Home » Higher Education » Grading and Offering Helpful Advice

Grading and Offering Helpful Advice

I have large classes and this means lots of grading for me and my team of Teaching Assistants. I do not have Teaching Assistants for all of my courses, though. What I will say is that grading offers an interesting moment. That moment when you can assess if a student has: followed directions, read the material, organized her/his ideas well, and attempted to do the assignment in a timely fashion. Grading, though, is not about the student. It is about the work. And, this is where things get complicated.

Most of us take issue with people evaluating our work. It’s tough. The evaluation can make you squirm or sit taller in your chair. I’m cognizant of this, when I mark papers. There are moments, when I want to say: you totally kicked ass with this assignment. But, alas, that is not appropriate or even helpful. I might offer something like, it’s obvious that you have spent time thinking about the materials and have successfully articulated your analysis. Then, there are those moments, when you just know that a student did not have enough time to complete the assignment or did not manage his/her time well and you weigh what you need to say. I take no pleasure in offering critical commentary about student work. In most instances, I will offer that the assignment or paper did not meet the requirements. I try to avoid using the word: you. You is personal. The student reads it in a different way.

I have witnessed many students turn the to the last page for the grade. I was the type of student who read page by page the comments and if the grade was on the first or last page it did not matter. I wanted to get the feedback. I tweeted the other day that I was marking and was attempting to balance three things.

1. Firm    2. Fair    3. Compassion

These three things are important to me. The mark can influence a student’s assessment of their work, but also of the class, and the department. Maybe I’m thinking too much about this. But, I really do think that the feedback is important. Even if the assignment is just terrible–feedback is important. When the assignment is a failure, I do ask the student to come see me. I want to know what happened and if I can help. No student wants to earn the F. Usually there are extenuating circumstances and this is when I can offer guidance and compassion. Grading is not easy. I provide my first year students with a paper checklist, so that they can remind themselves of each component. This is a useful exercise for them, but even so it will not translate into 100% of the students using it or using the checklist properly. I continue to mark and think about the marking or grading process.

For my Teaching Assistants, the grading process is similar. I know from talking to them that some take the grading personally. They only want the students to succeed and feel a sense of frustration, when the students do not do well. They say, “I reminded them of this in tutorial. Why aren’t they following directions.” And, then, they are very proud when a student does well. Grading can seem so subjective at times, but ultimately it is not. We have our grading rubric and the grade categorization and explanation from the university. We know what we are looking for and we hope to find as many strong assignments as possible. In the interim, we plug away at the grading and offering useful commentary to our students.

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3 thoughts on “Grading and Offering Helpful Advice

  1. As part of my teacher training, I’ve just read a book on how to design and grade assessments—it agrees with everything you say! I’ll be reviewing it in the next couple of days.

    • Thanks, James. I find most assessment books interesting and useful. Lately the big thing I try to emphasize to students is: you are not your grade. This grade reflects this assignment. I don’t want them to personalize the mark, but (and not contradicting) I want them to own the work.

      • I particularly remember giving a super-shy (but smart) student an F in a speaking assignment because she could barely string a sentence together. A couple of days later, she was wearing a Nike tracksuit that said, “SMARTER THAN YOU THINK”. They really take grades to heart. She would almost always get A grades in essays.

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