But I am grading

Okay Mister S, you called me out in that post you just wrote. I quote:

 (although she really needs to change her terminology, because that post is about responding to students with effective feedback, not grading).

Yes, I have spent a great number of hours over the last four days responding to my students’ writing with feedback, including being up until after midnight last night to get things graded before meeting with parents at conferences this evening. But my purpose was not solely responding to their writing. I was also affixing numbers to these papers, numbers that would go in the grade book, numbers that have stakes beyond just this one assignment. And as long as I’m affixing numbers, I consider it grading.

You will likely tell me, “well Z, stop it.” But I can’t. Not because of some kind of odd addiction to grading (trust me that is NOT even close to the case even though you just accused me of that in jest here in the office!) but because of all the other reasons the grades need to be there–some I’d be willing to circumnavigate but some I cannot.

So I’ve got this experiment of sorts going on in my senior classes right now. You know about it but our readers do not. Toward more effective differentiation for the very diverse range of learners in my senior classes, my students have the option to attend some days during the week depending on 1) if their parents said it’s okay, 2) they have no missing assignments, and 3) their grade is 85% or higher. I had to have some kind of “objective” metric for this, something that might suggest that a student is either doing really well and should have the option to work independently following instructions on my website for a given day or that a student maybe needs a bit more support and needs to be there every day. Given my inability to rework the ENTIRE system right now and suggest a totally new way to reflect student progress so that I could have a metric for my classes that wasn’t attached to grades (the system that we do currently have), I’m kind of stuck.

And as for my population of students (remember, different from your population of students), the grades are a leverage point of a different beast entirely. Your students are grade obsessed and hence de-emphasizing that is important and I absolutely support your attempts to do so. My students (less motivated on the whole as students of reading and writing) are incredibly motivated by this new incentive, to have the option to choose to attend on a certain day. For example, I’ve found that they will decide to rewrite papers more often than they did in the past to bring up a paper grade to bring up their overall grade to maintain the option to choose on those optional days. I honestly don’t care what inspires my students to choose to rewrite–I’m thrilled that this particular grade leverage is getting more of them to rewrite than ever before. The more they work with their writing, the better writers they will become. I’ve found that now that the “grade” in the grade book is attached to a real, tangible, meaningful, right-now incentive, they are all of a sudden paying closer attention to what I’ve asked them to do in my class, and they are working harder to do well. I would love to have some other metric to use for this, but it just isn’t there.

And as long as I have way too many students and not enough time in my day to manage all the aspects of my job without staying up until after midnight on a school night, responding to student work without affixing grades feels arduous so it deserves the term “grading.” Grading is arduous, exhausting, frustrating, time intensive. It makes my back hurt because I have to sit there for so long. Nothing about this is fun. I love responding to my students as writers. I just want more time built into my work day to do it.

And until the greater system as a whole starts valuing grades in a different way, I feel very stuck.

Stuck because I’m too busy grading papers.

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4 Responses to But I am grading

  1. I missed this post first time ’round…thanks for it! I am wondering how it is going a month later. I feel at the same place you were; revision a goal, and looking for motivators/incentives to offer for deeper reading. Are you continuing this process as is or tweaking it a bit?

    • DocZ says:

      Thanks for reading!
      I’m still doing my best to manage 88 copies of every paper turned in for my seniors (and then there are my two journalism classes too that are pretty writing-heavy). Without fewer students, I just can’t do the kind of writing feedback I wish I could. I have to hold myself to a couple of focused comments per paper for revision suggestions in case students choose to revise. What I wish I had time to do was require revision for every kid on every paper. I have bounced around the idea of having them write essentially one paper over the course of the semester, but with several revisions and building the paper deeper and deeper as we worked through the various content of the semester. The trick is making it something that they won’t tire of working on for 18 weeks, and something that all the other content for the semester connects to, and something that allows me to achieve the curricular expectations in terms of writing genre. Not an easy task. But my brain is working on it.

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