Grading is my Achilles Heel

I admit it.

I hate grading and I’ve never had a system that I felt was what I needed it to be.

Since I started teaching in the Fall of 2007, grading is something I’ve struggled with, spent time mulling different incantations of grading systems, read how others graded, looked at how I was graded as a high school student, undergraduate and graduate student.  Looking back, I can honestly state that while I consider myself a voracious, diligent and dedicated student, more than 80% of my courses grading was a game.  Once I figured out how to get my “A,”  I did what was required to get the grade.

As a student, when I deciphered what the teacher wanted from me in terms of getting an “A,”  all exploratory, real learning was now secondary for me.  Unless my work and product lent itself towards the “A,” as a student I didn’t deviate from that path.  I was stuck in the cyclical and ingrained grade grubbing pattern that has been my life for 19 years in education.  An “A” is the only acceptable grade, the most desirable and therefore must be achieved.

The grade game become a glaring problem when I was designing my syllabus for my First-Year College Composition course.  I have been the Graduate Assistant for the National Writing Project in New Hampshire so I was well grounded in the principles of teaching writing and I knew, that in my heart, I value the process of writing more than the end product of writing. I didn’t want my students to be able to play the grade game with me.

I stuggled with determining not what I was going to teach, nor how I was going to teach but how I was going to transfer the student learning, partcipation and classroom activities into a letter grade that my students, parents and administration so dearly desire.  It is college after all.  If students aren’t there for the grades, why does college matter or school for that matter? (Perhaps that’s another post and please not the sarcasm).

My first syllabus (Fall 2009).  I did the best with what I thought I knew at the time.  (Damn that hindsight and its 20/20 vision.)  I thoughtfully structured my course off a points system(2400 points!) where the two drafts (vomit and revision) were worth more together than the final product.  I also used structured rubrics (4 pages long with detailed categories and examples).  Assessing those essays and projects were horrendous, not the product but assigning the “grade” was unbearable.  What separates an A from a B? Or a C from a D?  Is a D even, really worth it?

As I read the papers and circled the numbers on the rubric, I found myself “tweaking and fudging” the numbers?  I struggled all semester.  I silently stewed in my mind that what I had structured wasn’t working.  At the end of the semester, my grade-book was almost meaningless as grades were gently manipulated so that the students had the grade that they I and the students felt was more representative of where the students actually were.  Plus there were so many columns in my grade-book it was out of control.

I didn’t teach the Spring of 2010 (I had my second baby two weeks before the start of classes and even I am not that crazy.)

In the Fall of 2010 and Spring of 2011 I dropped rubrics altogether after reading Maja Wilson’s Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessments and Linda Christensen’s article My Dirty Little Secret-I Don’t Grade Writing.  I migrated towards percentage-based grading with a heavy emphasis on a final, reflective portfolio.  I still wasn’t happy.  I experienced the same difficulties with this system as I did the year prior.  I was left with my same core belief…

I value the process of writing more than the end product of writing.

…and I need an assessment system that will result in grades that accurately reflect this.

Two months ago while I was on the English Companion Ning I found a discussion on grading , or ungrading, of student essays.  This matched what I thought I was looking for at the time.  Before tonight’s #edchat on Twitter I was feeling okay about my grading system for the Fall of 2011:

  • Portfolio: 50%
  • In-Class Work: 15%
  • Reading Response Blog 10%
  • Process Pieces: 10%
  • Un-Conference Final: 15%

I wasn’t thrilled with the above grade breakout, but it was a little better.  I knew I was headed in the right direction, but I wasn’t near my final grading destination.

The last 15 minutes of #edchat tonight was simply invaluable.  While I participate in #engchat regularly, #edchat moves too fast for me still (I’ve only been on Twitter a few months and still getting acclimated).  However, tonight’s chat, I am fortunate to have stumbled upon.  The topic was on grading.  As I was skimming my twitter stream, @gmfunk mentioned the 3P System of Grading and a duo of blog posts on her use of it in her classroom.

A cursory glance at her posts geared me to find the source material of the 3P System.  Further researching, I found @CoachAllam blog and his post about why he doesn’t grade.  After an evening of tweeting with @CoachAllam, I am geared up that the 3P model of grading, might meld with my own personal philosophy of writing, teaching of writing and grading/assessing.

My goals are to thoughtfully read and review these blogs and the 3P article and meld it into my course structure for the fall.

I am hopeful that this Fall I may finally be happy with assessing and grading my students.

“You Sure Do Kill a Forest of Trees!”

With every course I teach, more and more students mention the use of paper in my courses. Yes, I teach college composition. Yes, we read, a lot and yes, we write even more. Reading and writing have always been associated with paper. The crispness of a brand new book. The crack of the spine as you open it the first time. The smell of the ink on the page.  My students; however, complain about the use (or misuse) of paper that my courses generate from course readings, vomit drafts, revision draft, clean drafts and more.  My students are generally green-conscious and they are not impressed with the reams of paper that are brandied about in my course.  I’ve heard my students and this year I am attempting to solve this issue.

This semester I am embracing technology as I never have before.  I am moving beyond Moodle, email and the like.  My two sections of composition will be paperless–paperless in terms of zero handouts from me (with the exception of the one-page course introduction with a QR code redirecting towards our course blog) and zero papers from students turned in.  Utilizing technology, students will complete a jot form from the course blog and upload all drafts of their papers.  Their papers will be automatically uploaded to my dropbox account.

Another challenge for me is to leave my widescreen laptop at home and use my iPad for my on-campus activities.  The iPad will allow me to utilze such great apps as Goodreader and iAnnotate to move the documents onto my iPad, provide the detailed and open-ended conversational feedback that I like to give to my students.  iAnnotate then allows me to e-mail the fully annotated file back to the student.  All on the iPad.

I am hopeful that this workflow flows (for lack of a better word).  I spent weeks (yes, weeks) reading, Googling, asking my small, yet growing, PLN on Twitter their experiences.  I bought apps for my iPad to try out and then regret spending the $2-$5 for an app that failed to live up to my expectations (yes, I admit they might have been abnormally high).  After a solid month, I developed a work flow, that with trial and error on my end, I believe will work.

I am anxious, unsure and wondering how this will work in the actual classroom (not just in my mind) and how the students will work with this concept and if they will embrace it.

It will be a long two months until I introduce this to my students this year.  But, I am hopeful.