Don't like your essay grades? Turn them sideways and take another look.
Here’s a glass. It’s a mildly murky, relatively inoffensive glass of water.
The glass is half full or half empty, and typically it measures optimism or pessimism. An optimist can feel good about half a glass of water. But if we look at the same glass with slightly different labels, even an optimist will have a hard time finding something to feel good about.
This “glass” measures mistakes. It weighs, measures, and judges, and it makes us feel bad. My little brother started college this year, and he tells me about physics exams where half credit is good and it still feels bad. Fifty percent may be an extreme, but however empty or full the glass – seventy, eighty, ninety percent – we know it isn’t as full as it could be.
Grades are a type of negative reinforcement. They encourage us to adapt to avoid negative consequences, and we respond by avoiding the errors that cause them in the first place. We study to avoid receiving low scores, and we write to avoid making mistakes. Even high grades can discourage progress – why should we bother improving? Grades emphasize the results of our work rather than how we can improve through practice.
What if we turn the glass sideways?
That’s a progress bar. Anyone who uses a computer has seen one before. Progress bars tell us that we’re getting somewhere. Even if they slow down or freeze, they promise that work is being done.
Like the progress bar, writing is a process. It’s difficult to improve by turning in a single draft and receiving a grade. We improve by writing first, second, third drafts, by working from that murky first draft to a draft we want someone to read. The result is not simply a better grade, but confidence in our abilities as writers.
WriteLab does not weigh or measure, and it does not assign grades. It gives suggestions. It recognizes that we have to start at the beginning and build from there. We have designed WriteLab around this process: write, review, revise, repeat.