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Method of Evaluating Students

In the next three months, you are going to create your own political party and write a series of short position papers on issues that are important to you. The audience for those position papers will be your classmates. Your purpose for writing is to persuade them to vote for your party.

After the U.S. election on November 8, we will have a campaign ourselves featuring in-class debates. The individual parties may form coalitions of like-minded parties.

The final week of class, we will have our own “election”. I put that in quotation marks because it won’t be a real election. The biggest difference will be the rule that you cannot vote for your own party or coalition. The results of the election will have no bearing on your course grade.

What is an essay?

An essay is a short piece of writing in which a distinctive voice attempts to explain some aspect of the world.

What is a position paper on an issue?

A position paper is an essay that helps the voter understand what distinguishes that political party from the other political parties.

What do they have in common?

The basic unit of discourse. The essay and position paper both make a claim, they both support the claim with evidence, and they both explain how the evidence supports the claim.

I try to engage each of you in an ongoing discussion of your learning. If you aren’t getting enough feedback from me, ask for more. As you’ll see, I’m big on formative feedback and Socratic questioning.

This is a service course in the sense that it rewards skills that will let you prosper in your other courses and in your career. The bottom line is your ability to write an essay, an evidence-based discussion in support of a thesis. If you write one of those, you’ll pass this course. If you don’t write one, no matter what else you do, you won’t pass this course.

The numbers below give a sense of proportion rather than a point total to be bartered or haggled over.

How can one “point” of a presentation compare to one “point” of an essay? These are qualitative things, essays and participation, not quantitative things. Points are quantitative. Something’s got to give!

1 diagnostic essay 5
1 party introduction and platform  10
3 position statements on issues (15 each) 45
1 your party’s web 15
1 debate/town hall presentation 15
1 one-minute pitch for your party 5
MLA formatted Works Cited 5
This I believe essay – optional – up to 10 extra credit points

timely completion

reduce final grade one step (ex: B to B- or A- to B+) for each late assignment and one more for each late week. If you hand it in two weeks late, that’s three steps, one for the late assignment and another for each week.

class attendance

0 absences, add 2 points to final grade

1 absence for any reason, add 1 point to final grade

2 or 3 absences for any reason, no change

4 or more absences for any reason, subtract 2 points from final grade for each absence



Course letter grades: A for around 95 points out of the total of 100 on the table above, B for around 85, C for around 75, and D for around 65. If I think you might be headed for a C or below, I will let you know loud and clear as soon as I can. I may well send an official Academic Warning. If you are worried about your course grade, feel free to ask at any time.

Course grades. The quality of your writing alone does not determine your course grade. If you seem to be in control of the unit of discourse, you will pass the course. If in addition, you attend all the classes and do all the assignments on time, you will probably get a B or C in the course. If you do all that, participate with some engagement during class sessions, and write well structured interesting essays by the end of the course, then you will probably get an A or A-.

On the other hand, if you write terrific essays but you don’t attend many classes and you write them all in the final two weeks, you will probably get a C or lower because you missed a terrific opportunity to improve your writing.

Essay Evaluation Rubric

The general (and vague) list below shows what I’m thinking about when I evaluate your essay. It is used, sometimes with minor variations, by all of the writing faculty at Medaille. It has been endorsed by the faculty as a whole. It is very similar to the rubric used at other colleges and universities in the U.S. If you are unclear how the rubric relates to a specific writing assignment, feel free to ask me.

Objectives & Thesis:

-Succinctly articulates objectives

-Succinctly articulates thesis



– Captures audience’s attention

– Establishes objectives & thesis

– Transitions to the body of the paper


-Presents major points in logical and coherent order

-Transitions are clear and concise


-Briefly summarizes main points

-Reinforces thesis & objectives

Mastery of Topic:

Appropriateness of claims/arguments to support thesis

-Each claim/argument directly supports the thesis.

-Each claim/argument is accompanied by some evidence and indications of where the reader can find more.

-Each claim/argument proceeds logically from evidence. Testimony and anecdote, which useful, are not evidence. Speculation is clearly noted.

Appropriateness of evidence

-Evidence is relevant; it leads logically to the claims/arguments

-Evidence is valid and reliable

-Evidence comes from credible sources and from primary sources whenever possible

-Sources are properly cited

Awareness of Audience:

-Awareness of demographics & attitudes

-Recognizes audience needs

-Meets audience needs responsibly

Language & style:

-Uses appropriate grammar & syntax

-Uses appropriate vocabulary & usage

-Uses appropriate mechanics


-Selects appropriate documentation style (MLA, APA, CBE)

-Applies documentation style correctly

Stages of Writing:

This section may not be applicable to all courses.

-Uses appropriate prewriting methods

-Recognizes and applies valid feedback

-Revises drafts effectively

-Submits properly edited final version