Keeping up with Grading by Meggin McIntosh, PhD

By meggin@meggin.com
Jan 24th, 2014
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You can’t really get ahead in your grading, but you can certainly stay current and avoid getting behind.  Here are ten tips to support you in those efforts:

  1. Make sure that you have a planner (either paper or digital) that shows all of your major commitments throughout the year.  This would include travel to conferences, deadlines for large grant proposals for which you are applying, research trips, can’t-miss events (e.g., all-college convocation), etc.  Once you have this reasonably complete, go on to the next tip.  Note:  Be sure to include all events that are connected to your personal life, as well – or you won’t have one!
  2. At the beginning of the term/semester, when you create your syllabus, block in grading time for the weeks when assignments (other than daily/weekly assignments) are due.  Note:  I could repeat this one tip several more times to emphasize its importance.  But, I will assume that because you are a professor (and you are subscribed to the Top Ten Productivity Tips) you are smart and will really recognize the importance of this imperative practice even if I don’t repeat it throughout this week’s tips.  If you do this one, the other tips shared below fall into place much more easily.
  3. If you teach more than one class, as most faculty do, lay your course syllabi side by side to ensure that you are not scheduling major assignments, tests, and projects to be due in multiple classes the same week.  Reconfigure your due dates so that, except for final exams/projects, assignment due dates are staggered throughout the semester and among your courses. Always pay attention to what else you have committed to (see Tip #1) when you are scheduling projects, big exams, etc.
  4. Require that students submit their assignments in a format that will facilitate easier grading for you.  If you have clearly expressed the structure, format, or other means, then either do not accept an assignment that doesn’t confirm or deduct a portion of the available points.  Make it clear that you are doing this to facilitate your grading, which means that they get the feedback in a timely manner.
  5. Create rubrics for grading, whenever feasible.  If you are not familiar with what grading rubrics are, contact your teaching and learning center.  If you aren’t fortunate enough to have one for your campus, do some research online to find out more.  Grading rubrics helped streamline my grading process, increased student performance on their assignments (which always makes the grading easier and less frustrating), and helped me grading be more fair than it could possibly be without the rubrics.
  6. When students turn in their assignments, have a system set up so that they can do so in an orderly manner.  Either have folders clearly marked (for lower volume assignments) or containers (crates, boxes) for larger volume assignments).
  7. As soon as you get back to your office, put the assignments that need to be graded in the place that you have designated as “the grading zone” or whatever you want to call it.  The idea is that this stuff doesn’t get buried amidst all the other class and office materials you have.
  8. Look at your planner to see WHEN you are going to grade whatever was just turned in.  There should be some time already blocked in if you followed tip #1 & 2 above.
  9. Grade with focus.  Concentrated, focused grading time is much more productive than trying to grade one paper here and then another paper there – or being in the midst of grading a set of papers, while also checking email, answering your phone, dealing with drop in visitors, etc.  Either close your door and put up a sign that you are not to be disturbed or grab the papers you need to grade and go to a place where others won’t be stopping in – and there is no phone or email (leave your iPhone on airplane mode!)
  10. Consider setting a policy for yourself about your grading in terms of the maximum length of time you will take between student submission and your returning of assignments.  I recommend one week.  The further behind you get, the worse it feels and the harder it is to stay on top of the grading.

Grading is part of teaching.  There are many ways to be more effective and efficient with your assignments and keeping them graded.  These ten are all ones that will assist you in your overall productivity and effectiveness, both in the realm of teaching and your other faculty responsibilities.

Meggin has been seeking ways to be more productive as a faculty member since her second year as an assistant professor.  If you learn some great ways that you would like to pass along, she would be happy to learn them – either for herself or to share with others in workshops or through one of the sets of free tips she sends out weekly.

My belief is that we all have more control than we think we do…at least over those items that I’ve listed above. Be thankful for the control you have and use it in a productive manner.

Planning Your Next QuarterAnd to have peaceful, predictable, productivity for your next quarter, you will want to access the teleseminar Planning Your Next Quarter where you learn how to strategically set up your calendar one quarter at a time…

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