New Kid asked in comments to my last post to explain what I do with the checklist for grading and how it's not a rubric, and I thought it might be worth doing an actual post about it if others might find it useful.
First, the reason I resist rubric-method of grading student writing is that it invites complaint. "My friend got four points on this section and I got five, and I think that we both did the same on that section." I hate dealing with that kind of crap. Also, I find that it can be difficult to justify why one person gets one "number" on a given section and another gets another. Grading writing IS subjective - not entirely quantifiable. Yes, I look for certain things, but there is no one recipe for an A paper, and I think a rubric can inspire students to look for that recipe rather than focusing on the quality of their ideas and claims.
That said, I do think that the valuable thing about a rubric is that students know that you were looking for certain things on the assignment, and that you were looking for all of those things on all students' papers. I also think that the rubric can eliminate the need to compose lengthy end-comments that repeat the same things from paper to paper, which when you teach a large number of students, can become INCREDIBLY time-consuming, even if you're copying and pasting in typed comments.
So, over the past couple of years, I developed a "checklist" method that is looser than a traditional rubric (doesn't assign point values to different things) but that has some of the benefits of a rubric model. Oh, and in my lit classes, I design the checklist so that it works for each of the two papers (which are basically the same assignment - two, 3-5 page topic-driven literary analysis, for example) and can work for a range of topics - it's not intended to deal with the specifics of the paper (which I do in the marginal comments) but to deal with my overall expectations for the assignment. Also since they've got two of these papers (with different topics assigned, of course), and since the first one is weighted less than the second, the checklist on the first works as a guide for them for the second paper.
Here's how I do it. I create two columns. On the left-hand side, I list between 10 and 15 things that I was looking for in the paper. This column is labeled "Aspects of the essay that worked particularly well" or something like that. Generally, for lit classes, the top 2/3 relate to issues surrounding what I wanted them to do with the literature. Things like, "Paper responds to the assignment" or "Paper offers insights into the texts under discussion in a critical and analytical way." You get the idea. The bottom 1/3 (or so) of the list has to do with mechanical sorts of things with their writing, and their conformity to MLA style, etc. I don't tell the students how these things are weighted, but they intuitively understand that the stuff at the top is more important than the stuff at the bottom. Then, on the right hand side of the page, I have another column that is labeled, "Aspects of the paper that could have been stronger." Basically, this checklist is the inversion of the checklist on the left. So if on the left it says, "Paper offers adequate context (historical, theoretical, and/or critical) for the claims that it makes about the text(s) under discussion," on the right it says, "Paper does not offer adequate context (etc.)."
You will notice that all of these comments emphasize what the PAPER does or does not do - not what the WRITER has chosen to do. In part I do this because I think it softens my more direct marginal comments. In the margins, I tend to address the writer as "you" and to respond to the ideas that are there as the writer's ideas - not as some abstract thing inside the paper. On the checklist, I like to take some of the personal quality out in order to show them that I wasn't only responding to "them" but to what I saw in the paper as distinct from them. Also, the checklist gives me the freedom not to comment on more global issues in the margins, so in the margins I can actually respond to more specific points in the essay.
Now, what I do when I grade is this. I'll use my current batch of papers as an example. They had five topics from which to choose. First, I organize them by topic. Once I have them organized in that way, I put them in reverse order (worst to best) based on the opening few sentences of the paper. (In my experience, the opening few sentences really tell me all I need to know to assign a grade. Sometimes there are exceptions, but those are rare.) The advantage of this method is that I don't read all of the "good" papers at once, but rather I get little rewards at different points in the grading. Then, I grade the each paper, writing marginal comments as I go. When I grade for lit classes, I will note grammatical/punctuation/etc. errors the first or second time I see them - if I see more, I write in the margin something like "transitions could be stronger throughout" and leave it at that. This allows the bulk of the marginal comments to respond to the content of the paper and not to overwhelm them with copy-editing type comments. Because, as I've indicated in a few different comments I've left on other blogs lately, teaching writing is NOT the primary aim of essays assigned in literature courses, nor is it my primary aim in teaching literature. IF I leave a summation comment at the end (which I don't always do as it isn't always necessary), it's in response to how they dealt with the topic that they chose, or in response to a particular point that they made. It is NOT an overarching comment that deals with all of the stuff on the checklist. That's what the checklist is for.
Once I've done all of the marginal commenting, I then turn to the checklist, and I check off what they've done well and what could have been stronger. Visually, this shows me pretty much what grade they should get. If the checks are about 50/50 on each side, that's usually about a C - average. If it's 70-80/30-20, then the paper's in the B-range. If it's 80-90/20-10, then it's in the A-range. Invert that, and then you get a sense of the D and F range. I think this helps to keep me honest with the grading, and to detach a bit from students whom I personally like but who may not have done very well on the paper, or students whom I don't personally like who really did a good job. Again, though, this is not outlined on a point system, which I would fudge anyway in order to give the grade that I thought the paper earned. It's just a rough guide for how grades in certain ranges look on the checklist, and so if students who got grades in the same range were to compare their checklists, the checklists look very similar. Once I've done all of the checking off, I attach the checklist page to the top of the document. The checklist page does not include the grade. One reason I do this is because I do comment a lot in the margins, and it can freak students out, even though I give as many or more positive and/or just-engaging-with-the-ideas comments as I do negative ones. Having every paper look the same when they get it back I think makes it easier for them to deal. I also don't put the grade on the checklist 1) because that keeps students' grades more private and 2) if they saw the grade on the top, they would probably just ignore the actual comments on the checklist. (I put the grade either on the first or last page of their actual paper.)
Another reason that I like this method is that it means I tend to comment as much on the great papers as I do on the less great ones. One thing that often happens to students who are strong writers is that they get almost no actual feedback on their writing. (This is what happened to me throughout my undergraduate education.) A "Great!" on top of a paper does not feedback make. That said, it can be really time-consuming to write an end comment with all of the ways in which the essay was successful. The checklist means that I'm not tempted to ignore those things that students did succeed at in the interest of time. Also, because the checklist handles all of the main things that I'm looking for in the essay, it means that I can respond to whatever interests me in the margins without feeling like I'm not "justifying the grade." I never think of grading in those terms anymore - I really think of it as something that allows me to interact with my students one-on-one, and that is actually something I like (even if grading still blows).
And you may be wondering, how does this all work out time-wise for the grading? Well, in the past, when I did the extended final commenting and didn't use checklists, it could take an hour per paper, which is outrageous for 3-5 page papers. I'd estimate that my current method means I come in at around 15-20 mins. a paper tops (and again, I comment EXTENSIVELY on ALL of them), which means for this batch of around 20 papers, I'll spend no more than 6 hours or so on grading. To give you a sense, last night I graded from around 11 PM to around 1:30 AM with frequent (and sometimes lengthy- like when I composed that blog post, or another few times when I commented on blogs or composed emails- breaks). In that time, I graded 7 papers. I really don't think it's possible to grade any more quickly than that.
6 years ago