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?


students in class December 1, 2015

Axial Assessment: The 21st Century Answer to Assessment

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The current state of student assessment in the classroom is mediocre, vague, and reprehensibly flawed. In much of higher education, we educators stake a moral high ground on positivistic academics. Case in point: assessment. We claim that our assessments within the classroom are objective, not subjective. After all, you wouldn’t stand in front of class and say that your grading is subjective and that students should just deal with it, right? Can we honestly examine a written paper or virtually any other assessment in our courses and claim that we grade completely void of bias? Let’s put this idea to the test. Take one of your assessments previously completed by a student. Grade the assignment using your rubric. Afterwards, have another educator among the same discipline grade the assignment using your exact rubric. Does your colleague’s grade and yours match? How far off are the two grades? If your assessment is truly objective, the grades should be exact. Not close but exact. Anything else reduces the reliability of your assessment.


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.


arm load of books November 13, 2015

Examining the Benefits of Cumulative Tests and Finals

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With the academic year nearly over and final exams upon us, it’s a good time to consider how we assess student knowledge in our courses. Cumulative finals are still used in many courses, but a significant number of faculty have backed away from them because they are so unpopular with students, who strongly voice their preferences for exams that include only questions on content covered in that unit or module.


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.