Monday, March 17, 2014

Grading Basics: Structures, Practices, and Philosophies

Hi folks!

Our recent workshop on grading basics, facilitated by Melita Denny was the pinnacle of organized discussion - in fact, you can take her streamlined and itemized summary (below) as an example of the benefits of proper grading practices. This workshop - designed around four essential questions related to the philosophies, structures, practices, and products of grading - helped us all to realize that, when we take the time to carefully plan ahead, grading can be an incredibly useful and not entirely time-consuming way to encourage the intellectual growth and development of our students. Want to know more? Here's Melita's recap: 

Question 1
What is the purpose of grading?

- Of students:
Grading used as a measurement of mastery of skills/knowledge
Showing completion of the process required by the class
- Of teachers:
The information received from grading might also be useful in evaluating the class design or teacher performance

- Graded assignments and tests can help to organize and set goals for a class

- Giving students feedback on work – let them know how well they did and help them see  
how to work to achieve the goals of the class

Don’t forget institutional requirements
 - It is important to know the grading procedures required by the institution at which you teach 
- Particular departments may set standards regarding what constitutes acceptable grade distributions for courses or programs

Question 2
How can we make the structure of the class work with grading in a cohesive way?

First know what your goals are for the class
- What sort of skills/knowledge do the students need to master?
- How can the tests/assignments reflect these goals?

Think about different ways of assessing knowledge
- Different types of tests
- Different types of assignments
Example: written tests vs. multiple choice scantrons
group projects, presentations, etc.

Think about what aspects of the assignment are most important 
- For example, do you take off points for spelling?

Sometimes the institution imposes requirements for your class. 
- For example, a music literature class that needs to have a writing component
- think about what this means for the overall structure of the class
Comment from workshop participant: “A test should be an opportunity to show what the student does know – not what the student doesn't know”
Do you agree or disagree?
How can your reaction to this statement be reflected in your assessment

Tests or assignments could give students choices of topics or opportunities for creative answers.

Question 3
What are some optimal practices for communicating about grades?

How can you best articulate what you expect for the class?
You might give
- Rubrics or other criteria to help the students understand what you are looking for
- Sample assignments
- Study guides for tests
- Clear statements in the syllabus regarding why you don’t provide study guides, rubrics, etc. (encouraging independent thinking, creative expression preferred over conforming to particular standards, etc.)

Exactly what skills do you want your students to learn?
- Maybe you want your students to learn about figuring out these answers on their own?

Turning back work
- Confidentiality
It can be a good idea to write the grade at the end of the assignment.
- Helps ensure confidentiality of the grade, especially if assignments are returned en masse and not directly to the individual authors
- Encourages the student to read through all your comments

Try to give the students a chance to review the first assignment before finishing the second one, etc.

Comment from workshop participant: “I don't want to spend too much time explaining how grades work...”
- Be clear at the beginning about how the assignments and test, etc. are weighted for the whole class (there is no curve, there is extra credit, etc.)
- On tests, be clear as to how many points each questions is worth... or be prepared to explain why you don’t want to provide that information

Subjective grading
- Save part of the total grade for “wow factor” or give points for the student who uses the assignment as an opportunity to challenge themselves
            This will encourage you to be more subjective on other areas of the assignment

Check for mistakes when adding or subtracting points
- Encourage the students to check your work
Motivates them to read the corrected tests and think about the questions they missed

Question 4
How can we grade effectively?

How much feedback should we give?
- What about not correcting everything?
Focus on just one concept, correct some errors and ask the student to finish the corrections

Format and Submissions
- Electronic vs. paper
This is a personal choice -what works best for you as a teacher?
Consider the accessibility of electronic resources for students who don’t have personal computers, printers, etc.

Time management
- How to not spend too much time with grading?
See above

- What might be subjective about your grading?
- Rubrics
Important for students to know how you grade, what you’re looking for
- Be sure that your grading is accurate
See above

Summary of Tips for Effective Grading

How do you ensure fairness?
- Allow time to review grades, ask yourself “Why did I assign this grade?”
- Collaborate with other TAs to see how your grading compares.

Have a good rubric
- If the professor doesn’t have one, you might want to develop a rubric with other TAs you work with to ensure that you are grading in the same way
- Rubrics can help the student to know what you are looking for
- Possible downside - too formulaic?

Give yourself a time limit
- Don't spend too much time with each assignment
- Too many comments can sometimes be overwhelming for students

Process and policy for re-grading
- Ask the student to submit a formal petition explaining why they think it should be re-graded
Discourages frivolous requests and encourages further learning on the part of the student

Consider your own schedule when you make assignments due
- You do have a life outside of your work!
- If you’re teaching multiple courses, don’t have all assignments due at the same times
            Especially true if you don’t have a TA to help you

So, what do you think about the points Melita has raised about best practices for grading? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

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