Excerpts from Lynn Powell’s Oberlin College syllabus for

All highlighting for the purposes of the GLCA workshop on “Ungrading”


            In this course we will join in the dynamic conversation between poetry and visual art.  We will explore through readings and creative work the various ways visual art can inspire, challenge, and collaborate with the making of poetic image, voice, and meaning. 

            This course is designed to help you cultivate:
* an ability to engage with language as a medium for making art
* an ability to create vivid poems grounded in detail and imagery
* an ability to create poems that have a distinctive voice and leave a vivid impression upon the reader
* an ability to revise, re-think, and re-envision early drafts
* an active appreciation and experience of the insights and approaches that artists and poets share regarding medium, composition, and “voice”
* an introductory knowledge of a variety of modern and contemporary poets who are in dialogue with visual artists of the past and present

From the REQUIREMENTS section of the syllabus, which also includes sections on reading, writing, and viewing assignments

Much of the learning in this course takes place in class.  Unexcused absences will lower your grade.  However, you should not come to class—even Zoom class–if you are sick! You should observe all precautions and take good care of yourself. Please let me know when you have to miss class for excused reasons, which include illness, serious family needs, and other emergencies.

Class participation
Class participation will be an important part of your course grade.  I understand that each of you will bring different strengths, experiences, and personalities to class discussions, but everyone should bring engagement, focus, generosity, and a willingness to take thoughtful risks in putting ideas out into the discussion.  Part of class participation includes an ability not only to talk but to listen—and a desire to engage in constructive, probing conversation with others whose aesthetic may be different from your own.  If you believe your class participation does not reflect your preparation for any class, you may send me your reading notes to help me gauge your engagement with the material.

A note about grades
If you work hard in this course—attending every class, coming to class well-prepared, participating thoughtfully in class discussions, working in good faith on all writing assignments, and revising your poems toward the strongest portfolio you can make—you can count on a B in this course.  Any failure to meet any of these standards will result in a grade lower than B.  Grades in the B+ to A range are reserved for students who do exceptional work, in some or all areas of this course.   Note:  if you have a disability that may have some impact on your work in this class and for which you may require accommodations, please see me and the Office of Disability Services so that accommodations can be arranged.  Also, please speak with me anytime about any other need or concern you have about this class or your work.  I will always be open to hearing directly from you about your concerns.

Notes to accompany excerpts from CRWR 212 Word & Image: Poetry in Dialogue with Visual Art syllabus.

For the past 12 years I have used this holistic grading approach in all my Creative Writing classes, both poetry and nonfiction, at all levels of the curriculum.  My goal is to create an environment that is conducive to making creative work and to cultivating a community of writers in dialogue with each other.  It feels consonant with my own continuing practice as a writer, receiving feedback on my own work. 

My approach to grading means several things:

  • I give full written feedback to every writing assignment of each student.  This is time-consuming work, but it is also interesting work as it allows me to enter into a meaningful writer-to-writer conversation with each student. 
  • My own anxiety about grading goes down.  I no longer have to agonize over what marks to give students on particular assignments. Plus, I have spent essentially no time in the last 12 years litigating points or check-marks or grades with my students.
  • I believe my holistic grading approach has helped create a lively, engaged, communal classroom culture where students feel empowered to be adventurous in their writing and feel supported as writers.  I also think the emphasis on written qualitative feedback has yielded stronger student work, on the whole. 
  • Perhaps as a measure of how students feel about this grading system, I will add that in 12 years, only one student has questioned their final grade, and that was a student 12 years ago in a 300-level nonfiction class who felt they deserved an A rather than the A- they received.  I didn’t change the grade at the time, but, in retrospect, I came to believe they were right, and I learned from the experience.   Otherwise, no other student has expressed concern to me about their final grade in any of my courses.
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