Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Need Focus

Some of the academic bloggers I read are now into their summer work, others, like me, are in grading slog.  I think some others are still in teaching mode.

I'm not doing well at the grading slog right now.  I'm finding it hard to stay focused and get things done as I need to.

As of last Friday, I had 63 papers and projects of various lengths to grade.   Of those, 31 had to be graded by today.  The rest need to be graded by tomorrow morning.  I now have 15, I think.  The ones for today are all done.

There's a point with any sort of paper that I'm just tired of reading them.  If they were all superb papers, I would still be tired of pushing through them, trying to grade and respond in some useful way.

It may seem to people who aren't grading that it shouldn't be that hard.  How hard is it, after all, to read a couple of hundred pages of a book, even a scholarly book?

If I don't have to prepare to teach it, I can cruise through a fiction text pretty quickly.  I suppose if I didn't have to think about how I was going to use it or take notes, I could cruise through scholarly texts reasonably quickly, too.  But it seems that I'm pretty much always thinking about how I can use them in classes or research, taking notes, trying to synthesize and put things together, and that slows me down a good bit.  It also means I can't just read when I'm tired because I won't retain enough.

Grading reading is more short term for me.  I have to be able to retain what I'm reading long enough to write a helpful comment, but not longer.  On the other hand, I also have to figure out how to formulate a helpful comment.  If something's brilliant, that's not too hard.  You talk about the best points and how good they are, maybe make a specific suggestion to help make something better.  For lousy stuff, it's harder.

You know how in pedagogy classes folks are always talking about leading with a positive comment?   Sometimes it's really difficult to say anything positive, especially if the writer hasn't really done the assignment or turned in something that gets anywhere near the assignment.

For middling papers, experience has taught me that if I give something a B and lead with a really positive statement, I have to be pretty careful to balance it with at least one specific suggestion for improvement.  Otherwise, I'll inevitably get a student coming up to me wanting to know where s/he "lost points."  I hate the "lost points" discussion.  You didn't lose points.   You didn't earn the points in the first place to have them to lose.

Break is over.  I have a final to give in an hour, and should be able to grade three or four essays in that time.  So I need to try to get a couple more graded before that, and then my evening will be manageable.

Please send focus.


  1. I'm not sure it will send you focus to comment here, but I'm passing on focusing vibes nonetheless.

    I sympathize with the lack of understanding about grading. It is really hard work, especially if you are someone who believes in giving at least some feedback. One of my colleagues gives no feedback and just assigns a grade, and he thinks grading is no biggie. I don't get it. (He's not in English, but in a liberal arts field.)

    Anyway - good luck with the rush to the finish. I hope you'll have some good bike rides waiting for you at the end of your grading pile. :)

  2. The mediocre papers are the worst: not good enough to make your heart sing, not bad enough to make you laugh, just blah enough to force you to come up with some reasonable justification for a blah grade. But the good news is that it'll be over soon!

  3. I'm impressed that you're commenting on final papers. As a general rule, I don't comment on papers due on the last day. I do keep the papers filed away for a year, and if a student asks for his/her work, I reread it and comment in a way I think will be helpful in his/her current class.

    I've found that 90% of the students don't come back for final papers, so there's no way I'm going to spend precious hours commenting on papers I'll just shred in a year.

    This probably wasn't a helpful comment, but maybe it'll help you re-frame your grading time.

    1. That makes total sense, Bethany. I give the papers back at their final exam, so they definitely get the paper back. I don't comment extensively, but I think a basic comment or two can be really helpful, especially if students have done well and obviously put in good work. I think it's worth acknowledging in ways that help the students see how good their hard work is.