December 15th, 2009

Grading Advice for the End-of-the-Semester Crunch


I’m thinking that this week you don’t have time for blog entries that require more than a quick read through. End of courses are such a harried time, so much grading, students lining up for office hours, final committee meetings and with the holidays, there are all those celebratory events at attend. To say nothing of everything that needs to be done at home!

So, take a deep breath and a moment to relax while I offer some simple reminders about grading.

  • Grade at a steady pace, rather than a frenzied pace, even if the stack of papers is many inches thick. Take breaks regularly, even if they are only short time outs.
  • If you’re offering hand written feedback on papers, presentations or projects, remember, if students can’t read it, there’s no reason to write it. Take a quick look at something you wrote on two or three papers back and make sure you can read it.
  • Now is the time to offer big picture feedback. Don’t focus too much on the details. Identify the two or three most important points and make those clearly and concisely.
  • It’s still important to balance the feedback, and find something positive to say even when most of the feedback deserves to be negative.
  • Despite the comments students may make, grades are not something teachers give but rather something students earn.
  • Even so, grades are assessments of a performance not of a person. Students (and some of their parents) have a really hard time understanding that, but teachers (even tired ones) need to point out the difference.
  • Although it is very important that teachers grade fairly and objectively, grades are still imprecise measures of learning, despite the fact that we use elaborate and carefully calibrated point systems. These systems may make grading look precise, but it is not. At some point, the grade also may need to be influenced by a wise teacher who has observed a lot of student learning and knows whether a specific student has met course objectives.
  • Do your very best with the grades. Be careful and thoughtful. Grades do matter. . .more than they should, in fact. They get students 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 asked you what your GPA was? I thought so. On the other hand, I’ll bet you used things learned in college yesterday, and will use use them today and tomorrow as well.