For me, assessing anything boils down to "what can a student DO with what they know?" with the emphasis on DO. So effort and the like have no bearing. I appreciate it, but think about it in real-life terms. Someone can put a lot of effort into something, but the end result is still not good. We are measured on end results. It doesn't matter how much time and effort you put into your lesson plans. If that effort and time doesn't translate to a successful lesson with students, then the effort and time doesn't matter. Truly, if one puts effort and time into something, it usually will show up in the results, but we cannot reward just for effort itself. Now I don't say this to discourage students or anyone else for that matter, but the goal of my classroom is to get students to USE the language and become ever increasingly more proficient at it. By giving them grades for effort, I'm not really promoting my classroom goals.

Another way to look at it. How can you quantify effort consistently, evenly among all teachers, all levels, all schools, all districts, all states? There's no way to do it. So if in your class a student earns a B because of effort and they move to another school or district even, when a teacher sees that B, they expect the student has a B's worth of knowledge, but they really don't. By trying to help the student, you're actually making it worse. I have had personal experience with this. I had one student who ended my Spanish 2 class with a C but couldn't string two words together in Spanish, let alone know any vocabulary. Yet, because she put in effort on her homework and projects, she was able to overcome her failing assessment grades enough to earn her a C. I also was a recipient of a student who had earned a B in level 1. But this student failed to know even the simplest of level one vocabulary including cognates like escuela. He was failing my class and couldn't figure out why. After having talked to him, I found out that he earned a B because of extra credit and his artistic ability on projects, but that he had a consistent D average on assessments.

So what I'm trying to say here is that using effort, participation, behavior and other such indicators as part of the academic (letter) grade, muddies the water and doesn't give a clear picture of what a student can DO with what he/she knows.

Now, how do I grade writing? I basically look at two things: comprehensibility and complexity. First, I ask is the sample comprehensible. If it is, it has a chance of earning an A, B, or C grade. If it's not, it will likely get a D unless there is so much lacking that I can't even justify a D grade.

After determining comprehensibility, I then look at complexity. If the sentences are simple and vocabulary basic then this is a C-level of complexity. These are usually your choppy sentence papers that read like "There is a cat. The cat is fat. The cat's name is Bob. Bob runs. Bob runs fast." If the sentences contain many examples of compound sentences (sentences with and, or, but), and the vocabulary is a little more diverse, then it is a B-level of complexity. These samples have more details and the sentences flow a little better like "There is a cat and he is fat. The cat's name is Bob and he runs fast." An A-level of complexity is demonstrated with complex sentences and rich vocabulary usage. "There is a cat named Bob who is very fat, but can run very fast. He can run very fast because he has magic paws."

Also when I grade, I like to write one good comment and one thing to work on for next time. I phrase both of these positively.

Now I only grade two writing samples per quarter per student. We write every week without fail. I tell the students that I read each and every writing they turn in, but the truth is I only read the first one of the year, the last one of the year, the two that I grade per quarter, and any other one where the kid tells me that I should read that one because they did really well. What they don't know won't hurt them! :)

Now, for the ones I don't read, I just place a smiley face on their paper. That's it. I even have a smiley-face stamp to save even more time. I had a girl improve her writing one full grade based on nothing but receiving a smiley face on her paper. She would come in to class each week saying she was going to work hard to earn her smiley face. After every few smiley faces, I noticed marked improvement. It was the simplest of positive feedback, but it was enough to invoke change.

Anyway, I know the post was long, but I hope it was helpful!

Please share your ideas in the comments!