Posts Tagged ‘assessment’

It’s the end of another very busy term.  I taught 5 courses this term which probably helps explain why I have neglected this poor blog for the better part of the last four months.  I apologize. As I look toward the spring and the summer courses I am scheduled to teach, I really hope to find more time to keep this blog space up to date.

As a first step in reentering the blogging world, I am going to do a brief wrap up post to reflect a little bit about what worked and what didn’t in my virtual classrooms this term.

1. Group presentations.  In my brand new course on Contemporary Literacies, my students worked together in small groups to create a group presentation on a topic of their choosing.  Although working in groups on a project like this is challenging for students working at a distance, my students faced challenges (such as different time zones, technical issues, etc.) and created presentations that were informative and fascinating.  I will definitely be using more group and paired assignments in the future.  If you are interested, you can see the final projects here: http://edes543atuofa.wikispaces.com/Group+Presentations+on+Literacy+Topics

2.  This I Believe. In the same course, I decided to give a smaller final project instead of a big paper or research project.  Modelled after NPR’s This I Believe program, I asked the students in my class to synthesize their learning and write a short piece about what you now believe about the future of literacy, literacy leadership, reading, etc. in schools and school libraries. I think it was a challenging assignment, in part because of the length (no more than 1000 words) required students to be brief and to really synthesize what they had learned in a clear, concise way.  It was also challenging because I asked them to record their statements and post the mp3 to the course wiki.  I think hearing the words spoken aloud forced some people to revise and reflect even more. To me, this was a really powerful final assignment that was much more effective than a traditional research paper or final reflection.  If you are interested in seeing and hearing some of my students’ fantastic statements, they are all posted to the course wiki here: http://edes543atuofa.wikispaces.com/This+I+Believe+Assignment

3.  Face-to-Face via Skype. I taught a section of the Department of Elementary Education’s capping course this term (it is the final course students take in their MEd).  I helped 11 students through the process of writing a large paper on a topic of their choice.  One thing I discovered as part of teaching this class is how important and powerful the occasional face-to-face conversation can be in an online course.  I had the chance to skype with several of the students in my class and really enjoyed that face-to-face interaction.  I don’t know how possible it is to schedule regular skype conversations with students (particularly when I am teaching 30 students in a section) but it reminded me of the importance of connecting with my students in different ways.

4. Information gets missed. I need to think about new ways to ensure that the students in my classes see and pay attention to all the relevant information on the course site.  I know that in the early days of a course, there is a lot of information to take in and remember, but I discovered 2/3 of the way through one of my classes that a few people really misunderstood a major part of the course requirements.  It is cleared up now, but it got me thinking about what I can and should be doing in the early days of a course to make sure that all that important information is shared in an effective way without being overwhelming.

5.  Grading.  Assessment of student work is hard and takes a lot of time.  I usually try very hard to get my students’ work back to them as quickly as possible, often within a few days of an assignment being submitted.  However, this term, sometimes the grading  just got away from me and I could not mark as fast as I had hoped. This term I had to learn to cut myself a little slack and not worry too much if I didn’t get my grading done as quickly as I would like.

I am still processing and thinking about this term and considering how to make adjustments to my next set of classes based on what I learned this term.  I am looking forward to continuing to improve my teaching and my courses for my next groups of students.


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I have wanted to be a teacher since I was 6 years old and I used to set up my dolls with my chalkboard and teach them to read and write.  I have always wanted to be a teacher and I am thrilled that I am doing what I love by teaching for 3 different universities.  That’s not to say teaching is easy or even always fun, but I love to learn along with students, I love to see how my students change and grow and develop over the course of a term, I love to push my students to think about things in new or different ways.  In short, I LOVE teaching.

What I don’t love about teaching, however, is grading. I take my responsibility seriously and while I enjoy looking at student work and reading my students’ thoughts and ideas (many of my students are very creative and it is always interesting to see how they turn an assignment into something really great!).  What I don’t like about grading is the time and energy required to grade assignments effectively. I want to provide good feedback, I want to be able to justify the final grade on the bottom of a paper or project with thoughtful, useful comments, but all this takes a great deal of time, especially when I am teaching many different courses each term (right now I am teaching 4 different courses for 3 different universities and I have about 70 students all together).

I also don’t like the anxiety and stress that comes when I return assignments and then have to face a barrage of emails questioning and complaining about the grade.

Overall, grading is the worst part about being a teacher and right now in the university term, it is the grading crunch.  From now until the middle of December, I have to mark: integrated literature reviews, research journals, blog projects, grant proposals, program evaluation reports, final reflections, and final projects.  That’s a lot of grading to get done in about a month.  I see a lot of coffee in my immediate future.

Over at the wonderful blog Hook and Eye, Aimée Morrison talks about how she handles the grading crunch.  She suggests grading in clumps and taking breaks.

Here is what I wrote in a comment to this post at Hook and Eye:

I do the clump approach too…and I often try to mark 1 or 2 that I think will be ‘good’ first and then save 1 or 2 (hopefully) good ones until the end. I am terrible about getting distracted while I grade, so doing small numbers at a time helps. I teach entirely online so my grading is all on the computer…sometimes I use a paper rubric or grading sheet and fill it out by hand (and then scan the grading sheet to return it electronically). I find being able to write on paper helps give me something else to focus on while I am grading and my students often appreciate the handwritten comments (if they are legible!). I have also started using Evernote as a way of providing students with feedback. I create an Evernote notebook for each student and share the private link with them individually. Then, I can just add comments/feedback/marks for each assignment to their notebook. This works particularly well for journal assignments or for other long term or big projects that they work on and which I give them feedback on periodically throughout the term.

Evernote has been a revelation for me this term and I am so glad I added it to my grading toolbox.  It has been a fantastic way to provide ongoing, formative assessment to students throughout the term.

Another strategy I have been using for some time is to mark written work directly from Word (I ask students to submit their work as .doc/.docx or .rtf files) and use track changes to make comments throughout their work.  This means my comments are always legible and I can simply save the paper and return it by email or through the course management system.  Using track changes to make comments, ask questions, etc. throughout the assignment also means I don’t have to make as many final comments at the end.  I see these comments throughout an assignment as a conversation of sorts–and hopefully they are more useful to the student than a lot of disjointed comments at the end.

From the other comments to the Hook and Eye post, I like the idea of setting a time limit for each paper and trying to stick to that–it is very true that it is easy to spend a lot of time on each paper which then means the job never gets done.  Like another commenter, I tend to only do fine edits of a small section (one page or so) of an assignment rather than correcting the entire assignment.

Because so much of my current teaching (and therefore my grading) takes place online, I get a lot of screen time.  While this is handy in some ways, it also means it is really important to take time away from my computer while I am in the middle of a grading crunch.  I’m hoping this afternoon, for example, to take a break and go for a run.  I also tend to get lots of laundry and vacuuming done on the days when I am grading virtual piles of assignments!

What are your strategies for coping with the grading crunch?

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