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.