Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Deflating the Day

I dislike grade quibbles. No, I should say, I really dislike grade quibbles. By quibbles, I mean the sort of grade questions that aren't about substance, but are about one or two points on an assignment that's a small part of things.

I especially hate when a student tells me that another student got a better grade for writing the same thing. I have a feeling that they haven't written exactly the same thing (or one of them might have plagiarized). But the student doesn't see it, and I don't have both pieces of paper in front of me.

I also hate the question about why a student "lost" a point, or why I took a point away. From my point of view, the paper earns points or a grade, starting with an F for a blank piece of paper, and hopefully moving up from there. But from the point of view of the student who asks about losing a point, s/he started with a perfect paper and I, yes, I, took away points. Or they got lost somewhere. And both of those are about me being bad.

And I really hate the students who see their point quibbles as a sort of lawyering.

The thing is, the quibbles I'm talking about are a difference of maybe 2 points out of a hundred possible on an assignment or group of small assignments that are 10% of the total grade. So we're talking about .2 on the final grade.

Now, of course, it's vital that I as the teacher treat all students fairly, but it's also true that I as a human being get a bad taste in my mouth from this sort of quibbling.

I would much rather have a student talk to me about how to do better on assignments, especially if they come talk to me before the assignment is due (which I encourage). I like to talk to students, and I'll do my best to help them write a good assignment.

But the quibbling. I think it's that quibbling about that one or two point difference feels to me like the student thinks I'm totally random in grading and not to be trusted at all. Yes, I realize that sometimes students feel that way, but it's exhausting and demoralizing, especially when it comes along with hearing the governor and politicians go on about how horrible we faculty folks are and how overpaid.


  1. Quibbling makes me want to slap students.

  2. Anonymous5:38 PM

    I haven't eliminated grade quibbling, but I have reduced it.

    First, when I hand back papers, I tell them that they cannot come talk to me about them for two days. During those two days, they need to read all of my comments and look at the question and the sources again.

    Two, if they want me to reconsider the grade, I'll do it. But I point out that I will read the entire paper again carefully. If I decide the grade was fair, it stands. If I decide I really did miss some valid point of theirs, I'll move it up a bit. But if I notice some error or problem that I didn't see the first time, the grade will go down. The simple knowledge that quibbling without reasonable grounds may result in a loss of points really cuts down on the number of students who seem to think that "Hey, complaining about a grade can't hurt, so I might as well give it a shot!"

  3. Miriam2:10 AM

    I know you weren't asking for advice, but in addition to a similar policy as Anon's (must wait a day before grade discussion, and not by email), I switched a few years ago to anonymous grading. Student names appear only on a cover sheet and I fold these back before reading. It can be a bit of a pain, but the results surprise me often enough that I keep doing it, and students have regularly said on evals that they appreciate this.

  4. Yes to all of the above. I've discovered that I have drastically reduced grade bitching by making sure that we're all using the same criteria for evaluating. So I have rubrics (painfully constructed) for all my assignments, and a web page that clearly lays out the difference between an A and a B. And between a freshman/first year class assignment and those thereafter. They might come in and want some clarification, but they have to bring in their rubric, and there are enough notes (mine) that I can explain.

    I hate the bargaining/negotiating bits though. I never learned how to do that without seeing it as conflict. And someone trying to get an advantage over me. I react badly, negatively... and that is not their problem, it's mine.

  5. These are helpful suggestions, thanks. I do the wait thing with bigger papers, but these are small journaling type assignments, and usually students don't quibble (though a couple have this semester already, which is why it was on my mind).

    I should try the anonymous thing again. How do you choose to anonymize? Do you have students put their names only on the back? Or use the last four digits of a phone number?

    Do you find in a writing class that the papers really feel anonymous once you've worked through other papers and pre-writing stuff, or no?

    And Belle, thanks for that final reminder. It is up to me how I react.