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How I grade

Posted on: March 22, 2020

I am physically and mentally drained as I approach the end of academic semesters with my partner institutions.
 

 
I facilitated the last class online yesterday right after an intensive feedback and grading week. I normally have two weeks to grade a major assignment, but its deadline was extended by a week so I had to squeeze the same amount of work into less time.

Just how difficult was this to do? To do this particular assessment justice, I have developed a three-phase approach.

  • Phase 1: Get an overview by skimming all submitted papers without grading anything. I do this with classes of 10 or fewer students because the assessments are complex (Masters or Ph.D. level). I also do this so that I am not harsh with the first script and lenient with the last one.
  • Phase 2: Providing formative feedback and grading, both with a detailed rubric. The rubric helps me remain objective as I award marks. I do not believe in over-praising or relying on praise for feedback. I would rather be direct with my feedback on what my students need to do to improve. But I make it a point to acknowledge effort and provide encouragement where it is warranted.
  • Phase 3: I walk away from the graded scripts and return to them one more time to check on my feedback and score totals. I find that the time away helps me overcome blindspots and catch mistakes I might have made in Phase 2.

Phases 2 and 3 total up to four hours per script. That works out to about half a work day per script, so I schedule two papers a day. When things get intense — like last week when I had less allocated time — I worked in three papers a day.

This is intense work. It requires intense concentration and objectivity. So I try not to grade and provide feedback at home because there are too many distractions and comforts there. A side benefit of this habit is my knowledge of several libraries and cafes where I can work in relative peace.

Would I change anything? I wish I could make people in shared spaces speak in hushed tones, but I cannot do that. I try to change unhelpful mindsets and practices my students might have as a result of uncorrected habits. I build this into our sessions immediately after I return their scripts. But, no, I would not change what I think is a rigorous grading process.

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