Breaking Out of Grading Jail

El MorroOh, Karma.  Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook saw me make that comment last week, and it was in response to my post here on ProfHacker a few weeks ago asking why people sometimes refer to grading as “grading jail.”  In it, I questioned why some people look at grading so negatively.  Even though I called my view self-righteous, Karma had a little fun with me.  Since that post, I have been swamped with more grading than I have ever had in my life.

It makes sense, though, because I have been teaching two classes per semester for years because of an administrative course release.  This semester, I returned to teaching a full three courses per semester, and I added a fourth course into the mix by teaching an online course as part of our program for adults returning to college.  They are all writing-intensive courses, and I have at least one set of essays due each Friday.  Combine that with the fact that I was hit with bronchitis soon after the first round of grading began, and you can understand why I feel grading has taken over my life.

Still, I have enjoyed some of the time I have spent grading.  As long as I haven’t felt rushed, I see that time as productive.  This may also be because I allow students the option of revising any of their early assignments, so I do feel like my comments will be taken seriously by many if not all.  In the comments to my original post, timing seemed to be the biggest issue mentioned, and that’s perfectly logical.  Good grading takes time.  We can talk about tricks and reduce minutes here and there, but it takes time pure and simple.  The amount of time it takes to grade can feel even more frustrating when, as more than one person put it, we feel like we’re spending more time grading a project than the student spent producing it (I had a couple of cases of that this morning before sitting down to write this post).

Since writing that post, 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 never expected to find consensus, which is good since consensus can’t exist.  If it did, we would not talk about it so much.  Still, that does not mean this talk is not worth having.  The more I think about grading, the better I think I get at it.  Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say the better I feel about it.

The one specific thought I want to add to the discussion at this point has to do with the idea that grading is an arbitrary practice.  To paraphrase what some have said to me, it is common for all of us inside and outside of the academy to respond to writing, but the act of grading is disconnected to what happens to writing outside of the classroom.  I have to disagree.  As I thought about that point, I thought about the number of times a day I “grade” writing.  I think of the committee I’m on where we ranked grant proposals using a rubric where we gave each proposal up to five points in four categories.  At the meeting, we added up the points and saw who was on top, who was on the bottom, and made our decision from there.  I think of another committee I’m on where we evaluate scholarship applications and place them initially into three categories: fund, maybe fund, do not fund.  Finally, there is our own writing that we send to peer-reviewed journals and the grading practice that puts our work into categories of accept, conditionally accept, revise and resubmit, and reject.  All of these labels correspond to grades in my eyes.  I know graduates of our professional writing program who engage in similar activities on the job when they categorize proposals, applications, and other forms of writing.  This is why I don’t think of grading as supercilious.  Perhaps others disagree?

What are your thoughts currently on this issue?  Is grading a burden?  Is it an opportunity to interact with students in productive ways?  Is it just one more thing that has to get done in the day?  The answer to each of these questions is yes, but let us know in the comments where your head is right now.  Look at it this way, leaving a comment is a useful way of procrastinating.  In fact, maybe you should let us know if you’re reading this post or ProfHacker in general just to get away from the virtual or literal stack of grading.  I doubt you will be alone.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickruser nhighberg]

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