Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Epiphany and Resolution on Grading

I've been so grumbly and fierce lately, looking at everything including Tot and AL through a black cloud. (I had an annoying project hanging over my head along with laryngitis on top of the move.) But I've just finished an annoying project and I'm almost over this laryngitis and Tot is taking a nap, and it's time to recommit myself to being more positive.

So here's one thing I'm thinking about: as much as there is a lot about grading to hate, both theoretically and actually, the way I typically grade (waiting until the last possible minute and then grading in a huge black cloud huff) doesn't allow me to enjoy it. It's really not much of a possibility. I always read papers with the seeds of interesting conversations in them, conversations I would like to have and should broach with my students (especially considering who my students are and how little intellectual engagement is part of their everyday lives). (I'm not trying to bash my students here; I'm always surprised at how interesting my students are, considering everything. I teach at a specialized institution where only certain kinds of students apply/attend -- students who are not at all like me or who I was at their age. Moreover, they do not come to my uni to take my courses. In fact, my department doesn't have a major; we're purely a service department.) So when my students are up for interesting conversations, I should jump on it. I always put the paper aside and sigh that there's no time for that. Grade grade grade. And I always forget about the pedagogical opportunities of grading when I'm procrastinating digging into a big stack.

I want to enjoy my job more. In fact, I'm determined to. Procrastinating essential parts of my job that I don't like does not make me like my job more. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it -- especially since I tried contract grading, but this doesn't work with my procrastinating tendencies -- but I'm getting control of this grading issue. I am interested in what my students say. I do want to have these conversations. I do want to wade through their prose and help them fix it. I need to think of grading differently.

6 comments:

Professor Zero said...

Yes - I am trying to figure this out, too. The instructors say, just don't grade. Don't assign writing, assign grammar and oral presentations, why suffer. But, they're not trained to be able to figure out some better way of grading, and I am, so I ... will ...

Marci Johnson said...

Hi -- I'm excited to have found your blog. I'm also a college professor/almost hippie mom, so I'm looking forward to reading your posts!

Unknown said...

Hi! I, too, am excited to have found someone I feel I have something in common with. My toddler (3 next month) is napping in my bed while I try to work on doctoral stuff. My latest assignment is to blog, for eight weeks.....so, here I am. I share your grief over grading as well. I know I put it off until the last possible minute because so many other things take priority, like teaching classes, the loooonnnngggg commute to and from work, and the kiddo who gets my almost full attention when possible. So, I grade after she goes to bed, when I SHOULD be in bed. So, I'm too tired to focus, it always takes longer to finish than I ever think it will, and I give far more attention and feedback to the first several I tackle than I do the bottom of the stack, which I can barely focus on at the point when I finally get to them....As a student, I relish any feedback from my instructors. And I know my students appreciate it as well. I HAVE to make it a priority to be a better grader this fall. Perhaps my Academic New Year's resolution is to do just that, make grading a priority. Have you come up with any sage advice since your post?

Earnest English said...

Welcome Marci and Unknown and welcome back Prof Zero! In answer to your question, Unknown, I don't have any sage advice! I'm sorry. I've been moving. But in a few weeks, I'll be collecting stacks of projects again -- and so we'll see how it goes. I think grading is probably like working out (for me) -- I forget how good it can be even though there is initial pain. So my first approach is to try to shift my thinking about it -- really, mostly, trying to regulate my negative thoughts about it. I want to dive in before I really think or worry about it much. I also know of people who have goals like grading five projects on the first day of receiving the stack.

A mentor of mine had an interesting strategy: she'd read all the projects, but not actually mark them. In this way, she could see how the projects stacked up against each other and think and figure out what grade each needed without getting into the detailed marking that makes grading a pain. In the few instances when I've actually done this, I have found it makes reading and engaging with them more enjoyable. On the other hand, when I go back to grade, it feels like I'm wasting time.

I know I have to get away from the tendency to want to mark everything, which doesn't help me or the student-writer, but it's hard to remember.

I guess I do have a couple ideas. I look forward to reading y'all's blogs. Glad you commented!

Unknown said...

Hi, It's "Unknown" again, but you can call me Ingrid. I LOVE the idea of grading five the first day they're collected. That might actually make me not want to stop until they're all done, but at the very least will have me well into a class before I put the others aside. Thanks for the great strategy. And, I totally agree with the working out analogy, though I'm not sure I actually ever enjoy the working out part nearly as much as reading my students' work. :)

Thanks again!

Earnest English said...

Welcome back, Ingrid. And I can't take credit for the idea of grading 5 on the day of pickup: I stole it. And I've never done it, though I have read reading responses and that sort of thing the same day, but only if I can breeze through them. Hope it helps! Let me know!