Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking [Writing] (Peter Elbow)

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:

  1. grade portfolios, rather than individual assignments
  2. do a little grading (“H” for honours and “U” for unsatisfactory)
  3. use an analytic grid to evaluate
  4. encourage and/or compel sharing, collaboration and publishing
  5. use modified contract grading

Analytic Grid

N.B. Evaluating is time-consuming and can make students defensive and second-guessing; try “evaluation-free zones” (197):

  1. the private free-write
  2. the unevaluated quick-write/sketch
  3. 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):

  1. 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 [200]; 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.”)
  2. Good writing teachers like student writing—and “see what is only potentially good” (ibid.).
  3. 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):

  1. private writing and merely shared writing
  2. shared  writing (both evaluated and not)
  3. learning to see what is good—and potentially good
  4. getting to know students as people and talking with them individually about their writing
  5. sharing our own writing and writing issues
  6. fixing our own writing and liking it

Elbow Summary

It’s about redistributing HOPE in the writing zone!

Hope and Fear


3 thoughts on “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking [Writing] (Peter Elbow)

  1. Pingback: Affect in the Writing Zone (Susan McLeod) « Te Ipu Pakore
  2. Pingback: The writing zone as “writing-intensive zone” (Wendy Bishop) « Te Ipu Pakore

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