Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The "get it done" grading system

It's the grading season right now, and we are pretty much all grading. Flavia just wrote a great post about this, and I'd agree: Grading can be satisfying if you just resolve to, well, "git 'er done."

The way I've graded for a few years goes like this:
1. Gather what you need to grade: papers, books for checking citations, etc.
2. Get yourself a "cool tool" or two. For me, it means this:
  •  Filling up pens with an interesting color of ink (green, purple) for the paper versions.
  •  Download e-versions to grade electronically on the iPad (iAnnotate has improved exponentially lately!).
  • Or, if it's early in the semester where I'm still giving lots of explanations about things, open up the file of auto-text or cut-and-paste entries so that I can use those for routine things and spend more time really writing comments about the content.
[Update, because Flavia asked in the comments: students have the choice of turning in a paper version OR an electronic version, so the "cool tool" I use depends on what they gave me.] Now, these are not Hammacher-Schlemmer cool tools, but they are what pass for cool tools with me. They may seem frivolous, but they aren't.  They make grading exciting (yes, they do), and they make you want to get started.

3. Write down the students' last names in some kind of order. I mix it up so that I don't read the same students' papers first or last every time.  This serves two purposes: (1) you can't avoid a student's paper and (2) you get to cross the names off the list.  If you are at all the "cross it off the list is very satisfying" kind of person, this really helps.

4. Get a timer and figure out how long you're going to allot for each paper.  You may need to adjust the time after the first few, but if you've been teaching for a lot of years, you should have a pretty good idea of how long they should take you. If you're tempted to take longer, ask yourself this: "Is the student going to benefit from this additional comment or correction?" Sometimes it's "yes," but often the answer is "no," and you have to move on.

5. Build in some breaks or changes in activity. Flavia recommends taking a break every 6 papers, and that sounds good. I also change it up by grading X number of electronic versions and then X number of paper versions. A change may not be as good as a rest, but it helps.

I have colleagues who prefer the "10 a day, every day" system, and if that works for them, that's great.  Since I am an ace procrastinator, what this meant was that I would spend a couple of hours dreading grading, a couple of hours grading, and then a few hours trying to settle down to writing or reading because my mind was still back with the papers.  Where grading is concerned, I'm a monotasker and definitely not a multitasker.

Another advantage is that for me, there's a norming process that goes on so that I can grade more consistently from paper to paper, since the overall features of the whole set and its issues are in my head somewhere.

Grading still takes longer than I think it ought to, given this system, but the end result is what Flavia talks about: once it's done, it is done, and you don't have to think about it any more until the next set. That's incredibly satisfying.


Flavia said...

This is great--and I totally agree about the "cool tools." I'll also have to try the cross-name-off-list method, which sounds like it would satisfy my own OCD compulsions.

But I'm curious about your paper versions vs. electronic versions: do you mean that you grade the same essay BOTH in hard copy and in an electronic version? How does that work?

I'm getting an iPad soon, and I'm really interested in the grading possibilities. But I do feel that hefting the paper into a physical pile gives me a tangible sense of accomplishment that I'm not sure has an equivalent satisfaction with electronic grading...

undine said...

Flavia--thanks for stopping by! I loved your post on grading.
About the papers: I give them the choice of handing in their essay in either format. Some students prefer handwritten comments, so they hand in a paper copy, and some like typed comments, so they upload an electronic version. I used to make them all use one format (sometimes papers or sometimes electronic), but since it really didn't matter to me, I gave them the choice. I used to miss the diminishing stack of papers feeling that you're talking about, but crossing off the names seems to satisfy that.

What Now? said...

I have totally migrated to a "get 'er done" philosophy over the last few years (whereas I used to be a "5 per day" person). Partly this is because I teach HS now, and so I have smaller classes that tend to do smaller assignments -- easier to plow one's way through any one pile -- and also they do more assignments, so it's crucial to stay on top of it because the work to be graded just keeps coming in! This year I'm trying to get things back within 2 or 3 days for short papers and one week for longer papers, and I haven't yet gone over one week (except for one class that didn't meet one Monday because of a holiday, but I'm not counting that). I feel like I'm always racing now, trying to get things graded faster and faster ... but I'd rather that than the feeling of dread that I used to walk around with, knowing that the pile of grading just kept looming. Also, of course (and again, maybe especially with HS students), I think students learn more from my response on their papers if they are still pretty close to the writing experience, so faster feedback leads to better learning. Also, it used to be that the longer I took to grade, the longer I felt the comments needed to be on the work; going faster, I don't over-comment.

Nitewriter said...

I grade the weakest writer's papers first. That way my brain is fresh and I can provide a lot of valuable feedback before the frustration sets in. Once those are done, I zip through the better and best papers pretty fast. Really fast, actually. But they still get a lot of feedback - it's not as hard to find the right things to say.

undine said...

WhatNow--someone should give you a gold star for those turnaround times. I agree: they learn more if they get the papers back sooner, and taking longer leads to over-commenting.

Nitewriter--that sounds like a good system, too, and the good papers can be a reward for getting the others done. I had to go in the other direction (mixing good and bad) because of procrastinating about starting to grade if I knew the bad ones were up first.

Anonymous said...

I am very get it done on grading. With breaks and so on but single focus.

Anonymous said...

I am very get it done on grading. With breaks and so on but single focus.