Sunday, December 03, 2006

Grading Jail


I have procrastinated to the point that now I must do a marathon grading push so that all of the papers are graded before 9 AM tomorrow.

I have 15 left to go.

If these were regular papers, I'd not be in such a bind. The problem with grading these particular papers is that the assignment is all about revision, and so I have to look at multiple versions of things. The assignments are not terribly long, but they do require attention. This is very good for my students. I believe in the assignment. I just don't believe in grading it :P

So, a question:

How do we insist upon the value of revision without assigning things that teach revision? This is my dream, to come up with the answer to this question.

Some might argue that the way to teach revision is to dole out tough grades - they'll learn from failure. I think that is true for bright students who are also quite motivated. The reality is that not all students are bright and quite motivated. Many will look at tough grades and say, "wow, that professor just doesn't like me," and they'll call it a day. Oh, and skewer one on one's evaluations.

Another example is to add to the above the carrot of allowing students to revise to boost their bad grades. I do that, but the reality is that most students still do not really learn how to revise from that exercise. They learn to address professors' comments, but they do not learn how to approach their own writing with an eye toward revision. They don't learn to think of revision as something that all writing demands, and they don't learn to see revision as something that is ultimately freeing and creative. (I really do believe that about revision, incidentally. I'm not just saying that because I teach writing.)

And so I've come up with this assignment that I hate grading. And I do think that the assignment (to some extent) works. What doesn't work is the fact that I have to look at it. I've toyed with the idea of letting students grade it, but I know that would end in a series of A's that have no meaning. The problem is, I'm beginning to feel (after having given this assignment for four years) that the grades I assign on it ultimately have no meaning. Maybe one can't strong-arm students into seeing the value in revision. Maybe an assignment that puts revision as central is just a waste of my (and their) time.

Ok, back to the grindstone. Or maybe to bed and to wake up early to do them? (We all know what a great idea that would be. Yeah right.)


PhDing said...

I, as well, have 13 more papers to grade by tomorrow morning.

As far as instilling the "value" of revision, I'm not sure that it works, especially for all manner of freshman comp classes. However, one can get them to see that it works. After peer review (which I have mixed feelings about), I have my students do a draft analysis or a revision statement explaining how they will revise. They turn in the draft analysis with their rough draft and I comment on both the draft and the draft analysis. I assign a grade for the draft analysis, but not the draft itself. It's a little more work, but the carrot is tied to thoughtfully thinking about their writing. I also have the advantage (curse?) of teaching at an institution where the students are very motivated by grades even though they could care less about writing.

Anonymous said...

I'm with phding -- you can teach them the value, and they'll choose whether to use the skill later in life.

Tough grading just doesn't teach students to revise, and not just because of the "oh, this prof hates me" thing. My freshman writing prof gave me bad grades all semester, and I never understood how to improve because she never gave me any comments. Just the bad grade. I had a chip on my shoulder about writing for the rest of college because of her. And I certainly never revised anything I wrote, save my senior thesis. Even then, I didn't revise the way I revise now.

I think revision is one of the hardest things to teach, simply because students are too overworked to see the value in it. Students are writing to get things done, not to craft their writing. Sometimes if a student really loves a topic there will be some crafting, but when you're overwhelmed it's hard to put revising effort even into work you want to be proud of.

I think we need to make tuition free for everyone so students don't have to work, and make the workload more humane in general, in order to better teach what we're teaching (I don't mean in any one particular class, I mean I think universities should think in a more cohesive way about this). I think a high workload can be good so long as all work is rational, but I have trouble believing college students can be convinced of the rationality of revision.

I don't mean to sound hopeless. I mean only to say this is important, you teach it the best you can, and you hope that if they end up in a writing intensive career, they remember what you taught them, smack their heads and start revising again.

D.B. said...

I agree that revision can be liberating. This quarter I revised one of my assignments so that I was liberated from grading it.


Think: a grading scale involving checks & check minuses/pluses.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I have revision as an underlying theme in my honors ethics course. They got at pass/fail on abstracts early in the semester, with the ability to revise failing abstracts as often as necessary.

They also do drafts of their major papers, for points, with the revision counting as 2x the draft in the portflio.... after extensive comments on each of the drafts.

I'm not sure you CAN teach revision itself, as it is individualistic and creative - -what you can do is to explain how revision works to shape writing and then give them the opportunity to revise.

You know what might be really helpful would be if you have something short that has been revised several times and show them each version to read in order -- then discuss the changes and how they contribute to the final product.

Laura said...

I don't give grades on papers, just comments and then the students can revise them throughout the semester, but at the very least for the final portfolio. I've also done things like show them my revision process, using the Word track changes feature to show the extent to which I revise. I've done this with student papers too and discussed the issue of revising at the sentence level vs. rethinking significant aspects of the paper. I have my class going through peer revision sessions right now and I think they're not doing as well as I'd like, so I'll be giving them some more direction. I agree that it's a hard thing to teach. Some students seem to get it and some don't.

Dr. Crazy said...

Well, I made the mistake of going to sleep and telling myself the lie that I'd awaken this morning to finish the grading. Luckily, they will be peer reviewing another assignment today, so I can finish up in class.

At any rate, having read more of these papers, I've got to say that I think that this assignment DOES actually teach revision. This is why I keep doing it. I hate it, but it really works. I'm considering tweaking it even further next year, to try to make it a bit less painful for me, but I can't abandon it outright. Dammit!

Ok, now I really need to go and get ready and speed to school and print out their peer review sheet and grade 7 papers. (Sigh).

Cheeky Prof said...

I don't have an answer to the value of revision questions (haven't had my coffee yet, not thinking clearly), but just wanted to say I empathize with the grading of papers. And especially revised papers. It will all be over soon.

MommyProf said...

If it is any consolation, when I teach graduate students, they seem to see the value in revision...

I don't give grades on the earlier drafts...they can lose points on the final graded paper if they do a lazy or non-existent job, but their power of revision to standards really has a whole lot to do with their final grades and they seem to get it. I've tried this with undergrads, however, and they just don't get it. They just want a concrete list of steps to follow to ensure maximum grade in minimum time (with a few exceptions - they are the ones who go on to become grad students).

Anonymous said...

We were just talking about this in my pedagogy meeting this morning. A prof is having students do peer-review, but the students don't quite know how to really make the most of peer review comments. So, in class, the students are going to bring their peer reviews and drafts with them. They'll find other partners, then (here's where I break it down into letters to help it make sense)

Student A has peer review comments on their draft from student B. Student A and Student C exchange comments so that C reads A's paper and B's comments, then tells A how she (C) would adjust the paper to incorporate those criticisms, and A does the same with C's paper and comments from D (C's peer reviewer).

All of this is done in class, obviously. The idea, I think, is to get students to think about revising and restructuring without being STUCK in their own work... which gets them into the process before they have a chance to become defensive about it. I'm not sure how it's going to work, but it will be interesting to know how it plays out in the class. It sounds good in theory at least.

k8 said...

I use portfolio grading, so students have a chance to revisit their earlier writing. Just today, one told me that she hadn't thought her writing had changed, but then she went to look at her early papers to decide which ones she wanted to use in her portfolio and she discovered that her writing has changed and improved.

I was (and still am) very happy.