I pointed at myself and shrugged my shoulders and told my Principal, “I will do it.” I was delighted when she said “OK.” I had taught a creative writing class before and it had been educational for both me and my students. I educated them on the process of writing in many variations, and they taught me never to underestimate the miracle of young, free thinking minds. I was often astounded by their words, stories, and capabilities as the days passed.
But the world was not just sunshine and lollipops. To say that every student was born to write and could string together words that would make Edgar Allan Poe swoon would be an utter lie. Totally blasphemy. For some, working on a second grade level of writing and comprehension was the best they could offer. And some stories were painfully predictable; poems rhymed with cat, hat, and fat; auto-biographies informed me that students enjoyed “having fun”; mysteries were concluded with “and it was all a dream”; and horror tales told of more blood than the latest Saw movie.
So, in this day and age where students are fully included, where intelligence levels may range from second to eleventh grade in a middle school classroom, what can be considered fair in a creative writing class where creativity should be celebrated and strongly encouraged? Should every student receive an “A” just for existing in the class? Should an intensive language arts student get an “F” because his or her abilities might not mirror the average 7th grade student?
Enter the Rubric, savior of many a teacher, implemented by the wise, and revered by parent and educator alike. A blueprint for a grade, AKA a rubric can make grading a creative writing task far easier. Is it perfect? Not quite. Nothing in the world is, except for my spiky hair and lovable disposition. Like many of life’s tendencies and challenges, it is a tool for change, and change it must as it closes in on perfection. It can be molded and manipulated towards the character of each class, grade level, and intelligence level of each set of students:
20 Points: Conventions
Yes, I am old school here. Spelling and punctuation should always count for something, even if it is a poem or short story. Use of internet jargon such as UR and LOL will only be deemed appropriate if the jargon is consistent and necessary to the assignment. Plus (and this is a big pet peeve of mine), proper use of the word “because” as opposed to “cause.” Multiple mistakes will cost students as much as 20 points on an assignment.
20 Points: Classwork
Surely, creativity does not come to students (or anybody, for that matter) in a blaze of spontaneity. But in most classes, papers and assignments need to at least be started in class. Diligently working on a provided Creative Writing assignment in class will yield students a full 20 points. During this time, an educator can take the time to help students on an individual basis, circulate and assist students with minor problems and questions, and maintain a working classroom environment.
20 Points: Using Elements and Notes from Class
One main lesson students will learn is how to write creatively using all five senses. Since most will always discuss (quite in depth, too) what their main characters will see, points will be added for the use of what they have learned during lecture / discussion. Use of notes and application of learned techniques will, in effect, be rewarded in this 20 point category. Falling back on routine, if not overused writing tendencies will not result in maximum points.
20 Points: Rough and Final Draft
If only I was perfect at everything I did on the first try. I would have saved a ton of time in which I made silly errors, would have been a self-made millionaire in the stock market, and would be retired on a yacht, fine wine in hand, throwing my head back in raucous and ruthless laughter. But oh well. I am human. And as a human being, I make mistakes. Even when I write (my editor is probably finding some right now). Therefore, in a creative writing class, absolute perfection on the first try cannot take place. It cannot on a second or third or… well, you get the idea. But the fine art of proofreading, evaluating, and re-configuring a final draft will merit students 20 points. Besides, shortcuts are for lost husbands who read road maps upside-down.
20 Points: Completion of Assignment
This category probably is the most subjective. It is where an educator asks himself: Did my student work hard on this? Or was this coughed up on the bus in ten minutes? Was this plagiarized material? Or does my student actually know what the word “inordinate” means? Does the short story sound like my student? Or the early works of Richard Bachman AKA Stephen King? Naturally, if the initial assignment requests a short story of at least two paper sides, and a student hands in a story that comprises five lines double spaced, more points will be deducted. As I have told previous students: Handing in 25% of the assignment means that the highest grade one can receive is a 25%.
Of course, there exists a lot of room for thought on the effective and fair grading of a creative writing assignment. One must take students feelings in to consideration, especially at a young impressionable age. Is this a valid instrument to use in your classroom? You be the judge. You be the jury. But please do not execute me. Instead, enlighten me with your thoughts. Your ideas. One mind working on this alone is a start. Many educated minds working on a valid rubric together would be not only collegial, but appreciated.