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Consultations on Graded Papers

Students do not often bring graded papers to the Writing Center, but when they do it is generally because they have not been able to understand a professor’s comments. Please begin by encouraging the student to talk over her paper—or, perhaps, a draft of her next paper—with her professor. You can help a student a lot by preparing her to have an articulate discussion about her writing with a professor.

If the student is still interested in your comments, you task is to interpret, and thereby clarify, the professor’s comments. You might begin by asking about the assignment. It can also be useful to ask the student how well she thought she had done on the paper when she handed it in—were there parts that she felt uneasy about? You may also want to inquire about the process she used to write the paper.

Fellows generally have a fairly easy time understanding the comments on a graded paper, and largely find they only have to elaborate on an abbreviated remark (i.e., “awk.,” “unconvincing,” “evidence needed,” “sequence probs.,” “show this?”). We strive to teach the student to understand these comments so that she can spot these problems in subsequent papers. As in consultations on drafts, you may want to negotiate with the student to focus on one of the important or recurring problems and to discuss how to avoid this problem in future papers. This might mean finding the exercises on passive voice in Hacker’s Rules for Writers, or discussing very specific alternatives for organizing the paper.

Sometimes, but not very often, a student comes to the Writing Center with a graded paper because she thinks she has been unfairly graded. Pomona students tend to be grade conscious, and perhaps because of this, most seem comfortable approaching a professor about grades they believe are unfair. Even if you agree that a grade is particularly harsh, nothing will be gained by siding with the student in complaints against the professor. Instead, you might say something like, “Yes, I can see that you feel a ‘C’ is a low grade; you ought to discuss the paper with your professor so that you can find out more specifically what her concerns are with what you’ve written. She’ll be in the best position, really, to let you know what works and what doesn’t in this essay, and what she expects in your next papers. If you’re still uncertain about her criticism after you meet with her, feel free to come back and discuss with me the feedback she gave you.” Most often, when a student is upset about a graded paper, a misunderstanding between the student and the professor—about the assignment?, about grading criteria?, etc.—has occurred.

Usually, if the student can stop obsessing about the grade received, the two of you can discuss all sorts of fruitful writing issues: issues of audience, argument, and organization, and strategies for approaching the next paper.