Type to search

Category: Formative Assessment

Most teachers don't list grading as one of their favorite parts of teaching. If you're conscientious about it, it's a hard, time-consuming task. Dishearteningly, efforts to provide students with quality feedback aren't always appreciated, or at least they don't appear to be. Any task that's done often tends to happen automatically, kind of like making the bed or taking the garbage out. For many teachers, there's less grading during the summer, which makes it a good time to reconsider ways to make this a manageable and meaningful task. This set of recommendations assumes you're grading papers of various sorts, products produced individually or in groups, and presentations. It's less about grading work with right answers, although some of the tenets of good grading practice apply across the board. • Grading goes better if you don't do it all at once. If it's a task you don't like, it's easy to push it aside, which only makes it more unpleasant and easier still to put aside yet again. It's better to devote time to grading every day and then grade at a steady, rather than frenzied, pace, even if the paper stacks are multiple and tall. Take short breaks, let your mind wander, make tea, stretch, walk a bit, but don't get sidetracked answering e-mail. • Try using a rubric, if you don't already. They force teachers to think clearly about what they want to see in the assignment and that helps you stay objective and focused on the task when grading. Some faculty claim rubrics speed up the grading process, but that's only true if written comments are few. If distributed with the assignment, rubrics make it easier for students to understand the requirements. If the rubric is returned with the graded work, it can clarify the reasons for the grade. • If you're providing handwritten feedback, remember: if students can't read it, there's no reason to write it. If you have papers that weren't picked up by the end of the year, give one to someone who doesn't know your handwriting well and ask him or her to read the comments. • Look at the language you're using. A lot of terms widely used and understood by academics aren't familiar to students. It wouldn't hurt to make a list of your favorite feedback words and phrases and ask students to quickly define what those terms mean to them. • Offer more feedback during the process and less at the end. If you point out problems and make suggestions for improvement before the final grade, students have a lot more reasons to act on the feedback. Moreover, having students submit work that's in process teaches them something about partitioning tasks and helps with time management issues. It also makes grading at the end of the course more manageable: now you're only providing big-picture feedback. • You can provide too much feedback, which teachers tend to do when the work submitted is poor. Too much feedback overwhelms students and often makes them feel they're so completely deficient, further effort is futile. • Always balance the feedback. Find something positive to say even when most of the feedback deserves to be negative. • With papers, products, and presentations, students (especially beginning ones) are terribly invested in what they've produced. The grade becomes an assessment of their inherent worth as persons. Help students make the person–performance distinction. The grade describes what they did, not what they can do. • Many teachers now use elaborate, carefully calibrated point systems. These appear to make the grading process fair, objective, and precise. Point systems, in and of themselves, are none of these things. Grades are imprecise measures of learning and are easily manipulated by teachers. No teacher intends to be biased, but teachers must work to be fair and objective, something less easy to accomplish when grading tasks mount and tiredness descends. • If a student objects to a grade, don't say no immediately. Rather, think of it as an opportunity for students to practice making a case in front of an authority. Listen to what they have to say. Ask questions. Further explain your justification. If they've made a valid point, adjust the grade. • We need to do our best with the grades. They matter, often more than they should. Notably, they get students job interviews and into grad school. They build confidence and diminish it. But in the larger scheme of life, grades don't matter. How long has it been since someone inquired about your GPA? In contrast, how long has it been since you made use of the skills and knowledge acquired in college?