Monday, May 12, 2014

A Real Question

Serious question here.

Why is grading so onerous?

I'm sure everyone else tries to write assignments that will lead to interesting projects and papers, but still, grading is onerous.

Grading is so onerous that we make jokes about cleaning houses as procrastination and so on. 

But I really want to think about why it's so bad.

That and I'm procrastinating.  Are you?

11 comments:

  1. Grading isn't so bad when I'm getting paid by the hour to do it and I'm not the one who did the teaching. I kind of enjoyed it as a TA. Relaxing. And I often got insight into things by figuring out how people made their specific mistakes.

    Grading sucks when they get things wrong that [I taught them and] they should have done well on and I feel like I somehow failed them even though really I didn't. Usually the excellent work gets graded so quickly I barely notice it, but the bad stuff takes a long time so it seems like it's a larger proportion of the student work. I'm always pleasantly surprised at the end when I tally up points and most of them did pretty well.

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  2. I think there's a lot in the not-doing-the-teaching thing; I never found scoring AP exams particularly agonizing in the way grading is agonizing, although it is tedious. (It also helps that you don't have to explain or justify the grades in any way, and you have no responsibility to keep the students from making the same mistakes again; commenting on the papers after you've graded them is the hard part.)

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  3. hm. grading. It wouldn't be so bad if there weren't so many errors! An F paper takes forever to grade; an A paper no time at all, the reverse of the time invested by the author of the paper. I love to see my students' work. It is the best feedback on how well I am getting things across to them. It's just that I can get that from glancing over the paper; I rarely need to grade every little thing. Yet, to assign a grade, I must figure out a fair weight for every question or item, then apply that weight regardless of neatness or effort. How about we read and make comments, but don't have to assign a letter or number grade??? That would make me much more enthusiastic about "grading." And, if some students would surprise me by doing their work with greater investment in communicating their understanding to me, that would help, too. After that, it's just the sheer numbers. Three dozen of the same thing over and over; it's mind-numbing. And that's just one section.
    Might as well dive in, with lots of coffee and chocolate at hand, and:
    As Mary Poppins would say, "well begun is half done." So, just get started: it's the only way!

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  4. Agree with all of the above. Also (and related), I think recent research on decision fatigue may be relevant: for basically any kind of grading other than multiple choice (which is done by machines these days), or something else really obvious/mechanical (which I suspect most of us consider less-than-ideal assessment, at least for the bulk of the final grade), one is making dozens of small decisions about how to deal with responses one didn't envision (and with a good assignment/prompt, there will be responses one didn't envision; that's sort of the point); what to weigh more or less than what; what, as Stephanie points out, to mark or not; etc., etc. Add to that the angst and/or guilt (and/or just plain frustration) N &M and Porpentine reference, and repeat it over and over again, and you've got, in Skinnerian terms, an aversive activity -- one that is not only draining in itself, but that probably gets more draining over time, in anticipation as well as in reality, as unpleasant experiences pile up. I wonder whether there's something cognitive-behavioral-therapy-ish that we could do, such as look over historical results that really aren't that bad, or just remind ourselves of same, that could make it easier?

    And yes, I should be grading (or answering the emails that sprouted after my last round of posting grades -- another phenomenon likely to lead to aversive conditioning) right now.

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    1. I gave a long reply totally agreeing with this comment and providing examples and cites... and then Blogger ate it. :(

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  5. I've thought a lot about this recently. I have a friend who's very much of the "well begun is half done" persuasion, but I just can't snap to it like he can. I procrastinate while the papers and exams ripen on my desk.

    Why, when I know I'll have to do it at some point? Why do I find grading so difficult to get done? I think it's because while we might see incremental (or sometimes even pretty dramatic) improvement over the course of a semester with some or even several of our students, undergraduates as a group never get any smarter or better at writing. So, every term it's back to the drawing board.

    I realize that this is kind of like a local physician being frustrated because no matter how many ear infections or other maladies she treats, sick people keep showing up at her office. However, most of us who have been marking undergrad papers for 5-10 years (let alone 20, which is where I am nearly) pretty much know what we're going to see, and we're sick of making the same damn comments and corrections all of the time. Bottom line: marking undergrad papers is boring. It doesn't make us any smarter, which can happen when working with grad students and when doing peer reviews. It's just a Groundhog Day activity, which is why I dislike it so much.

    That doesn't mean I don't think it's unimportant. As a colleague of mine says, "this is why we get paid the big bucks." Anyhoo--happy grading & happy end of semester to you all!

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    1. I think that you're very on the mark, Historiann.

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    2. Aversive activity. Yes, grading is an aversive activity!

      Yes, I am procrastinating grading, but can I just say how much I love hearing people say they hate grading. Because I hate it, and I feel like it's such a big part of what I do that the fact that I hate it might be a sign that I'm not cut out for this work, though I love the teaching. But I know a big part of it is the evaluation part. If I could just read their papers and write comments, that would be great. But I better get at it.

      EE

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    3. If hating grading meant you weren't cut out to be a good teacher, no one would ever be a teacher in a graded system!

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  6. I think this aversion is why I have so many drafts or papers that I comment on without grading. I avoid the decision, or postpone it, and then when the final versions come in, either they've taken my comments seriously and it's nice to grade, or they've ignored them, and I feel less angst about the final grade. And still I too procrastinate.

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    1. That seems like it's a great strategy for some people. I have friends who comment extensively on drafts, and then not hardly at all on final work. And it works for them!

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