My former undergrad instructor used to grade on a scale of 1 to 5, with a revision option to earn a higher grade.
I think the best way to “grade” undergrad CW courses, though, is to grade the critiques, not the actual drafts, because students often learn as much (sometimes more) from the critiques as they do from writing the drafts. Also, it’s just easier to grade critiques than story drafts and keeps students accountable. It also prevents assholes from being assholes because the instructor is reading all of the critiques.
The grading criteria for Katharine Haake: Is the piece aware of its own conventions and does it execute them with authority, complexity, and grace? If yes, A. If no, C. If unintelligible or not turned in, F.
No grades on first drafts, only participation/checkmark/gold star. Grades begin with revisions, which are mandatory, and grade is based solely on if you put in an actual attempt at revision and incorporation of either instructor/student critiques and/or personal insight. Original drafts must accompany the revisions when turned in so I can easily compare the editing done. If you are a douchebag in workshop or you think you’re 2 kewl 4 skewl and don’t bother with critiques or listening to anyone’s advice, I will fucking fail you so hard you’ll get hemorrhoids.
Actually my creative writing would shock every course instructor. I recall my old school days, as I’ve got a homework to write just 10 sentences with limited adjectives and adverbs. And I wrote a pretty depressing story about man and dog in a boot, both hungry, but both friends. End of the story: boot is found with two skeletons inside, because they couldn’t eat each other due to their eternal friendship.
My teacher was so schocked, that she forgot to give me any note. I think, she haven’t spoke with me some weeks long.
To be more clear, I only teach undergraduate fiction workshops, and I don’t feel like it’s my job to grade someone on whether they are creative or not. I believe in the workshop and the “creativity” part of it tends to work itself out. The peer pressure, which is something we don’t talk a lot about, is a very strong motivator.
I teach at a school with 30,000 students and the workshop admits 15. I get writing samples before I give permission to sign up – not full stories necessarily, but a scene, a dialogue and/or a description. I can pick and choose who gets in. I try to be fair about it, but even asking for a writing sample sort of sets the tone for the class. Anyone who thinks it will be an easy class is thinking twice. They now know that writing a scene isn’t easy. Most who contact me have already had stories they’ve been working on. If they hand in the chapter of a Fantasy novel it allows me to explain that genre fiction doesn’t always fly in the workshop, because “I would never read a story with faeries and elves” is a fair critique, and they should be prepared for that response. They might get one other person in the workshop with an interest in Fantasy. But if the writing is good, they’re in. If the writing is lacking I can say, “Have you got something else?” If they don’t get in I can explain the logistics (which are pretty much the same when you go submitting to mags) and also say, please try again (and if it makes you feel any better I was also turned away the first time I tried to take a workshop).
But creativity? mechanics? language?
I once had a professor who graded stories on a 100 point scale. I doubt he would be able to explain the difference between a story that he gave 87% and one that got 88%. It was arbitrary and that’s the message it sent. It told me that C-W cannot and should not be expected to adhere to the same institutional hallmarks as other classes
I understand what the students workshop to be drafts. I would hope they did as much polishing as possible, but polish is not my main concern. We can look at a sentence that’s almost there, and toss around possible edits in class. Because it’s a draft the writer puts up with this. Because it’s a draft we all learn from the editing techniques.
These are young writers, many of whom have never really written stories before, and who aren’t all that experienced reading the ‘cannon’ of short fiction and/or contemporary lit. Anyway, the quality of the writing, the level of creativity and imagination, the language – these are things we will address in the workshop. I will be honest with you and tell you that maybe you made some bad choices for your characters and your story. And chances are, the other writers will agree. Comments are given with the assumption that you will rewrite and make changes to try to work out the kinks. But honestly, I don’t care. You are the author. You make the decisions. We’ve told you what we think, and we’ve taken the time to do so in great detail. If you choose to ignore us and remain in love with a flawed story, that’s your problem. At any rate, I won’t grade you down for it.
The workshop requires a lot of work. And so I’m very strict about attendance and getting in critiques. Everybody has to be there, and be prepared, every single time (OK I’ll let you miss one class). You have to have a written critique for every story. We are also supplementing workshopped stories with stories from “the pros.” And writing stories ain’t easy. It’s hard to know how long any one story will take. But I do expect a beginning middle and end. And I expect it to be sent out on time.
Has to do with respecting each other. With a democratic atmosphere. In another class you might choose not to do the work. In a workshop you don’t get that choice, because other writers took the time to respond to you, they were there on the day you workshopped, and you had better reciprocate.
Grades are not going to make anyone any more creative. But they will motivate them not to skip out on critiques and not to skip out on class.
There’s a lot of responsibility that I assume the students can handle. And with that responsibility comes a lot of freedom. Once we are in the workshop, we can say pretty much whatever the fuck we want. We can write about anything. It has never happened, but if I give an entire class of writers “A”s, then so be it. I can live with that just fine.
I studied CW at Hampshire College, and so this rarely came up. Long written narrative evaluations always seemed to make more sense to me, and it didn’t really occur to me that you could grade CW. I remember being shocked when I took a fiction class at another college and the professor was intending to grade us. I don’t know what his criteria for an A was, but I got one, and was left feeling entirely unsure of what it meant.
I’m not so sure we “need” fantasy writers. My own biases aside – my reading time is really limited and I choose not to read it – I was only suggesting the limited reading and writing exp. of the undergrad writing student. The focus of the workshop is literary, so are they open to that, are they ready to try it and to learn from it? Because genre work generally won’t workshop well. Most participants won’t be familiar with the expectations of the genre. But as I said, if the writing is good, I’ll let them in, and while they might subject us to the travails of a young elven hero, by the second or third story they will announce their literary debut as “something different for me” and it’s always something better, and better received. If they go back to Fantasy – whatever they want to do – but while they’re un my class I’m going to be honest about my reaction.
“How” is a productive question, but I don’t think “what” is. Maybe it is. I see a lot of this in comments here, picking on words that, sure, might be ambiguous, but the exact meaning doesn’t always need to be pinned down. Plus I think I might look cool if I make single internet acronym replies, or something.
I think one could develop a grading matrix that plotted creativity / hard work / skill / consideration of assignment. The trouble would be weighting each variable. Maybe the weighting would be determined by the assignment and the type of class (a freshmen creative writing course would give a lot more consideration to hard work and less to skill or creativity… maybe).
The formulae for determining grades would be given to students at the beginning of the course, so they could write accordingly.
Oh boy. I’m teaching Intro. to Creative Writing this semester, for the first time in my life. I have been struggling with this question the whole time, and my students are constantly asking me how they’re doing in the class. I grade based on class participation, I grade based on how they follow instructions, and how well they are able to take leaps between drafts. I was worried that my lack of a more objective grading system would make them lazy, but I’ve actually been really proud of how well they have been handling it – I like to think that I make the assignments interesting enough for them to want to try their best. And now, as the semester is coming to a close, I can really tell which students are putting in the effort and which ones are slacking.