Grading

It may be that you’ve not thought carefully about what message your grading conveys to students beyond “this is what you did or did not do correctly.” One can use grades for a variety of purposes. They can reward effort or punish lack of effort, help you understand how well you convey the material to the classroom, motivate students, help students learn how to identify good work, and much more.

Grading to reward effort

As TAs decide how to assign credit to classwork, they determine what thoughts or explanations will be rewarded. Hopefully, these standards match the classroom goals. Implicitly, when a TA decides to reward some solutions with higher scores than others, he or she is determining what concepts from the course are valued and should be emphasized to students.

After their work is graded, students should be able to understand why their assignments or tests were graded as they were. Grading in a consistent way that can be explained to students when questioned demonstrates that a TA has determined clear goals or standards for the class. In this context, higher grades do reward student progress towards these goals.

Grading as teaching feedback

When an instructor grades students’ work, s/he gets a snapshot of their understanding of the material. If one grades carefully, and keeps notes of common mistakes, it may become increasingly clear which portions of class material should be reviewed or revisited in a new way. Also, looking at trends in student work may give insight into how clearly an assignment was written. If students consistently give appropriate answers, a TA can be confident that that material was conveyed well and that questions were asked clearly.

An experienced TA may recognize trends in their grading, such as “on a typical week, when I grade quizzes, I expect the class average to be between 75 and 80%.” On weeks when the class average is significantly lower or significantly higher, the TA may reconsider the difficulty of the assignment, or the clarity with which things were conveyed. The trends in student assignment scores serve as a litmus test for how successfully the teaching/learning dialogue is being played out in the classroom and for how clearly assignments have been written.

Grading as a motivator

One can view grading as a dialogue between the student and the instructor. In the same way that assignments are students’ response to material presented by the TA, grading is a TA’s response to what the students have presented. Much attention is given to being approachable in the classroom, to encouraging questions, and to helping students develop critical thinking skills during class. In the same way, one can either be approachable and encouraging or strict and discouraging on paper.

Being encouraging does not mean that you give high grades to unsatisfactory work so as not to damage a student’s ego. But it does require time and energy to carefully try to understand a student’s argument and give appropriate feedback. If students realize that you will consider their work carefully and will treat it respectfully, they may be more likely to be careful with how they write up their work. Moreover, if they feel that you treat their work considerately, they may be more willing to consider feedback and enact your suggestions for improvement.

Grading to help students recognize good work

Beyond assessing and encouraging student learning, clear and thoughtful grading can help students develop further intangible skills. In general, it can be very helpful to use feedback to give students a clear understanding of what you expect a good solution to be and help them to pinpoint their weaknesses.

Feedback that is written clearly and concisely presented is more likely to be read than if it is illegible or exceedingly technical. If possible, feedback should be given in a timely manner, when students have time to respond and improve their work. Finally, it should give students specific directions in which to work.

While it is important to help students recognize ways in which they should improve, it is also essential to encourage students with things they do well. When providing both positive and negative feedback, do not attach a positive comment to a negative one just to make the feedback less harsh; instead, make sure to be genuine. As students receive frequent, honest, and personalized comments on their work, they can begin to recognize good or bad work for themselves, and further fine-tune their ability to analyze their own output.

It can be extremely valuable for the TA to consider what they, and their students, can learn from grading. Being careful to grade in a clear, timely, and specific manner helps convey to your students what ideas are considered valuable in your course. Keeping records of your grading trends may provide useful data about your teaching and how well you help students to reach your classroom goals.

A New Twist on End-of-Semester Evaluations

A New Twist on End-of-Semester Evaluations” from Faculty Focus

Proficiency-Based Curriculum

Proficiency-Based Curriculum

Check out the following Inside Higher Ed article on the University of Maine – Presque Isle’s ongoing adoption of a proficiency-focused approach to its curriculum development starting with general education and then moving onto academic majors.  What implications do such curricular revisions hold on college teaching practices and course design in achieving such proficiency-based student learning outcomes?

Digital Storytelling: An Electronic Mode of Active Learning

Digital Storytelling: An Electronic Mode of Active Learning

Happy spring semester to you!  

As you prepare your course assignments for the new term, check out the following Faculty Focus article on digital storytelling — an innovative, student-centered assessment approach that promotes creativity and critical thinking skills in learning new course content.  The article defines digital storytelling in the statement, “Students choose a topic, whether a personal experience or a persuasive essay, then find images to illustrate the topic and add a voice narrative. The experience teaches students how to understand the underlying significance of experiences and issues and how to express that significance to an audience.”  How do you see digital storytelling fitting in the assessment infrastructure and student learning experience for your course?

Student-Generated Assessments

Student-Generated Assessments

In light of final exam season and teaching preparations for the spring semester, check out the following Faculty Focus article surrounding an online class instructor’s student-centered approaches to developing assessments and course learning objectives.  In what ways do your students have a voice on how their learning is assessed in your college course(s)?  How would such student-centered pedagogical approaches appear in a traditional, in-person college classroom setting?

Assessing Your Assessments in College Teaching

Assessing Your Assessments in College Teaching

Check out the following blog post from the Faculty Focus on ensuring the development of high-quality assessments for higher education instruction.  How well do your current course assessments measure your students’ expected learning outcomes and align with the taught material?  In what ways do you clearly communicate your assessment aims to your students?

On a related note to assessments, don’t forget to RSVP for the upcoming TAP workshop entitled Making Homework Efficient in STEM Classes.  The workshop is scheduled for Thursday, April 25th at 12pm in the Busch Campus Center (Room 117).  Click here to RSVP: http://tap.rutgers.edu/certificates/register.php. 

“I Deserve a Better Grade on This.”

“I Deserve a Better Grade on This.”

As you return your college students’ graded midterm assessments, it is likely that one of your students may claim that he/she “deserve[d] a better grade” on his/her assignment.  Check out this Faculty Focus article on how to effectively encourage and navigate what may initially seem to be a difficult teacher-student conversation.