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Grading Effectively and Efficiently

Posted by on Monday, August 23, 2010 in News.

Last week, CFT assistant director Derek Bruff facilitated a faculty workshop titled “Assessment of Student Learning: Grading Effectively and Efficiently.” During the workshop, the participants surfaced a few reasons why grading can be challenging, particularly in small classes and when grading student papers.

Grading in Small Classes

  • In a small class, students expect a lot of instructor comments on their work.  You can’t use the excuse that you have too many students to give individual feedback!
  • Moreover, in a small class, you typically know your students well and have more of a rapport with them.  This increases your obligation to take a lot of time in grading and responding to their work.
  • That level of rapport means that it can be harder to be objective in one’s grading, too.

Grading Student Papers

  • It can be hard to find the right amount of feedback to give students on their papers.  Do you approach their work as a copy editor would, marking up errors and problems in every sentence?  Or do you just leave a few global comments at the end of the paper?
  • How important should mechanical issues in a student’s writing be compared to the content of their writing?  Striking the right balance here when assigning grades can be difficult.  One student might be a very clear communicator with uninteresting ideas, while another might have creative, original thoughts but not express them well.  Who gets the higher grade?
  • How can you be fair to all your students and grade in a consistent manner when students often approach their work in very different ways?  You might have a very clear rubric you use for consistency in your grading, but find that some students’ work just doesn’t fit that rubric.
  • Grading papers takes a lot of time.  How can instructors make efficient use of their time grading this kind of rich student work?
  • Students often want a high degree of transparency when it comes to the methods by which we assign numerical grades to their work.  If you’re using a more holistic grading approach, how do you respond to students who want to know precisely where they lost each and every point on an assignment?

Below you’ll find Derek’s slides, in which he summarizes some of these challenges and recalls a few reasons why we grade student work.

Ideas for Grading

Consider the following ideas for grading effectively and efficiently:

  • Analytic Rubrics – Identify several aspects of your students’ work you would like to assess. Then describe different levels of quality within each of these categories. Optionally, assign a point value to each of these levels of quality. The result is a detailed description of your expectations for student work that you can use to align your grading with the goals you have for your students’ learning, to be more consistent in your grading, to communicate your expectations to your students, and to make grading go a little faster. See this collection of example rubrics from Winona State University.
  • Light Grading – Not every piece of student work needs your full attention. Sometimes it’s sufficient to grade student work on a simplified scale (minus / check / check-plus or even zero points / one point) to motivate them to engage in the work you want them to do. In particular, if you have students do some small assignment before class, you might not need to give them much feedback on that assignment if you’re going to discuss it in class.
  • Multiple-Choice Questions – These are easy to grade but can be challenging to write. Look for common student misconceptions and misunderstandings you can use to construct answer choices for your multiple-choice questions, perhaps by looking for patterns in student responses to past open-ended questions. And while multiple-choice questions are great for assessing recall of factual information, they can also work well to assess conceptual understanding and applications.
  • Test Corrections – See Derek’s fall 2009 test correction policy for an example. Giving students points back for test corrections motivates them to learn from their mistakes, which can be critical in a course in which the material on one test is important for understanding material later in the term. Moreover, test corrections can actually save time grading, since grading the test the first time requires less feedback to students and grading the corrections often goes quickly because the student responses are mostly correct.

For more on this topic, consult our “Grading Student Work” teaching guide. Which of your grading techniques do you find particularly effective or efficient?

Image: “Making the Grade” by Flickr user jakevol2, Creative Commons licensed.

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