, shape, or form. Thus, the letter or number grade has little significance in terms of effecting what the student should actually be working towards— doing creative work that not only does everything that it can do in the best way possible, but does so in the manner that fits the student’s vision of the work.

  50. riva

      Actually, I kind of like this idea. It encourages making stuff and putting in time.

  51. Adam Goetz

      because i didnt fail :)

  52. Thursday Treat: Links I’m Lovin’ 10/27/2011 « Limited Edition Love

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