Is Grading Exciting?

“Is Grading Exciting?” is an Alumni Op-Ed written by Marilyn Salagaj, Class of 2000.

Image obtained from teachingcollegeenglish.com

Image obtained from teachingcollegeenglish.com

On the cover page of my Physics Exams, it states “I am excited to see what you have learned” and it is mostly true.  Am I excited to see that my students are still accidentally writing “weight” when they really mean “mass?” – not really.  On the other hand, it is thrilling to see how many of the students are able to accurately articulate how a car driving around a corner and a truck driving around the same corner are different using the physics terms inertia, centripetal force, and acceleration correctly.  No one becomes a teacher because he or she loves grading assessments; and yet it is an essential task we must complete carefully and thoughtfully.

It seems to be impossible for me to mark an answer incorrect without thinking to myself “Why didn’t this student know the answer?”  We all want our students to learn what we spend class time teaching.  So we wonder is there anything I could have done differently.  Did we do enough hands-on learning?  Did I provide enough practice?  Could I have said anything to help motivate the student to spend more time studying outside of class?  Most often this moment of reflection is cut short by the fact that there are piles of exams that need to be graded and time is always a limiting factor; especially now that parents can check online for real-time grade updates.

Grading is time-consuming for me since I am the type of teacher who needs to write comments all over the paper in order to assign a grade to each open response question.  Other teachers have stated, “You know that most of your students will not be reading what you write.  They’ll just check the grade online.”  And that may be true.  But what if the student does take the time to look over each answer?  I want to be sure that the exam is not only an assessment tool, but that it is also a learning opportunity.  I offer feedback regarding what they did well and how they could have improved their response.  I do not enjoy calculating quarter grades since I want students to continue to improve their understanding of both new topics and topics that we studied earlier in the year.  The reality is that there must be periodic check points to formally acknowledge what the student has learned up until an arbitrary date.  So I grade with all of my purple pen comments in hope that my students will learn from my suggestions.

Many schools are pushing for common assessments – formal tests, lab reports, or projects that all teachers of the same subject assign and grade using the same rubric.  The main idea behind common assessments is not to see which teacher should get a plaque for teacher of the year, but to see what we can learn from each other.  If one teacher’s students consistently out perform the other students, then that teacher most likely has valuable information that would help the other teachers become more effective.  It should not be considered a competition.  In my 11 years of teaching for 4 different schools, I have not yet worked with a teacher who did not want to be as effective as possible.  We all want to have that warm fuzzy feeling of success we get when grading an assessment that amazes us because of how much our students have learned.  It never feels good to mark an answer incorrect. So why not learn from each other?

I encourage other teachers to collaborate, use common assessments, analyze the data, and continuously work to improve your pedagogy. All of your hard work will improve your students’ learning.   Consider grading and comparing common assessments results – one tool that will allow you to have more warm and fuzzy moments.

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