Even legible handwriting that's messy can have its own ramifications, says Steve Graham, professor of education at Vanderbilt University. He cites several studies indicating that good handwriting can take a generic classroom test score from the 50th percentile to the 84th percentile, while bad penmanship could tank it to the 16th. "There is a reader effect that is insidious," Dr. Graham says. "People judge the quality of your ideas based on your handwriting."I absolutely believe that. And I doubt teachers can turn this bias off. Cognitive biases can't be turned off at will.
How Handwriting Boosts the Brain by Gwendolyn Bounds | WSJ | October 5, 2010
Grades and grading are a mess. Probably for writing especially.
Speaking of writing and grades, I had a thought the other day. It's not possible, under the current system, for teachers to grade papers according to an objective standard. An A paper for one teacher is a B paper for another teacher is a C paper for a third.
In theory, a testing company can achieve 'rater reliability' by dint of extensive training sessions, although Todd Farley's account of his experience in the industry makes me wonder.
But is training-up individual graders to apply the same standards as their colleagues (even if it's possible) the best approach?
Any teacher can (or should be able to) correct a paper's grammar, punctuation, and spelling. I assume teachers are going to agree on grammar, punctuation, and spelling far more often more than they disagree.
Beyond that, however, I'm not sure you actually want a uniform response across teachers. "Writing" as a profession or a business obligation means writing for an audience of more than one reader, and the individuals who make up that audience don't necessarily agree amongst themselves that you've said what you've said or that you've said it well. Writers learn from these disagreements.
Maybe students would also benefit from a 'diversity' of reader reaction?
If I had my druthers, I would scrap the letter-grading of writing altogether, apart from scoring punctuation, grammar, and spelling, simply on grounds that the letter-grading of student writing is simply too inconsistent to be credible.
I would experiment with some kind of Intrade or Wisdom of the Crowd approach. Farm papers out to a bunch of readers who read quickly and check off a thumbs-up or thumbs-down option. Something simple. Then give everyone the results for everyone.
Students would receive a kind of polling or survey result instead of a grade: a rough sense of how well their papers worked for an audience compared to papers written by their peers.
Of course, students would need to be able to read the work of their peers to see what kind of paper produced what kind of global response.
Or -- here's a thought -- perhaps schools could create an extensive set of exemplar student papers that have been 'voted on' by a large number of instructors. As a teacher of freshman writing I would kill to have such a resource myself.
I don't know whether a system along these lines would offer useful or 'actionable' information to students.
But I think it might.