sitting grading in my grandfather’s chair.

I hate grading. It’s the part of teaching that made college classroom teaching somewhat easy to leave a couple decades ago. As a student, I didn’t like the random feel of grading. It may have been because I always did the work at the last minute and hoped to slide by. As a prof, I didn’t like giving students bad news. It’s the problem of being a pleaser.

But I’m teaching again. I realized that as much as I don’t like grading, I do like coaching, suggesting, prodding, asking “what if”, asking “what about”, encouraging, and editing.  So what can remove my struggle with grading?

Here are three things. There are probably more.

Make the assignments matter.

When I ask people to interview someone and write a report about it, the most important part of the assignment isn’t me looking at the paper, it’s the process of conversation and reflection. I’m forcing them to engage with someone about a concept or a role. And then I’m forcing them to reflect on the conversation. Even if I never looked at the paper, the assignment creates a setting for change.

Make the requirements clear.

If students know what they are supposed to do, how many pages or words to write, how many references to cite, how many interviews to conduct, what kinds of samples to collect, then I can say, “you knew and chose to do otherwise.”

Offer examples of what I expect

I can give sample papers. I can point to people who model the kind of thinking and writing that I am looking for. I can tell stories about what successful completion looks like.

So why am I telling you this? Philosophical therapy on my part for one. But the other morning I read James saying, “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” And it’s in the practice that change comes. Not just repeating the reading, but doing what it says.

If I help people engage–with concepts, with scripture, with God–valuable learning will happen. And grading will be less random.

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About Jon Swanson

Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of 300wordsaday.com. I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

3 thoughts on “sitting grading in my grandfather’s chair.

  1. Thanks Jon, I too am teaching again and I hate grading this is very helpful as I am struggling to create the performance measuring assignments.

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  2. Grading is fairly new to our school. But needing Caleb to have a great looking transcript means that I am learning to create rubrics and standards and tigers and bears, oh my. I agree with the ick parts. I want to be the cheerleader. But sitting and teasing out the work and the expectations has also created a way to have higher levels of learning and conversation. While I don’t love it, I can see that it is a fertile process for student and teacher.

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  3. It’s not about grading (A-B-C) but evaluation, and the only kind that matters is self-evaluation. So it’s like you said…you only assign what matters, you create clear, high standards and lots of great examples, and you invest your time encouraging and coaching (not praising). It’s really hard, like you invest yourself in your disciples. And at the end they don’t need a grade because you’ve not only taught them the material but how to evaluate their work. The A-B-C is an obvious administrative detail.

    Wait…are we still talking about school? 🙂

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