Sunday, December 13, 2015

Modes of Grading

I was at a collegial gathering last night, and of course some of the conversation turned to the end of the semester, and grading.  And then a couple of folks started talking about modes of grading, of getting through big stacks of papers, especially.

One of my colleagues says he grades alphabetically, except that if he's pretty sure the first paper will be horrid, he moves it to the back.  He told me that grading alphabetically means he doesn't choose to grade the papers he thinks will be strongest first, leaving him a stack of much harder papers at the end.

My dissertation director told me that he mixed, "salted" was the term he used, the papers he knew would be good into the stack so that he wouldn't get a long string of bad ones.  I remember being vaguely horrified by this, wondering how it was he knew who'd write a good paper or not.  I'm less horrified now because I know how he knew. 

I graded some yesterday, by choosing the ones I've seen a lot in office hours, which meant they were quicker to grade, and they were good, and so not unpleasant to grade.  And now I have a mixed bag left, mostly ones I haven't seen repeatedly in office hours, and one I have, but know isn't going to be easy to grade despite the best efforts of a very nice student.

I often have students write something on the back of their papers, so that I can read something different.  During the main part of the semester, I tend to have them write something about how they feel about the paper, and what they'd change, and then a question that's more random, often (excluding my class), what's their favorite class, or how's college treating them, or whatever.  And then if I get frustrated, I read the notes, and it often helps somehow.

If I just have to put a grade on (as with final exam essays), it's much faster, but since I'm returning these papers during the final, I need to write a helpful note, too, and that makes it so much harder.

Then there's the deal making: if I grade three papers I can have a cookie (or whatever), which I find not so useful because I'm able to get the cookies if I want them at any time.  And also, I have to make the cookies, generally, which takes more time than just eating one, and is time that I'm not grading.

And housecleaning.  How many of us have cleaner houses at this point of the semester than at any other (except maybe midterms)?  Guilty!

What are your grading modes? 


  1. I, like your colleague, grade in alphabetical order. It's easier to enter in the marks and when I get everything online, that's the default way you see papers.

    The last few days I've seen that would make a hardened professional cry. Seriously, there is some awful stuff being handed in. Conversely, I've also read two of the best papers in years.

    I want another cookie, though. Twenty six more essays to go!

  2. I sometimes grade in alphabetical order, and I sometimes divide the pile into X smaller piles, with the bottom of each pile being a paper I am pretty sure I will be happy to get to. The key is setting up manageable chunks between rewards (cookies, walks, whatever).