Most teachers, including those like me who absolutely LOVE teaching, consider grading a chore. It is repetitive, and it takes a lot of time. Here are some tips I learned from Linda Nilson at Clemson University that can help make grading more effective:
1. Begin by sorting
Look over all the assignments quickly and sort them into categories such as: excellent, very good, OK, not so good, poor. Now that the harder decision is made, you can further save time if you:
2. Use a grading rubric
The more detailed your grading rubric, the less comments you have to write on assignments. All you have to do is highlight the category that applies. Just Google and learn how to create good grading rubrics. Even after providing feedback on a grading rubric, you feel you want to say more. In this case, consider doing the following:
3. Provide collective feedback
Write a note to the entire class and provide overall feedback without identifying any individuals. You can structure it like this:
Overall, excellent assignments showed these features, and had these kinds of mistakes:…… (make lists).
Overall, assignments that did not meet expectations did these things well but had these kinds of mistakes: … (make lists).
4. Outsource the grading onto students
One brilliant tip I remember from Linda is a win-win situation. If an assignment has lots and lots of minor errors (e.g. typos), return the graded assignment to student but do not point out every minor error. Tell the student that if s/he identifies X number of errors, s/he can get X number of lost points back. This is a very good learning experience for the student, and saves the teacher time.
There are many other tips out there, but these are the ones I know that have helped me a lot. If you are interested in learning more from Linda, check out her book:
This last one is from me:
5. Trust your first instinct
Beginning teachers spend a LOT of time double-guessing their decisions. You think this assignment is a B+, then spend 45 minutes arguing with yourself, only to arrive at the same decision that it is a B+. Trust your first instinct. Be confident. You’re usually right. If you’re not, be on the student’s side and try to see how they can do better and earn a higher grade. Usually tip #1 above helps reduce agonizing time.
What other tips do you have that can make grading more effective?
I’ve been trying to practice more mindfulness lately and one of the things I’ve noticed as a result is how often informal learning happens. It made me think that we should create more opportunities for that – after all, isn’t a teacher one who creates opportunities for learning?
A few examples:
- At an informal PRSSA get-together, we were sitting around a table munching on chips & salsa, and students were exchanging interview experiences. People would tell stories, share advice and resources. It hit how much the students were learning about job interviewing during that relaxed, informal conversation.
- When I was a graduate student at Purdue and had first started teaching, other grad. students and I would often get together and “bitch” about students and teaching. I’m now realizing that those bitching sessions were actually learning sessions – we learned a lot from each other about classroom management, assignments, and new exercises to use in our classes.
- I was sitting in my office with a couple of students earlier today talking about a report they have to write about Career Launch Day. One of the students interrupted me to ask “Where did you learn this? How do you know so much?” Compliment aside, I realize her question marked an instance of learning. She was learning something new during our informal conversation.
My previous employer, the University of Dayton, had launched this program to encourage informal interaction between faculty and students. For example, I could host a book club at my house, and the university would pay for pizza. I left UD before I got a chance to take advantage of that program, but I now understand they were on to something: Creating opportunities for informal learning.
The Clemson culture is more formal than UD, where it was usual for faculty to go out to lunch with undergraduate students – so, other than PRSSA meetings, I don’t see many opportunities for informal learning here.
How can educators create more opportunities for informal learning? Or should we? Will students count it as “real” learning? Will administrators?
Even outside academia, I hope we’ll take that second to acknowledge and appreciate when learning happens – many times not at formal lectures and conferences, but on the beach or over a beer…
Do you have any informal learning stories? Care to share?
[This post is also inspired by this amazing memoir/reflection on academia, A Life in School.]
Academics’ emotional lives are not often topics of discussion, though depression is rampant among academics – I remember seeing an Art Bochner column in Spectra on the topic.
Academics, especially those in the humanities, live very isolated lives. We’re trained to be independent thinkers, we’re not required to work together, and we are evaluated individually – sometimes we’re in competition with each other. So unlike other professions, in our workplace there’s no community to belong to. No team spirit. You’d be amazed to see how little conversation there is in the hallways of Communication departments.
But we’re human, and we find the community we crave in students. For one semester, 1-2 times a week, we’re part of a group, leaders of a pack.
And it’s more than that: Teaching, to me, is an act of care and love. I don’t understand how you can teach someone, how the minds can come into communion, in the absence of care and love.
Every semester, I get emotionally invested in my students’ success. I wake up at night worried about their assignments and email them ideas; I worry about them finding jobs and internships; I cry because I’m so proud of them when they succeed. I don’t always do the best thing (I’m still learning and growing as an educator), but everything I do comes out of a place of love.
And then the semester ends.
I hate being left behind in the empty classroom.
I usually cry.
I can’t handle the thought that this wonderful little community (with its quirks, inside jokes, and little traditions) we have created in class is gone.
I don’t think this is healthy. But no one ever talks about it and how to deal with it. I think teachers need emotional support and training – how do you deal with the many emotions associated with teaching, with working with people?
I don’t know, how do you deal with them?
This semester, I won the teaching evaluations lottery. It got me thinking about what makes a good teacher. It’s really an elusive concept. Some semesters I’m the best teacher ever, others I’m… not.
I always try to reach out and relate to students as people. I genuinely care about them and invest a lot, mentally and emotionally, in these people who, for one semester, are my responsibility. I approach teaching with awe and care, because ultimately, what I am doing, is messing with their minds. For one semester, they sit there and we talk, and I’m supposed to guide, direct, have the answers, be right. They open their minds to me and I get to mess with them. Scary.
Messing with their minds is what many of you in the strategic communication professions (PR, marketing, etc.) do. Granted, your audience is more skeptical than mine, but every time you communicate, whether it is to an audience of 10 or 10 million people, there is a chance you are messing with their minds.
You get to teach them new ideas & beliefs, influence attitudes and opinions, and change behavior. You can influence your publics on an individual level (yey! Mary bought my brand of… insert product here) and you can influence the overall culture (think about how the Mastercard priceless commercials have become part of everyday culture here in the U.S.). That’s what I call messing with their minds.
Communicating involves a huge responsibility, because when you communicate, you get to mess with people’s minds.
Are you aware of that responsibility? Do you reflect upon it?
The easy test I apply is: What if they believe me? What if, out of 10 (or 10 million) people, there are a few who 100% believe me? Who do as I say? If my communication is successful, and they believe me and do as I say, will their lives be any better? Will the world be any better? Am I, knowingly, causing any harm? What if my communication is really changing someone/something in the world? Am I comfortable with the direction of that change?
I don’t claim I’m always successful (at communicating, or at applying the above ethics test) and I can’t claim that all ethical responsibility is on one side. Yes, people should take care of themselves and protect their own minds against my messing with them. Yet I can’t help but reflect on my responsibility as a teacher and communicator.
Thank you for (not) allowing me to mess with your mind. What are your thoughts?