When reading student response papers, I try to read in such a way that I am able to assess how well students have fulfilled the terms of the assignnment and met basic standards of academic writing so as to then communicate their submission’s strength and weaknesses. So as to make this process as transparent as possible, I provide students with detailed assignment instructions, an orientational guide for writing response papers, as well as a rubic for grading and extensive feedback following submission. At the same time, however, I am acutely aware of how strange writing in philosophy may seem to many students, and so I have below compiled a sort of checklist by which I assess student work that rather faithfully – if not exhaustively – corresponds to what I am looking for when reading student work. So then, among the things I ask myself are the following:

at first glance

Has the respective student …

  • submitted the paper on time?
  • submitted the paper in the prescribed electronic format?
  • included basic submission information at the top of the paper (name, date, course, assignment title)?
  • submitted a paper in line with the prescribed font and spacing requirements?
  • met the minimum word-count requirement?
  • structured the paper in such a way that paragraphs appear to correspond to the developing argument?
  • included only what is essential for the assignment – the problem and its pursuit – as opposed to wasting an introductory or concluding paragraph with unnecessary generalizations?
  • mentioned in writing and where appropriate the author and title of the source text under examination?
  • included direct quotations?
  • employed internal citation or some other sourcing convention?

spirit and letter of the instructions

Has the respective student …

  • made a good faith effort to fulfill the spirit and letter of the assignment instructions?
  • identified a particularly problematic passage/phrase/image/concept/idea/claim within the source text that appeared at first either confusing, paradoxical or incomprehensible?
  • made a good faith effort to better comprehend what once appeared incomprehensible through closer reading and study?
  • demonstrated how what was once confusing can indeed be clarified through more careful study?
  • used the author’s own words and ideas to better understand the author, as opposed to using ideas either unrelated to or in conflict with the author?
  • written in such a way that individual judgment is suspended so as to better enable the work of comprehension?

engagement with the author

Has the respective student …

  • accurately represented the author’s ideas?
  • accurately quoted the author’s words?
  • quoted in such a way that only what is essential is included, as opposed to excessively long quotations ultimately left unexamined?
  • quoted, parphrased or explained the author’s ideas in a manner that is in conformity with the proper use of sources, or does the student instead plagiarize?
  • incorporated those ideas of the author that are perhaps not located within the passage under examination but which are nevertheless related, and thus relevant for better understanding the respective problem?
  • explain how these related ideas are indeed relevant?
  • set this particular problem within the larger context of the author’s aims so as to better understand the problem?
  • written in such a way that a generous, inquisitive, informed and exploratory position is evident in her/his relation to the author, rather than one that either aims or tends towards disparagement and dismissal?
  • stuck close to the letter and spirit of the text, moving responsibly from one specific idea to another, rather than falling into easy generalizations?
  • sought to get inside text and author so as to better understand the internal logic of each, or does the student remain outside?

stating the problem

Has the respective student …

  • presented the problem in such a way that the problem is clear to the reader?
  • presented the problem in all its complexity, as opposed to simplifying the problem and thus misrepresenting the issue?
  • presented the specific textual context in which the problem occurs?
  • appropriately and economically quoted the author so that the problem is presented on the author’s own terms?
  • explained the significance of the problem for the author, as well as the problem’s role within the larger architecture of the author’s ideas and argument?
  • made clear exactly why this problem appears so paradoxical at first glance?

pursuing the problem

Has the respective student …

  • told the reader how the problem will be pursued and why it will be pursued in this particular way?
  • demonstrated either an insufficient, elementary or advanced understanding of the author’s aims and ideas outside the particular passage under examination?
  • incorporated those ideas of the author most relevant for pursuing the problem?
  • quoted, paraphrased and/or explained related ideas where appropriate?
  • transformed the problem into a red thread running throughout the paper, or is the movement from one idea to another confusing or disconnected instead?
  • devoted sufficient time and space to explaining, connecting and analyzing each new idea to those which preceded it?
  • analyzed the author’s ideas or only restated them?
  • ensured that the problem becomes more clear as the paper progresses?
  • ensured that the problem becomes more comprehensible as the paper progresses?
  • substantiated each and every claim with reference to the source?
  • illuminated a particularly significant if otherwise ignored aspect of the text’s assumptions, argument or implications?
  • remained with the author for the duration of the paper, as opposed to digressions into the contemporary and other commonplaces irrelevant to the matter at hand?
  • sought to understand the text on its own terms, as opposed to imposing contemporary ideas upon it?

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