December 10th, 2015

Grading with Grace


happy to be grading papers

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?

As a result, I paused to ponder my current grading practices. Was I too lenient? Had I lowered my standards? Have I softened over the years? Maybe. Or, was I misunderstanding her use of the word, “grace?” Perhaps she meant finesse, ease, or fluidity. Indeed I had provided the assessment results within 48 hours of the paper’s submission. But no, I think the reference to “grace” was something else.

This innocent student comment caused me to consider how we should go about grading. Ought we not to grade with concentration, with deliberation, with persistence, with objectivity, with fairness, and even with anticipation? Do we ever consciously think about our mindset as we begin the assessment task each time? Does grading with dread more accurately describe our typical approach? Or worse, do we sometimes even grade with a grudge?

One of the reasons that I try to grade as quickly as I can manage is to stay within the same frame of mind and to use the same criteria for a stack of papers. Rubrics certainly do help. However, the one thing I learned best from my own testing and evaluation professor was that all measurement contains error. This truth has afforded my students the benefit of the doubt when things aren’t as clearly evident and are more subjective in nature.

I have no major insights or answers to offer here. After 38 years of teaching, grading is still a struggle for me. While I wasn’t sure whether to take the student’s comment as a compliment, my initial reaction has changed. Grading with grace? I’ll take it.