i hate grading essays
There are several past threads about grading shortcuts–such as grading for just one or two things instead of correcting all errors or problems.
Another good suggestion a few months ago: Carefully grade only the papers of the good students, or the ones making a huge effort. Otherwise you’re wasting your time.
Concerns about comparability of our evaluations. How do my judgments about this essay or term paper — or of this student over the course of a semester — compare with the judgments one of my colleagues down the hall would make of the same work? That is, there are even larger concerns about equity when the same student who earns a B from me would get a C in Ms. Smith’s class or an A in Mr. Brown’s. That same concern gets magnified, of course, when one broadens the field of vision to include whole school districts, states, or the nation as a whole.
Concerns about whether our tests gauge what students know. As teachers, we think we’re clear about signaling to our students what we want them to pay special attention to — what facts, concepts, frameworks they should focus on in their studying. But none of us communicates perfectly. When we pose an essay question about, say, McCulloch v. Maryland, are we being unfair to the student who can’t say anything meaningful about that case but can tell us everything worth knowing (and more) about the decision five years later in Gibbons v. Ogden?
I do this because in class, I want to focus on the spark, the moment the student was at her best and then discuss what it is about this moment (or these moments) that seem to carry such energy. We also talk about the parts where the spark is not apparent, but this is merely to set the best aspects in greater relief.
Instead of a teacher, assessing skills, I am a reader, responding to ideas, and in many cases the students are presenting ideas and arguments I wasn’t aware existed.
And when all this is done, another stack of papers arrives and you do it all over again, except that it hurts a bit more the next time because each subsequent stack of papers demonstrates that all the work you put into feedback on the previous stack of papers got mostly ignored. Again.
I would rather lick the bottom of a New York subway car than grade papers.
Isn’t that kind of unfair, though? Am I prejudging the quality of the paper by using irrelevant characteristics to form my judgments? That is a risk, but if I can approach the papers objectively (for example, using a grading rubric), then I can use these characteristics to decide what to read first, but still fulfill my obligation to evaluate fairly. I am prepared to see weaknesses in these first papers.
Guest Post by Carl Pletsch, Ph.D.