female professor looking over glasses December 14, 2015

Contested Grades and the “You Earned It” Retort

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A common rhetorical move we professors make when students object to a grade is to reframe the discussion. We’ll say, “Let’s be clear. I didn’t give you this grade. You earned it.” And if it were appropriate we might underscore our zinger with a smugly snapped Z. But stop and think about it. When we make the “you earned it” move, it’s simply an attempt to shift the debate away from the fairness or interpretation of our standard and onto students to justify their effort by our standard, which really wasn’t their complaint.


happy to be grading papers December 10, 2015

Grading with Grace

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It was just a passing comment in a student’s email reply to me concerning some questions I had raised on her most recent paper. She answered my inquiries and then basically thanked me for “grading with such grace.” This is not a word that I have ever associated with my grading. Tough–yes; thorough–you bet, but grace? Doesn’t that imply my being too easy? Had I given more credit than the student deserved?


grading papers November 16, 2015

An Objective Approach to Grading

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It was always the same scenario. I’d be feeling a great sense of accomplishment because I had spent hours grading a set of English papers—painstakingly labeling errors and writing helpful comments. Everything was crystal clear, and the class could now move on to the next assignment. Except it wasn’t, and we couldn’t. A few students would inevitably find their way to my office, plunk their papers down on my desk, and ask me to explain the grade. Something had to change. I knew exactly why I was assigning the grades, but I obviously needed to find a more effective way of communicating these reasons to my students.


student studying October 28, 2015

What’s a Good Faith Effort?

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In some types of assignments, it’s the process that’s more important than the product. Journals and online discussion exchanges, even homework problems, are good examples. Students are thinking and learning as they work to sort through ideas, apply content, or figure out how to solve problems. So what the student needs to get credit for is not the product, but the process. And the way most faculty make that determination is by deciding whether the student has made a good faith effort.


frustrated student October 22, 2015

Dropping Scores: The Case for Hope

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In “Calculating Final Course Grades: What About Dropping Scores or Offering a Replacement?” (The Teaching Professor March 2014), the editor notes that “some students … assume that course content is a breeze, [so] the first exam serve[s] as a wake-up call.” (p. 6) In two Introductory Psychology classes (150 students), I recently implemented an effective three-step strategy for getting the best out of such students (and, indeed, all students).


one student in lecture hall October 20, 2015

Calculating Final Course Grades: What about Dropping Scores or Offering a Replacement?

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Instructors commonly cope with a missed test or failed exam (this may also apply to quizzes) by letting students drop their lowest score. Sometimes the lowest score is replaced by an extra exam or quiz. Sometimes the tests are worth different amounts, with the first test worth less, the second worth a bit more, and the third worth more than the first two—but not as much as the final.


three students with writing assignment October 1, 2015

Provide ‘Feedforward’ with Exemplars

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There is growing interest in the pedagogical literature in something called feedforward. It is, as the name implies, the opposite of feedback, which provides input after the fact. Feedforward offers input focused on the future. It lets students know what they should be doing or could be doing differently next time. If it’s a similar assignment, the “do differently” is specific advice on changes that will improve the next assignment. If it’s a different assignment, the “do differently” identifies what’s not the same about the next assignment and what needs to be done in a different way.


stack of papers to grade September 29, 2015

How to Give Your Students Better Feedback in Less Time

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Online instructors focus most of their teaching on curricular issues—what they will teach, how they will teach it, etc. But studies have found that differences in curriculum have little, if any, effect on student outcomes. John Hattie compared more than 100 factors related to student achievement from more than 180,000 studies and ranked the factors from most significant to least significant. Remarkably, “Programmed Instruction” came out at the bottom. While faculty toil over getting that perfect lecture, the variation in learning outcomes from different lectures is negligible.