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Changing Places:
Why I Have Students
Grade Their Own Essays First

Robin Keehn
University Writing Center
California State University, San Marcos

While some of you may not teach writing exclusively or explicitly, I believe we share the sometimes anxiety-filled experience of handing back essays. I know when I began teaching, I was ill prepared for the emotional, sometimes even hostile responses my comments and grades evoked. It wasn't long before I learned how to avoid this unpleasant experience. I began turning back papers in the last few minutes of class, so I could exit quickly, not having to spend the class period getting the stink eye—or worse yet, seeing eyes fill with tears.

After reflecting on the pain and indignation surrounding the process of grading student essays, I have come to realize that most students see the grading of their writing as a random, subjective, even fascist act. In order to show my students that the grades they receive on their final drafts are not based on whimsy, personality, or ideology, but on specific, time-tested criteria that all good academic writing exhibits, I began to share with them the standards I use when grading their papers. Not surprisingly, when I invited students to join me on my side of the big desk, they were grateful to enter a conversation on evaluation from which they have been historically excluded.

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