Posts Tagged ‘grading’

cc image on flickr by timailius

Right now, as the end of the university term looms, I feel like the people in this picture.  I’m juggling a lot of balls right now and trying to make sure nothing gets dropped.  As a sessional instructor (or, as I like to call it, an itinerant professor) at three different universities, I am teaching four courses this term.  Four very different courses (research methods, children and youth services, Web 2.0, and collection management), on three different online course management systems.  Each university and program has its own rules and regulations, calendar, deadlines, and dates.  Trying to meet various deadlines for grading and submitting final grades over the next two weeks is just one of the balls I am trying to keep in the air.  In addition to my teaching responsibilities for this term, I am also preparing for a presentation later this week, trying to work on (or at least think about) next term’s courses, get ready for Christmas, and find some time to do non-work things with my family.

Some days I feel like I’m managing it all quite well…and other days, well, let’s just say at least a few of those balls end up falling to the ground.

One of the things I have learned over the last few years of teaching in this itinerant model is that it is feast or famine.  During the regular term, I often teach between 3 and 6 courses for two or three different universities.  For the 13 or 16 weeks of the term, then, I am constantly busy.  I’m online regularly, teaching, emailing students, posting lectures, monitoring discussions, answering questions, guiding, leading, learning.  And grading…always grading.  During the spring or summer, sometimes I teach one or two classes, or sometimes none at all.  Those ‘quieter’ months seems very strange, particularly if I am not teaching at all, in part because I don’t earn any pay cheque during those times, but perhaps more importantly, because I am not juggling quite so many balls. And I never know quite what to do with myself.

Although I value my down time and miss having regular time to do things I really enjoy, such as quilting or reading for pleasure, I have also found that I usually do better when I have many balls in the air that need to be juggled.  I tend to be more productive when I am busy and take great satisfaction in crossing things off my long (and growing) list of things to do.  So, I will keep that in mind over the next few days and weeks as I work hard to grade papers, submit final grades, meet deadlines, and prepare for next term.  Hopefully nothing gets dropped and hopefully I can continue to find satisfaction in crossing things off my very long to do list.


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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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