Author: Dr. Lisa Dickson (English)
1. Expectations and Mental/Emotional Stances
Grading can be time-consuming and occasionally frustrating, but it is also often your primary one-to-one interaction with students. It is a big responsibility as you are managing not only the material and your own resources, but also the students’ orientation toward the material and their own capacities. The grading can determine students’ future efforts and attitudes toward their personal worth and their development of skills and understanding. It is important, therefore, to find a space of equilibrium from which to engage productively with student efforts. Here are a few tips on how to manage your own mental and emotional stance when grading:
- ETHOS: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU: The purpose of grading is to assess the student’s labour and help them to progress, not to demonstrate your superiority or to make them feel inadequate or incapable. You will be more effective if you can get yourself out of the way and focus on the student’s development. They will respect your authority if your practices and expectations are transparent and well-articulated;
- EMPHASIS: RESPECT: It helps to keep your equilibrium if you approach every assignment as a genuine attempt on the part of the student. Respect the student’s labour. While it can seem otherwise, 99.99% of students are not actually trying to insult your intelligence or tick you off. What you see as disengagement and lack of effort may in fact be symptomatic of an underlying learning challenge or a whole matrix of external factors that influence their performance. It’s not about you.
- MINDSET: Coming to each assignment from the position of respect for genuine effort (even if the performance is not stellar), and a recognition that it’s not about you will allow you to avoid the enervating and demoralizing effects of anger and impatience, and will therefore allow you to be more consistent in your assessment.
- TOOL: REFLECTION: Remember your own time as an undergraduate and reflect on your own experience as a learner. This strategy will help you to adopt a more effective and respectful stance toward your task and the students you are assessing.
2. MANAGING Time:
The first rule of grading is that it will take up all the time you give it. In order to avoid the grading monster that eats up all of your time, here are some tips:
- Allot a specific amount of time for grading and stick to it (Consult with instructors and fellow TAs to get a sense of how much time you should realistically schedule given the type of assignment and your level of experience);
- Do not “over mark”: The temptation is to fix every single error in a paper or assignment.
- Identify the first few instances of an error rather than compulsively marking every instance;
- Strike a balance between helpful notation and overburdening the student with a seemingly insurmountable challenge;
- Direct the student to the appropriate resources to help them correct their errors rather than simply making all the corrections yourself. Allow students to take responsibility for their own improvement;
- Identify KEY ISSUES, elements that the student can work on in the immediate future, rather than every single possible thing that needs to be fixed;
- Do not second-guess yourself: The temptation is to regrade (especially in situations where you hit a whole batch of “Bs for everyone!”). Start with a clear understanding of what constitutes an excellent assignment and trust your abilities. If you start regrading everything, you’ll never finish. When in doubt, give the instructor a sampling of assignments and get external feedback.
3. NUTS AND BOLTS: Consult with your instructor so that you have a clear understanding of the following:
- the instructor’s PHILOSOPHY OF GRADING: Each instructor will approach grading with different aims and expectations: E.g. to “weed out”; to diagnose or identify areas for further instructional emphasis; to correct; to determine if students have met particular standards; to “kick in the pants”; to encourage risk-taking etc. Understanding the instructor’s philosophy of grading will help you to
- determine the tone and emphasis of your commentary and marking;
- resolve unusual cases/responses;
- the purpose of the assignment;
- the assignment’s expected outcomes (What is the student expected to be able to DO or DEMONSTRATE in each particular assignment?);
- the amount of commentary or intervention you are expected to make in the assignment (Do I write in the correct answers and edit sentences or do I simply indicate that an error has been made? Do I suggest alternatives?);
- processes, procedures: Ask the instructor to clarify the following:
- when the grading is expected to be done;
- in what form the grades should be given (Percentage? Letter? Grading curve?);
- how the grades should be managed (Hardcopy? Exel? Blackboard? Is emailing grades permitted?);
- whether you are expected to use grading rubrics and whether or not these should be shared with the students;
- how much autonomy you are expected to have with regard to the assessment of the work (Must you stick to an answer key? Can you give part marks? Are you permitted to make judgment calls on unusual answers or approaches?);
- whether the instructor wishes to review the grading before it is returned to the students (You will need to build in time for this);
- whether you will allow resubmissions or regrades (College policy requires that any offer of resubmission for grade must be given to the entire class);
- whether you are authorized to deal with student complaints about grading or whether these should be sent to the instructor;
- how you should deal with suspected cases of plagiarism or cheating.