Saturday, October 12, 2013

Grading 'til I plotz

I remained sleep-deprived for another solid week; last night was the first in weeks in which I really got a full night's sleep, and rose without the aid of an alarm.  This past Sunday, I managed to catch some interesting conference proceedings over in Major University Town down the road.  It put a number of interesting ideas in my head, about which I might blog someday, depending on how fast the gears start turning.  But of course, doing one thing sometimes prevents you from doing another, and going to the conference (and, er, the party afterward at the organizer's house) meant that, even though I started grading essays on Saturday, I couldn't get hit the bulk of my huge stack of papers for Intro to Pseudology until Monday. 

It took me the full damn work week to finish grading the essays.  No joke.

I've never felt grading to be such a challenge as this turned out to be.*  I'm trying to be a kinder, gentler Koshary, so I kept it firmly in mind that the process of composing a reasoned argument supported by source materials is actually way more important for my students than any particular fact I might tell them.  (This goal is really a subject for a post of its own.)  This meant that I had to read past some truly daffy thinking and concentrate on whether or not they demonstrated good practice in how they got to their daffy ideas. 

It also meant that, since I really do want the students to learn how to write a clear analytical essay, I ended up having to write far more extensive comments than has been my style in years past.  Most of these students didn't even process what I said to them when I explained how to structure an essay like this, because they have absolutely no experience with it.  Couple that with their previous total ignorance of pseudology, and you can imagine the bizarre meanderings that I had to read and grade all of this week. 

Perhaps the greatest challenge for me in all this was figuring out how to channel my impatience with stupid ideas and terrible command of the English language into positively phrased comments.  There's a lot of effort involved in the changeover from "Indefensible claim, unsupported by sources, and this is a sentence fragment" to "Be careful to double-check the exact language of your sources so you don't misstate their ideas.  Also, it's a good idea to proofread your work for correct grammar and clear meaning as well as spelling."  Also some wine.  Wine helps, as long as I'm winding down the evening when I pour myself a glass.

I was dreading diving back into grading for these classes, since they just took their first test on Friday, a test composed primarily of long essays.  Two classes of three- to four-page essays took me six days.  But today, I sat down with my coffee and a classful of tests, and four hours later (including breaks!), they were finished.  I should be able to do the other class in roughly the same time frame.  I'm trying to find some way to parse this difference other than to note dolorously that grading is a lot easier and faster when you don't have to care as much.

*That is, not when I felt there was any hope to teach the students anything.  Lord knows grading at Ghosttown U. was a challenge, but that was more Sisyphean heartbreak than pedagogical process.


  1. I'm pretty frank in my comments on papers -- which is something I think students appreciate. They tell me they do at least. Getting to the point without worrying too much about how nice I'm being saves us all some time, and it helps to grow their thick skin. I know that I am a radical in this way, and I know that rhet/comp people would jump down my throat about it. (I get shit about this from colleagues, but not students who have to deal with my methodology first hand.) Thing is -- I think that students used to write better when people (editors/teachers) were more frank about their writing skills. I have no research to back that up, as the rhet/comp people will point out. But I do have my own experience as a student and teacher, and my method has worked pretty well.

    That said, I'm warm and fuzzy in other ways.

    But yeah - grading papers with any bit of integrity takes a long time. I anticipate suffering over it for at least the next week or so. Ugh.

  2. I agree with Fie. In some cases, tough love may be a better approach. There have been a couple of times where I had to say, "This is unacceptable." Students actually ended up responding somewhat positively, to my surprise.