My students have been writing "response papers" to each reading we have done in class. Although they constitute 20% of their overall grade for the semester, I am grading each paper on a check, check plus or check minus scale, with a maximum of 5 points per paper. In other words, I am grading those response papers really easy.
By contrast, this week I am grading the first research paper they have had to write for this course. They will have a second one later in the semester. These I am grading much harder, in as much as I have made it clear that an A paper has to not just meet all my expectations, but actually exceed them.
Though I am not done grading, it does seem that the students are putting in a sincere effort. But so far none of the papers have really wowed me.
The one about cows inhabiting Iceland did amuse me, however.