It’s that time of year! As the end of the semester creeps in upon us, it’s a great time to consider ways of easing the pain (and time) of grading. Below we review some common complaints — and solutions — compiled from our Dec 2010 Newsletter.
I’m spending time correcting grammar, spelling, and style, but these things don’t seem to improve from paper to paper. I’m not even sure how much I care about these things in comparison to the content of the papers, but I feel like they should not pass uncommented on.
1. Consider using minimal marking, which can range from copyediting just one paragraph of the paper completely to just putting x’s next to errors throughout the paper and having the students determine what their own errors are.
2. Give comments regarding a few error patterns on your rubric, but don’t mark them in the paper. The reason this hands off strategy is appropriate is because students can only correct one, maybe two errors each semester, so tons of markings won’t necessarily result in students learning about their errors and fixing all of them in the future.
1. Have students spend 10 minutes self-editing their own work before turning in their essays.
2. Before the final, have students bring the papers returned to them throughout the course of semester to class and have them self.edit the papers, then compile a checklist of their own error patterns so that they can avoid the same errors on the final exam or paper.
I’m putting significant effort into grading at the end of the semester, but the students rarely come back to pick up their papers.
It is perfectly reasonable to require students to commit to actually picking up their final papers and exams from your office or provide you with a self-addressed stamped envelope if they would like detailed comments on their final papers. Conversely, students can write on their final paper or exam that they would just like a grade.
More papers than I’d like are sloppy or don’t answer my prompt question.
1. Write detailed and specific assignment prompts.
2. Spend some time thinking about what you want students to turn in, then think about how your prompt will help students know how to produce that.
3. Show your prompts to colleagues and ask what they would write in response to your prompt.
4. Give students your grading rubric with the assignment prompt. Your rubric can range from an entirely qualitative list of questions or to a chart with numbers — it can be any evaluative tool that explains your criteria when evaluating papers.
5. Give assignments that you’re excited to read.
6. Show students models of what good academic writing in your field looks like.
7. Finding models can be difficult when you start teaching, but you can even use course readings as models to break down how experienced writers use structure, good grammar, and evidence to support their arguments.
I feel like some of my grading comments are directed at justifying the grade I give the paper, which makes grading feel like a conflict between me and my students. I feel like it is necessary to be almost mean in my comments in order to justify the grade the paper deserves.
1. Offer rewrites. Students often won’t take advantage of even a generous re-write policy, but this will help them recognize that their grade is a product of their own work and effort, not an arbitrary and final decision by you. What could be conflicts between you and students over grades can become discussions about what students can do to produce better papers.
2. If you offer rewrites, you have the option to only comment on drafts, not on the final papers, since students already know what they need to work on. By having students highlight their revisions and include the commented.on draft with their final paper, you can simply read your comments, the student’s revisions, and assign the paper a grade.
Some students get basic facts wrong in their papers and seem to have no grasp of the course content.
Consider whether essays typed and written at home match your learning goals for your students. If you’re teaching a general education course, regular, short answer quizzes instead of formal essays or even midterms and finals may help your students keep up with the course reading and lectures, and learn the things that you think are most important to learn in introductory courses while dispersing your grading responsibilities over the semester in manageable portions. Writing is important, but writing can be done informally with in-class, ungraded writing or as a class during discussion time by writing just one great paragraph together on the board or in groups.
I know or suspect that my students are intentionally or unintentionally plagiarizing.
1. Talk about plagiarism throughout the course of the semester. Explain what plagiarism is in your own words, and why it matters so much. Research shows that students educated about plagiarism actually do it far, far less. Right from the start, calmly tell students what plagiarism is and why they shouldn’t do it, and keep talking about plagiarism as the semester continues.
2. For longer assignments like research papers, require a bibliography, outline, and draft at different points in the semester (and give credit only for those that you receive on the established due dates).
I can’t get any of my own work done during certain weeks of the semester because my grading load is so intense.
1. You should schedule time each day (at least 30 minutes) to do your own scholarship. Figure out when you’re sharpest and most engaged, and use that time for your work. For most people, this is at the start of the day, but it can vary. Consistently doing work during a scheduled time is proven to give you more good ideas than if you just wait until inspiration strikes.
2. You can assign the students papers that relate to your own research interests so that you can stay in touch with your scholarship while teaching.