Review: The Zen of Grading

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By Sophie Sparrow from University of New Hampshire School of Law

Ruthann Robson, The Zen of Grading, 36 Akron Law Review 303 (2003) [Read fulltext (922 KB PDF)] (Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Akron Law Review, © 2003; reprint courtesy

If you are providing students with individual comments on their work, or if you are thinking about the grading process that will occur in a couple of months, Ruthann Robson’s article, The Zen of Grading, provides a wonderful perspective on evaluating student work.

As she states in the opening paragraph,

I estimate that I have spent over four thousand hours (almost six months of days and nights, or a year of long summer days) hunched over student work during my teaching career. I can be difficult not to consider student exams as a mere obstacle, a chore of the most unpleasant type to endure, and the worst part of our otherwise usually rewarding work as professors.

In the five sections that follow — Invisible Practice and Practice, Beginner’s Mind, NOW, Sangha, and Desire and Suffering — Ruthann Robson shares her thoughtful views on grading students’ work.

“Love” may seem like a strange emotion to consider in the context of bluebooks, but each exam can present itself as a love letter of sorts. It’s a personal communication from the student to me (only in rare cases will someone else read this exam) which the writer has a chance to display amazing revelations, if not of heart and soul, then of mind. This is the student’s opportunity to express utmost attention, such as some fragment of a class discussion that reverberates on the page with lyrical intensity.

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