Grading Papers, Records, and Consistency

This semester, I’m team-teaching a class, and it’s been a great way to exchange ideas about pedagogy. My co-teacher taught me this trick for grading papers. As she grades papers, she records comments about the papers, a preliminary grade, and then the actual grade on a class roster. I did that with my most recent paper for another class, and I was very happy with the result.  Since I keep my grade book in Excel, I created another worksheet with columns for the students’ name, comments on the papers, a preliminary grade, any penalties, any minor extra credit for getting help from the writing center, and the final actual grade.

Here’s why I really liked this strategy:

  • It helped me think about the papers in a more productive way. By writing the comments in Excel first, I focused on how to assess the paper and I could write more carefully considered feedback on the students’ papers.
  • It yielded more consistent and fair grades. I have noticed that, sometimes, when I grade, I am often inclined to assign the same grade to many papers. For whatever reason, an 88% is common, but these papers are not always actually all the same quality. This method allows me to assign a provisional grade in my spreadsheet. Once I finished, I compared my comments on everyone’s papers and determined whether and how to actually differentiate the grades for all the students who somehow earned, for example, an 88%. For me, this seemed like a better method than using rubrics to yield a sense of consistency, fairness, and objectivity–although it may also be a problem with the rubrics I’ve made in the past.
  • It allowed me to keep a record of my comments on each students’ paper. There are so many reasons why this is valuable, including helping me remember where each of my students’ abilities are.
  • This record included what grades were before late penalties and such so that, in the future, I would be able to refer to a more accurate approximation of a student’s intellectual abilities.
  • It did not require significantly more time or paper for the benefits that I gained. In fact, it made me more comfortable grading papers over several days. In the past, I have tried to grade all the papers in a day or two, usually over a weekend, so that I was consistent with how I was grading the papers, but that requires a large chunk of time available to grade all the papers from a class. With this method, since I would be comparing comments when I finished reading all the papers anyways, I felt more confident that my grading would be consistent over multiple days.

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