Peter Elbow, “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting out Three Forms of Judgment,” College English 55.2 (Feb. 1993): 187-206. Research Library, ProQuest. Web. 16 Oct. 2009.
Against ranking . . .
- i.e. using numerical grading that assesses writing with a single, holistic score: it is unreliable, uncommunicative, privileging grades—or quantity—over learning.
For evaluating . . .
- i.e. making distinctions as to the quality of different features or dimensions of the writing.
Ranking pretends to be objective; evaluating highlights that reading is subjective.
How to evaluate:
- grade portfolios, rather than individual assignments
- do a little grading (“H” for honours and “U” for unsatisfactory)
- use an analytic grid to evaluate
- encourage and/or compel sharing, collaboration and publishing
- use modified contract grading
N.B. Evaluating is time-consuming and can make students defensive and second-guessing; try “evaluation-free zones” (197):
- the private free-write
- the unevaluated quick-write/sketch
- an early sustained period of free- and quickwrites
And most importantly . . .
For liking . . .
Liking, far from being additional, i.e. fortuitous—and dangerously subjective, is foundational (199):
- Writing is not about fixing up a piece of writing until you like it, it’s about liking a piece of writing and fixing it up. (The first implies a “Darwinian model”: we start off bad and, as we get better, we gain a wider audience ; others decide what’s “better.” The second implies an ecological niche model: we find a small audience, who like us and encourage us to better ourselves; we decide what’s “better.”)
- Good writing teachers like student writing—and “see what is only potentially good” (ibid.).
- It’s easier to suggest changes in a piece of writing that you like than in one you don’t.
Liking ≠ evaluating: we can say “This is terrible, but I like it” (201).
How to like (more):
- private writing and merely shared writing
- shared writing (both evaluated and not)
- learning to see what is good—and potentially good
- getting to know students as people and talking with them individually about their writing
- sharing our own writing and writing issues
- fixing our own writing and liking it
It’s about redistributing HOPE in the writing zone!