Gas station without pumps

2013 December 17


Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:22
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Grades were due today, and I got all mine in on time (though I still have 28 narrative evaluations to write).  Grading is by far my least favorite part of teaching, though I find it somewhat less painful than writing grants.  Grading well, however, is the most important part of my teaching, since I try to provide detailed feedback on student programming and writing style—feedback that is essential to really learning the skills but now apparently rarely provided at the university.

Drawing On Math: Grades had a nice quote about grades:

A grade is a measure of what you have demonstrated.

It is not a fixed value.
Your grade changes as you share more examples of your work.

It does not define your intelligence, your capabilities, or your understanding.

A teacher cannot assess what you know, only what you show.

Like me, Tina C (the author of Drawing on Math) allows students to “retake, resubmit, hand in late, or otherwise make up every assignment we’ve done this quarter.”  She goes on to say “The grades in the computer and on that printout are a snapshot of what students have demonstrated up to this point. I don’t think students think of grades like this. I dare say I don’t think many teachers think of grades like this.”
Not only do I allow redos, I grade on a scale of A+ through C–, with REDO as a grade for work that does not come up to even a C– standard.

My students might claim I grade on an A– to C– scale, since an A is rare and an A+ extremely rare: out of 202 grades given on assignments (54 of which were for redone assignments) in one class this fall there were only 4 A grades and 6 A– grades. One A and one A– were on redos (moving up from B and B+, respectively).  The range of final grades was B– to B+, with only one student failing after giving up half way through the term and not turning in any more work.  Other students, whose initial work was worse, redid assignments (sometimes as many as 4 times) until they got them up to standard.  This year’s class was not exactly typical—I usually have about 10% of the class doing well enough to get an A– average, but more students giving up part way and failing.

I have gone back and forth on whether to average grades for redone assignments, take the most recent one, or do some sort of complicated weighting that takes into account how many times the student tried before getting it right.  This year I’ve chosen a fairly simple strategy—the latest grade rules, but I get stricter in my grading of programs with each redo.  Small errors in documentation or I/O behavior that are acceptable on the first submission get a heavier penalty on a resubmission—especially if I have discussed that particular error in class, as I usually do.

I’m not interested in debugging programs for students and having them turn in my own work to me, so I usually limit my comments to suggestions of thing that they might try and pointers to where documentation is incorrect or inadequate, rather than giving them detailed solutions.  I expect them to test any changes they make, and look for other places in the code where similar problems might have occurred. (I expect the same sort of revisions in papers, also—I’m not interested in being a copy-editor for the students—I want them to become aware of their own writing.)

I get impatient with students who turn in programs that don’t even compile and cannot possible have been tested, or with papers that haven’t been run through a spell checker or read through for grammar and punctuation.  Students who just correct precisely the things I point out and make no other changes may end up with a lower grade on the redone assignment than on the initial submission—my standards have gone up slightly to compensate for the extra feedback the students have gotten, and their resubmission has not demonstrated any improvement in their thinking.

I have the luxury of having fairly small courses, so I can spend 8–10 hours a week on grading and actually get some reasonable feedback to the students.  If I had a huge class and tried to spend half an hour grading per student per week, it would not be humanly possible—I would have to give up on providing detailed feedback and just do the cursory checks that now seem to be the norm.

I’m not sure what will happen in the circuits course this spring.  If it grows to 40 students, as I expect, I’ll be spending 12 hours a week in lab, 3.5 in lecture, 10 preparing new lab handouts, and 10 grading.  That’s 35.5 hours a week on the course.  When you add in office hours and meetings with grad students for research advising, I’ll be over 42 hours a week before my research and my undergrad director administrative jobs get counted. (I turned down an “opportunity” to teach another course that would take another 12 hours a week.)

A lot of the readers of this blog are teachers or professors—how much time do you spend per week on grading? How much per week per student?

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