Reflecting on grading.

(First published October 9, 2014. )

IMG_1758I 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.

One thought on “Reflecting on grading.

  1. Rich Dixon

    Have you ever asked students to assess their own work? Hand them a rubric–before they begin the assignment–with the 3 or 4 major assessment categories and descriptors of three different levels of achievement. Then ask the student to write an assessment of the work.

    Then, instead of you grading, you can discuss the student’s assessment with her.

    It’s the only way I kept my sanity for the last ten years of my career!


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