Easing The Pain Of Grading

All, Pillar, Teaching Tips

While everyone else is enjoying a snow day, I am in the midst of midterm grading. Why does it always seem like a good idea to place assignment due dates so close to the grading window when I am building my syllabus? I should know better by now…

However, despite the daunting amount of assignments to be graded and grades to be calculated, the process is more enjoyable than I thought possible and here are 3 reasons why.

I Cede Control

I require a lot of interactive, collaborative work from my students and that work is reflected in two different assignments (Community or in-class contribution and Reflection or class blog contribution). The problem with these assignments is that they are a bear to grade if you want to factor contribution into the equation and not just focus on the number of classes attended and blog posts completed. My solution in recent years has been to use badges to assess. In the past I had students award badges at midterm and final, but this semester students are taking turns to award badges on a weekly basis and I think that process is working really well. However, the real change in the assessment process is that I asked my students to decide what formula of attendance/posting and badges earned would be required to earn each grade. It certainly made the process a lot less painful for me and I think was illuminating for my students as well as empowering to have some input in their grade.

I Provide Lots of Support

One of my colleagues (currently embroiled in the same grading extravaganza) commented that putting grades on student papers feels counter to the practice of teaching writing as it effectively stops the writing process. I can sympathize as I felt exactly this way. It is especially troublesome when you know the writer and can see exactly how far their writing has come and yet when you grade a “final” draft you cannot grade that growth – just what you see in front of you. Of course, there are ways to reward that growth, but it does not lessen the sting of a bad grade on the blood-soaked paper. My colleague hopes that switching to mastery learning will ease the pain for both teacher and student. I am sure it will (ease the pain that is), but my solution is supported learning based on a writing workshop approach.

As I’ve blogged before, I believe strongly in the power of low-stakes writing. We spend a lot of time in class discussing, sharing, brainstorming, and writing while I model the kinds of ideas and questions and sources (and sometimes sentences and paragraphs) I value. Then students put that experience to work with middle-stakes writing (essentially drafts but I don’t call them that – they are usually in the form of a blog post – see Why My Students Must Blog) where we continue to hone the ideas and questions and sources. Then, and only then, do we bring drafts to workshop. After workshop we get to the business of final drafts that will be graded according to a scoring guide (we built together as a class) that contains terms and descriptions we have been using throughout the process. I am sure that not all the assignments I grade this week will be As, but so far I have been very impressed with the work I’ve seen and the points lost have been the result of a student’s failure to attend to some part of the process or feedback/information they possessed.

I Have A System

I’ve written before about grading with Google forms and I continue my love affair. It makes things so much simpler. I love a good scoring guide (it fosters the transparency I seek with my students and I think developing it helps make me a better teacher) and using the form means I don’t have to do any math. But as any writing teacher knows the real work is always in the form of commentary, but this semester I have revised my strategy and focus on just giving three pieces of advice rather than overwhelming the student with feedback. It is amazing how this approach combined with my supported learning structure has streamlined grading for me.

Grading doesn’t have to be a nightmare if you cede control, provide support, and employ a system. What are your favorite tips, tricks, and tactics for easing the pain of grading?

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