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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

So close, and yet so far...

Whenever I have large stacks of grading, I find that I can power through for a while but the closer I get to being done, the harder it is to force myself to get the last few papers done. This is true even if I take a big break - for example, I finished grading all but five papers yesterday morning and then I started working on something else, figuring I would start fresh this morning and just finish them off. I did manage to grade a couple this morning but it's now six hours later and I just can't seem to find the mental wherewithal to do the others. I have, however, vacuumed my living room, worked a bit on another project, and done some prepping for next week's classes (and now I'm writing this...). For some reason, I just can't seem to get my brain to focus so I can grade those last few papers, even though I know that it's not going to take all that long and if I can just do it, I will feel incredibly happy to be done with the whole stack. Is it just me, or does this happen to other people?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Grading blues

I feel like I've been grading for weeks. I teach the writing class in the spring and I always know that I have to mentally prepare for all the grading. Although the class is 'only' thirty students, I've still broken up the assignments so half the class submits something at a time. The benefit to that is I only have to grade fifteen papers at a time but between first drafts (which need to be turned around in two days) and final drafts a week later, one assignment means three consecutive weeks where I constantly have something to grade. And then my data class had a midterm in the middle of that, and are about to turn in their mid-semester papers today. So I guess it isn't just 'feels like' - I have been grading for weeks!

I'm not sure I know any teachers, at any level, who will say grading is their favorite part of the job, but we slog through, knowing that it's a necessary part of the job. But this Savage Minds post from Matt Thompson struck a chord with me:
... the vast majority students want to be graded. They crave it. They are satisfied only when you rank them in a coherent order and, for the most part, they aren’t interested in whatever “thoughtful” comments you might make about their essays...

Early in my career I would leave careful notes on all my students’ essays. Grammar and spelling was corrected, assumptions were challenged, tangents were suggested, and then a hand-written paragraph wrapped up my opinion of their work. A lot of this was boiler plate language, but it was a very time consuming process. Maybe 3-4 short papers could be graded in a hour.
Then one day as class was dismissed I observed students throwing away their graded papers on their way out the door. For the majority of them my precious notes were a waste and you know what? That’s fine. They are not going to be anthropologists. In all likelihood they’ll never write another essay outside of college. Instead of teaching them to write like anthropologists I’d rather start them on the journey (and it is an iterative process, for all of us) of trying to think like one. That process is something in the course itself and not necessarily conveyed by evaluating their work.
I read this at a point when I was grading both first drafts (for one half of the class) and final drafts (for the other half). I had noticed that it took a lot more effort for me to mentally gear up for grading the final drafts, and I realized that it was largely because I could see that some students* had done almost nothing to improve on their first drafts, in some cases, not even bothering to correct things I had marked in their first drafts. Of course it is no secret that some students will often do whatever requires the least amount of effort but it's hard not to start thinking, "Why am I spending all this time giving them feedback if they don't care?" With first drafts, I can at least delude myself that maybe they will learn something from my comments because, if nothing else, they will want to get a better grade on the second draft. But if I'm reading a paper from someone who clearly didn't pay any attention at a point when the comments could have helped, why spend my time making more comments they will ignore?

I will say that my rationale for giving comments at all is a bit dependent on the situation - in the writing class, I feel like the whole point is to give students feedback that will help them improve their writing, but in other classes, I often feel like I'm making comments simply to justify the final grade. That is, comments on the paper give students an indication of why they got the grade they got. In Thompson's post, he describes his current policy where students can elect to get comments by turning in a hard copy; those who don't need comments and just want the grade can turn things in electronically. I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable doing that with the writing class, but maybe...

How do you fight the grading blues?

* I am trying to be very careful here and not generalize too much - I have a good number of students who *do* work hard and are really trying to improve as writers and as economists, and I'm trying to be better about keeping those students in mind!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Odds and Ends

  • I hope Gail and KimMarie don't hate me for using this picture but they should be very proud of the work they did putting together the International Handbook on Teaching and Learning Economics (disclosure: I worked with Gail and Steve Buckles on the chapter on large-enrollment courses). The book is a bit pricey for most people to keep on their personal shelves but you should definitely bug your library to make sure they have a copy!
  • Speaking of Gail and KimMarie, they and Tisha Emerson are  co-organizing economic education sessions focused on innovative teaching practices at the 2012 Southern Economic Association (SEA) meetings. The Southerns will be November 16-18 (Friday-Sunday) in New Orleans, LA.  "Each session will be organized as a panel where each presenter will discuss innovative teaching practices they have employed.  More specifically, each panel session will have 5 – 6 presenters offering a 10-15 minute presentation of a new teaching technique or idea.  To accompany your presentation you will be asked to prepare a brief paper (3-4 pages in length) explaining the technique or idea you have implemented, the context of your innovation (school, class level, class size, etc.), and advice and instructions for others who might want to adopt your innovation.  The written summaries will be due one week before the conference. Submissions should include a title, brief description of the pedagogical innovation, and full contact information for the presenter (including name, affiliation, address, phone number, and emaill submissions should be sent to Gail Hoyt at ghoyt@uky.edu by no later than Monday, March 12."
  • I haven't seen The Lorax yet but there is something about the economics of the original story that has always bugged me and Tim Haab sums it up nicely (by the way, if you haven't already seen it, this collection of literal Seuss titles is great!).
  • I've never had a student directly say anything to me along the lines of 'I pay your salary' or otherwise suggesting they have 'bought' a particular grade simply by paying tuition but I recently read something (though sadly, I can't remember where) that I will file away to pull out if I am ever faced with such an idiotic sentiment: "You are paying for college much like you pay for a gym membership - your payment buys you access to the equipment but does not guarantee results. To get results, YOU must do the work."