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Grading Jail?

Nels Highberg (in a recent Profhacker blog) talks about grading that can sometimes feel like retribution from students–but he argues for some semblance of satisfaction from the process.  Some faculty members that I have talked to see grading as a chore because they “already know” how each student is doing (this is, of course, in classes of 50 and under).  In a recent discussion during a national conference of faculty developers, one prominent researcher in higher education argued that she was campaigning against the strict curve as counterproductive to retaining our best science and math students…and so the conversation about grading goes on.

Is grading a game?  A gateway?  A reward?  A recognition of excellence or mediocrity?  A true assessment of abilities?  An ongoing conversation about learning?  Ask a student and they might tell you that they work to earn their grades, as if time on task necessarily equates with exemplary work. 


As for myself, I hate grading (I almost said “dislike” but let’s be honest), but I love constructing tests.  Quizzes and tests are more about what I can convince them to study, how I can entice them to think.  I like the conversation but putting on the final touches of grade is unpleasant.  Do you know why?  Grading tests and papers, to me, always points out where I failed to teach well.   I know that it also shows me where students failed to pay attention and work to understand.  Yet, I can also see where I did not explain a concept adequately or where I did not give students enough practice or support in their learning.  I want to finish with the grading so I can try again!  As soon as class is done, I am making notes for improvements.  There is always the next class and the chance to teach more students even better.


So I am part of this ongoing conversation about our attitudes towards grading.  Nels steers us towards other opinions and resources:

“Since writing that post [on grading jail], I have encountered more and more talk about grading.  ProfHacker Natalie posted a great roundup of the various pieces of grading advice we have offered since ProfHacker’s inception.  Several people on Twitter and Facebook linked to Dr. B’s thoughts on “The Five Stages of Grading,” which Jeff Rice followed up on in a discussion of “cliches like the burden of grading.”  He followed up on that post with another one extending his thoughts.  Steve Krause offered his own thoughts on effective and ineffective grading practices (his post is a personal favorite of mine, I’ll admit).  Talk about grading is not going away.

“I intended for my original post on grading jail and this one to be part of a more philosophical or theoretical discussion of the attitudes we bring toward the grading process because I think those attitudes shape how we grade, so we should acknowledge them.”


I agree.  Grading is necessary and talk about our attitudes is very helpful.  As we told our eighth grader the other day, “your work looks horrible.”   Since his poster represents his thinking on the project, it had better look good. That was an honest assessment!


We can be honest with our students.  They need to hear valid assessments.

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