A relative showed me his essay.
I thought it was fantastic.
Then the teacher gave it a relatively low grade.
I said, "Wow, what didn't she like?"
He said, "It was missing a lot of commas." I must be really bad at commas, I thought, since when I read the essay I didn't notice missing commas.
What was she looking for?, I asked.
"I don't know," the relative responded.
This makes me realize once again that it's remiss not to be explicit about expectations and show exemplars to students. My relative doesn't understand how to better that essay, and I really don't know what's missing either. I'd really like to see an exemplar myself. I imagine the instructor was looking for better vocabulary, more description, and perhaps length, but I don't know.
I've read the many posts about grades, and since at my level we don't give grades, I haven't worried too much about it. But when I noticed the effect that the grade had on my relative, an effect that basically said, "You're not a good writer," instead of "Hey, this is a great essay and here's how you can make it even better," I realized what people like Mark Barnes and Starr Sackstein are saying.
We need to teach for betterment rather than to teach to judge. Success in life is varied, and it's our job as educators to move every student ahead with confidence and good effort.