Monday, April 30, 2018

Making grading human again

Can you stand another post about grading?

I was struck by something making the Twitter rounds a few weeks ago. Someone (can't find the original tweet--sorry) asked students about the readers of their papers.

Said one student: "I've never had a reader for a paper. I have only had rubrics."


Do rubrics promote consistency? Reams of studies apparently say they do.  Can people use them successfully? Apparently so, though they don't work as well for me. The only rubrics I use are minor ones for checklists: did you number your pages? did you write the date on the paper? do you have a bibliography?  Did you call this file "Paper 1" and thereby make it indistinguishable from the 40 other files called "Paper 1" that are currently filling up my grading folder?

But that tweet gave me pause. Are rubrics not representative of a human being reading and making judgments?  What about typed comments? What about no comments except at the end of a paper?

More to the point: do students perceive these as indicating little human interaction?

Background: About halfway through the semester, I stopped typing in all the comments in Word and went back to grading on the iPad.

But I had grown weary of typing on an external iPad keyboard in which some of the letters were missing. Logitech keyboards only last about a year, and this wasn't my first one, so when I couldn't get another because the iPad was too old, I got a new iPad, the one with the external keyboard, and an Apple pencil. It was a combination of YOLO and a big Costco rebate that made me do it. I had to update iAnnotate, too.

What a difference! Using the Apple pencil is amazing, and yes, I actually want to grade papers now, though that honeymoon may wear off eventually.  It's like no other stylus I've ever used; it's like writing on paper, but smoother. I still type the final comment, but not the inline ones.

Back to the main point: I felt more connected to the students' writing again, as though I were responding immediately and personally rather than simply robotically explaining things.  It's as though I were in more of a conversation with them. The grading standards didn't change, but my approach did, somehow. Maybe it's partly that I wasn't sitting at a desk but could write with the iPad on my lap, as I might when reading and taking notes. Maybe it was that we were further into the semester and were more used to each other.

What did the students think? I asked them whether they had a preference, and most did not. Some were kind enough to say that if writing the comments took longer, I ought to take care not to overwork and handwrite everything, which was pretty nice of them (but then, they're nice students).

I still think there's a place for typing the comments on the side, especially at the beginning.  But once you've established the grounds for what's happening, you can enter a more conversational mode. You can interact with their papers with a pen and handwriting and be a reader, not a rubric. You can make grading human again.


gwinne said...

For most of my classes, I still collect--and write on--hard copies. I use the language of the 'rubric'--from the assignment sheet--where I can. But mostly when I used rubrics it not only took longer but involved complex mental gymnastics where I fudged to come up with the grade that I would have come up with without the rubric. I still wrote comments by hand.

For me that's about (a) saving time, (b) saving my body (I have a hand thing that is worse typing than writing), and (c) saving my soul.

One of my classes this semester required me to comment on electronic docs. I hated it. I will say it made organizing grades easier (yeah, I still have a paper grade book for the others) but otherwise it took me longer, even cutting and pasting comments. It also meant I had to grade in the same space as my laptop, which is often not the case.

But....I will say I'm intrigued by your stylus idea. I might have to give that a go for notetaking and see how it feels.

This is a side-note, but I've been stunned lately by the number of students who have asked me if I can tell them their grades.... as if taking the percentages on the syllabus and their actual grades on assignments involves some professor magic and not simple math.

Fretful Porpentine said...

OMG, yes, the "I have no idea what my grade is" crew drives me up the wall -- especially when it turns out that they have had, say, a C+ on every single assignment and somehow cannot work out that this means their current grade is a C+. I mean, I know what they actually want me to do is start using the gradebook in the LMS, but I have no idea why I should do more work because they can't do simple arithmetic.

Undine said...

gwinne--that was my experience with rubrics, too. I'd be too kindhearted (not wanting to put a check mark under "missing" or "needs work" when one was warranted) and then end up with grades that didn't reflect the quality of the work. I had to comment on electronic docs all semester, either with Word or with the stylus, and the stylus definitely made it quicker and more fun.

And yes to what you say about calculating grades! There are X points completed. There are Y points left. There are Z total points in the course. Can't you do Z - X = how many of the Y points you need to finish to pass the class?

Fretful Porpentine--You're right about grading. Even keeping the grades in the LMS won't help since the grades there aren't complete until the end. They could have 4 C+ grades, but if there's a big assignment still to come, it might get averaged as a D in blackboard because all the points aren't there.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I teach math classes in a math-heavy major and kids these days (TM) don't know how to calculate a weighted average like kids of yesteryear. Maybe it is them getting used to having blackboard calculate it for them.

I have a really hard time assigning points to written work without a rubric because once something is below B levels of bad, I have no way of figuring out what kind of C-F it deserves just based on my gut (or where in the 0-79% scale it belongs). I do include subjective things in the rubric, but it's nice to have an idea about how many points royally screwing up any part of the paper is worth.

I want a stylus!

Undine said...

nicoleandmaggie--you totally need to get an Apple pencil (or stylus)!

In other news: after some worried student emails, I spent the whole morning figuring out just where Blackboard was going horribly awry with its calculations. It had, of course, hidden all the features where weighted averages and dropped grades could be entered, since the last time I taught this course. It's right now, according to my Excel gradebook. The only problem is that I apparently gave out good grades on the discussion boards like Oprah giving out cars ("YOU get a 25/25! And YOU get a 25/25!), so the grades skew higher than their papers would warrant. That's a problem for next time, though.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I'm using Canvas and the misnamed "SpeedGrader" this year. It is definitely far slower than grading on paper, though returning papers electronically is faster. I did have to change my grading scheme, as Canvas's handling of weighted averages and letter grades is worse than I could have imagined. I now set points for each assignment and just do total points (no weighting, no letter grades), since that is all that Canvas can really handle.

Stylus and iPad would probably not work with Canvas, given how bad SpeedGrader is.

Undine said...

gasstationwithoutpumps--setting points and total points is the way to go, I think. I ultimately had to clean out all the weighting and fancy stuff. "SpeedGrader" sounds less than optimal!

profacero said...

I still like to grade on paper with a pen.

I do also grade the AP exam in Spanish literature, and we use rubrics. It has turned me against them, although I see the point for a national exam like that. But rubrics are all about form and not content, in the end, and are too uniformizing.