I have three days left to prepare six classes, and I keep staring at the grading load for each and wondering whether there isn’t a better way.
As organized, each course has a 100-point system, with items like assessments and assignments each earning a particular number of points depending on their quality.
Traditional. Also dull. Also a trap, for me as much as for them.
Back in 2010 I was whining about rubrics , and in that post I mentioned that my (now retired) colleagues David and Don Megill once said in a teaching meeting (we don’t have those anymore) that there is no such thing as an objective exam – all grading is subjective. They were right. So why the numbers, percentages and other trappings of objectivity? I should just decide their grade. The fact is, for about 85% of my students I can tell in the first two weeks what grade they’ll get at the end of the course.
So the traditional schema traps me into assigning points for things, and reorganizing the grading scheme depending on what I think should be worth more or less, and at what point it should be evaluated. Which means I have to evaluate right then, even if it really isn’t a good time for them or for me. That’s the exam date, so that’s it, even if half the class doesn’t have the essay idea down yet.
That sounds like a fairly progressive way to think about it, trying to avoid pseudo-objectivity. Now on to the really cynical part.
Last semester I learned that students don’t see grading as “feedback”. Only direct, personal, extensive commentary on everything they submit is considered “feedback”. All else is “grading”, and it doesn’t count somehow as communication. Correspondingly, any kind of group commentary (for example, posting a sample essay for comparison or commenting on the particularly good posts and explaining why they’re good) also doesn’t count as feedback, as I’ve noted in a previous post. This is despite the fact that when individual feedback is given on, say, an essay exam, they often don’t read it or don’t respond to it by changing their work in any way. My most positive results last semester, where students really changed their work in response to my commentary, happened as a result of them asking for personal feedback by chat during my online office hours. Without that very personal touch (with 240 students?) they have trouble seeing that any other form of feedback applies to them.
I’ve considered more individualistic grading schemes (letting students decide what percentage of their grade is assigned to each item, for example) but they all look like big bookkeeping nightmares at 40 students per class. I have forced them to read the rubric and evaluate their own work in the Contribution Assessment, which has been extremely valuable but still doesn’t prevent complaints about “not enough feedback”. The burden over the last few years has shifted from them trying to improve their work in response to my commentary to me trying to individually improve their willingness and ability to improve their work. Yuck.
So how about this – One Rubric to Rule Them All.
Course grading rubric
A = all or almost all of the time
B – most of the time
C = about 70% of the time
D = not often enough to succeed
F = rarely or never
__ Being in class on time every day (unless sick)
__ Taking notes during class or actively engaging the topic being presented or discussed
__ Contributing to discussion in a way that increases inquiry or understanding for the class
__ Completing all reading and homework at a level indicating significant comprehension of materials
__ Working at a high collegiate level on any assignments or writing
__ Applying creative thought to historical problems
__ Researching independently any vocabulary or events that are difficult to understand
__ Actively seeking help from the instructor or college services when needed
For self-assessment, they can mark on the lines what letter grade they’re getting in each, and average them out. Or I can do it. Or both. They can do this many times during the semester, to see how they’re doing. Then at the end, I assign a course grade. And that’s it.
I wonder whether I should give it a try.