Student-friendly classroom policies and assignments need not be the antithesis of academic rigor. Despite the fact that I don’t give participation grades and allow my students to revise individual assignment multiple times, my classroom is not some stereotype of a hippy-dippy New Age, feel-good utopia in which everyone gets a trophy and no one ever has to feel the pain of failure. In fact, I think of myself as something of a hardass. By giving students so many opportunities to redeem themselves, I feel free to set the bar high. Just fulfilling the terms of the assignment gets you a C.
Below is the handout that I distribute at the beginning of each semester describing what each grade means and what each grade usually signals about revision. This is a holistic system, and there are no perfect 100’s.
F—The best way to fail a paper is to ignore in whole or in part the requirements set forth on the assignment prompt. A failing paper might contain an extremely weak, irrelevant, or inappropriate thesis (if it contains one at all). It may fall egregiously short of the length requirement (500 or more words), have an incoherent organizational scheme, or contain enough mechanical errors to make it unreadable. Papers that show no effort to properly cite sources will also receive failing grades (see policy statement).
D papers usually show a modest effort to meet the terms of the assignment but may fall short in a number of ways. They may be up to 300 words below the length requirement or show poor attention to outside sources. They usually have a relevant thesis, though that thesis may be weakly stated, insufficiently supported, and logically problematic.
D+ papers contain the same deficiencies as a D paper but may be relatively easy to salvage for a C. For example, the idea may be somewhat interesting but the argument is stated weakly or ambiguously, or there may be so many mechanical errors that the sense of the paper suffers. Major overhaul at the thesis and paragraph level can boost this to a B-.
C- papers are dangerously close to missing the point of the assignment but manage to get all the components necessary for a passing grade. The argument is usually weak or ambiguous or merely rehashing ideas discussed in class. A C- paper may also contain a “dead-end” idea (due to an unoriginal or unprovable thesis) that is unlikely to see improvement with mere surface revision. Massive overhaul will probably be needed to move up a letter grade.
C papers meet the minimum requirements of the assignment but go no further. They contain a relevant and plausible thesis, though that thesis is usually weakly supported and unoriginal. They demonstrate a cursory effort to use outside sources but do not necessarily deal with them insightfully. The prose is readable but may feel labored, choppy, or pedantic. C papers have a coherent organizational scheme for the overall paper but may be somewhat awkward in the way that individual paragraphs are constructed. Revisions at the thesis level are usually needed to see much of a change in grade.
C+ papers only meet the minimum requirements but show promise. Usually, the idea behind the paper is interesting but the execution at the organizational or stylistic level is mediocre. Revisions at the paragraph level along with attention to mechanics will often boost this to a B-.
B- papers go just beyond the minimum and come to a stop. The argument may be clear, and the evidence may be solid, but the essay lacks nuance, voice, and originality. B- papers are competently written but make the reader think “this has been said before and said better.” Revisions to these papers usually need to include attention to the level of analysis and insight as well as a sensitivity to language that will make those insights stand out.
B papers move beyond the minimum requirements of the assignment. They contain an insightful, plausible, and substantially supported argument. They place their arguments in conversation with arguments from outside sources (where called for in the assignment) and deal with those sources ethically. The writing is error-free and well organized on the paragraph level, making appropriate use of transitions and topic sentences to guide the reader from one idea to the next. The tone of the essay demonstrates a competent effort at tailoring the argument for a specific audience. As such, the writing demonstrates a developing sophistication, though it may not quite achieve the effortless quality of the A paper. As with B- papers, B papers often seem a little bit obvious and may leave the reader with the sense that they’ve heard this argument made in this particular way before.
B+ papers are the most frustrating to receive back from an instructor. They go beyond the minimum requirements of the assignment but stop just short of true greatness. Often, a B+ grade reflects some deficiency in execution, not in big ideas or micro-level analysis. A slightly confusing structure, a missing logical step, or some mechanical problems may need to be corrected before this can become an A.
A- papers go far beyond the minimum requirements of the assignment. They contain a truly original, sophisticated, probative argument, approaching a problem or question in a way that sheds new light on it. The organization is tight and consistent, such that the reader can follow the argument without sensing gaps in its logic. Outside sources are dealt with in meaningful ways and do not seem “tacked on.” Commentary goes well beyond the obvious and reflects truly original thinking. The prose accurately reflects the student’s own voice and clearly engages the paper’s audience, whether the tone is formal, satirical, conversational, etc. The “-“ in the A- doesn’t usually reflect any major deficiency, just that this essay isn’t quite in that “top 1%” category that distinguishes “A’s”.
A papers are impeccable and rare. First drafts hardly ever receive them, and hard work is usually required to achieve this grade upon revision. A papers contain spectacular ideas and no mechanical errors, absolutely none.
Each letter grade assignment will be given a numeric value and according to the rubric on the left. Those grades will be weighted and averaged according to the rubric on the right.
Assignments Final Grade
A 95 94 – 100 A
A- 92 90-93.999 A-
B+ 88 87-89.999 B+
B 85 84-86.999 B
B- 82 80-83.999 B-
C+ 78 77-79.999 C+
C 75 74-76.999 C
C- 72 70-73.999 C-
D+ 68 67-69.999 D+
D 65 60-66.999 D
F 55 0-59.999 F