I have a confession to make. Well actually I have two. First, I absolutely love my job. I count myself lucky to be able to work with the caliber of students at my institution (and the quality people that they are), and to be a part of a supportive, tight-knit department. The individual freedom that comes with working in academia is an enviable aspect of the job. With that being said…I detest grading…with a passion. I do not enjoy grading of any sort. In fact, and this is no joke, when I have finished grading a test or term papers I feel like my soul hurts. Grading is by far the worst part of my job. I am pretty sure I have the best job on the planet already, but if I did not have to grade I know for a fact that I would have the best job no doubt about it.
It is tough for me to put a finger on why I dislike grading so much, perhaps it is the monotony, perhaps it is the perceived difficulty of the task ahead, perhaps it is the realization that grading takes time away from other projects I would rather be working on. The biggest problem I face stems from my distaste for grading – I am reluctant to start grading in the first place, which can present problems for completing my grading in a timely fashion. Reminding myself that I have a commitment to my students to put my best effort towards the feedback I provide when grading and the timeliness of my grading is the primary reason I am able to finish.
Most of my grading takes the form of grading written work. I do not administer multiple choice or scantron tests, instead I opt for short and long essays on my exams, and multiple papers throughout the semesters. Most all of the quizzes I give are in the form of short responses as well. I place a heavy emphasis on writing in my classes, and sometimes this takes the form of communicating your ideas and responses in a timed environment for an exam.
Something I have done to try and help myself in grading exams is change the instructions on my exams. I alert students to the fact that each short essay question can be answered in 4-5 sentences, and I will not read past the 5th sentence. I believe that these instructions force a focusing of thought and specificity of language, both of which are valuable skills to employ outside of academia as well. I rely on relatively well-defined rubrics to help guide my grading for term papers, but I find myself leaving tons of comments on each and every paper. Per the class I am taking this semester, a suggestion is to focus my feedback on papers to 2-3 primary points of emphasis. If I employ this method, then I would feel bad about omitting other areas of improvement in my students’ writing. This year I have opted to continue commenting on all aspects of students written work and then offering extra credit if students set up a meeting with me to discuss their writing. A majority of the students in my classes each semester take me up on this offer, which I guess could be viewed as validation for my efforts in grading and providing feedback.
In summation, grading is tough for me on a number of fronts. I do not enjoy it and I devote a very large chunk of my time each semester to it. I would like to change my perception of grading and the practices I employ when grading to lessen this negative aspect of my job. I have been exposed to the idea of “ungrading” (see the work of Jesse Stommel - https://www.jessestommel.com/how-to-ungrade/) as well as “group tests”, both of which are options that interest me greatly. However, I am worried about implementing either one of these practices before my tenure decision. So I am excited to see what tips and tricks my co-authors produce for the rest of this series.
written by Brian Day