What Do I Do with These Diagnostic/ Entrance Essays?

Today, a Teaching Assistant asked me the question above, and I wished I could share the answer with a wider audience. I’m starting this blog to do just that!

The answer is this: you have a range of options, such as…

–Reading the essays and keeping them in a folder as a handwriting and voice sample, as well as a thumbnail of where the class as a whole is starting from

–Reading the essays and providing feedback in the form of 3-5 comments, a dimensional rubric, a holistic rubric, an end comment, or a combination of all of the above

–Grading the essays as you typically would but not recording the grade–this gives students a sample of your expectations (I don’t advise this one unless you provided a really thorough description of your expectations when you gave the assignment)

–Reading the essays and taking a few notes about the students’ general strengths and weaknesses–then reviewing those notes with the class

–Reading the essays and taking general notes, but then handing back the essays to the students on the next day of class; asking students to review their work using the class objectives, to edit the work, and/or to identify larger revision strategies

I strongly recommend the last option because it’s one I’ve used recently and one that opens the door to insight about the value of revision. I ask students to write about their ideas and then to discuss them with the class as a whole. This gives them time to process and confidence to share. Typically, we all have a nice laugh at ourselves about something silly we wrote in a rush–that rapport- and community-building are always worthwhile.

I mean, haven’t you ever re-visited a timed writing after it’s been graded and been FLOODED with ideas about what you could have done better? It’s a striking moment.

What other strategies have you used or would you recommend?


One thought on “What Do I Do with These Diagnostic/ Entrance Essays?

  1. For both of my classes, I’ve scanned the responses and stored them digitally for future reference, which I suppose is a variation on your Option One. For one class, I commented in conference and provided a general end comment in writing. For the other, I’ll provide written comments that will refer to the class goals. I give feedback on Harvey, so I’m also using this assignment to make sure students can access my comments before we dig into the larger assignments.


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