As many of us prepare to return to the classroom for the fall semester, it seems like a good time to talk about grammar and grading.
Occasionally I poll students about how many of them have had their grade on an essay lowered due to “grammatical errors.” To this day, a significant number say they have experienced this kind of grading. One student this past winter recounted getting a five-point deduction for each use of singular generic they in her first essay for an English class four years ago, resulting in a “C” on the essay. She noted that she has rarely “misused” they since. (For my thoughts on why this is not an error, go here.)
Policies about “grammatical error” in student writing are often created and enforced with the best of intentions. Teachers are striving to help students master the written conventions of standard edited English. Toward this end we are often looking for ways to require students to pay close attention to the conventions of formal academic writing, in addition to writing high-quality academic arguments. A policy such as “More than two grammatical errors per page will result in your essay grade being lowered by a full letter” can certainly get students’ attention. But there are at least two major problems everyone should be aware of with this kind of dinging for “error” in student writing. <Read more.>