Repainting the Grading Blues

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By Michael Hunter Schwartz from Washburn University School of Law

It’s that time of year. The bells are jingling, the wonderland is wintering, and, of course, a giant stack of exams or papers with your name on it is coming your way (or already has come your way). How can you maximize your grading efforts for both you and your students? What can you do to make the experience less dreary, the grading more accurate, and your commenting more useful to your students? Here are a few simple suggestions.

Suggestions for making the grading more accurate. Try three things.

» First, test using a variety of tasks, not just the typical, lengthy hypo. Try short essays and short answer questions, and even consider adding some multiple choice questions. The variety will expand the range of topics and skills you assess so your assessment better reflects your course.

» Second, use some sort of grading sheet or guide, or, ideally, create a grading rubric. (For more information on grading rubrics, please see Sophie Sparrow’s article, “Describing the Ball: Improve Teaching by Using Rubrics – Explicit Grading Criteria,” 2004 Michigan State Law Review 1.)

» Third, grade all the students’ answers to each question before you go on to grade any student’s answer to a subsequent question. These latter two ideas will enhance the consistency of your grading.

Suggestions for making your commenting more valuable to your students. Draft your comments with your readers in mind. Your comments should allow students to understand what they have done well (make sure you include as many positive comments as possible even if you have to reach with a weaker exam answer), and to be able to imagine themselves rewriting their exams into excellent answers. Instead of “No!!!” or “Too conclusory” or “Huh?!” or crossing out paragraphs (all of which are, let’s be honest, mean and unclear), try comments that are hints and suggestions, such as “If you had used _________ fact to bolster your argument, it would have been more convincing” or “You did a good job finding the key facts but you need to do more to explain the significance of the facts you regard as significant by, for example, analogizing to the _____________ case.” Always assume your students have done their best. Comments that question your students’ diligence or even intelligence are not productive in any way.

Suggestions for making the grading process less dreary. Just as we tell students to set achievable study goals, we suggest you set achievable grading goals and reward yourself for achieving your goals. Pick a number of exams to grade per week that you can accomplish or even exceed. Also, to make the process less inexorable, consider grading in the same room as a colleague or doing your grading at a coffee house.

Most of all, try to complete the task of grading as quickly as possible. Both you and your students suffer needlessly if you procrastinate the grading. Oh, and have a great holiday season!

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