Why I hate grading…

I teach a college writing class, a seminar actually. I’ve been teaching this class (with constant variations) at this institution for four years, eight semesters. I love the class. I love choosing readings and hearing my students discuss them. I love designing assignments and watching my students’ imaginations making meaning from my prompt, producing work that I rarely expect and often admire. I love talking about writing, and I love helping others write pieces that they can celebrate.

But I hate grading.

I hate putting an artificial value (letter grade) on something that contains a piece of someone’s soul.

Am I being overly dramatic? Isn’t this just a required course to make sure students have some basic communication skills? To the first: perhaps I am. To the second: Maybe the course seems like “just a requirement” to other people, but it is not that to me, and I would venture a confident guess that the majority of my students don’t think so either…after they’ve completed the class.

I am not a brilliant professor. I’m not even a professor…just a lowly adjunct. I am not a profound lecturer. I rarely lecture at all. But I give my class space. I give them space to write things that matter to them. I give them space to write in casual, personal voices and passionate, persuasive voices. I give them room to make mistakes, revise, and take risks. They make great strides in valuing their own insights as much as (hopefully more than) how many lines go in a heading, how to create an MLA citation page, and what the heck a semicolon is really for. How do I put a letter on that?

The need for rankings and objective values pushes me to assign a measurement to the work accomplished in my course.  No matter how much I adjust my requirements and objectives, I am left with the conviction that declaring A, B, or C belittles my careful efforts to make the process of fully engaging in my seminar real.  Worse than that, the grading process belittles my students’ progress in the risk-taking, word-crafting, and soul-baring that happens so beautifully from semester’s start to finish.

I’ll be back when the dreaded task is through.

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6 thoughts on “Why I hate grading…

  1. Another reason we are kindred spirits. Ah, essay grading. I just said to one of my ENGL101 students the other day, “some days I wish I had studied math instead of English.” Hang in there . . . the term DOES end and the stacks of papers eventually all get graded. But in the mean time, get yourself a new fun pen, fill your coffee/tea mug, and get comfortable. I’ll be thinking about you while I do the same!

  2. I used to teach middle school writing and I designed the curriculum so that lots of writing was required but not graded. Like I would make them write 3 journal entries each week and I would read and give feedback (ideally) but not grade it. I would grade them in other ways–for a graded essay I would grade objective things like grammar, well organized paragraphs, etc. Obviously using a rubric makes it easier to feel like there is a real meaning behind the grade you are giving–allowing the kid to see the rubric is a lot of feedback for them also, which is great (not sure if you use one). I know if I were just reading an essay and then trying to assign an A, B, C, D, or F, I would have a hard time.

    But fundamentally I agree with you. I had trouble teaching writing on a middle school level as well because I both wanted to allow them privacy and give them freedom (to be honest, to swear, etc)–the administrators didn’t like it, and after I left changed the policies so that the kids weren’t able to do that anymore . . . :-/

    1. Thanks for your input, Adrienne. I totally agree that some writing should never be graded, and I also really understand what you are saying about that tricky balance of freedom and accountability. The problem with final grades (as opposed to a single graded essay) is that most of the students will never pick up their portfolios, so my grade really is rather isolated. I use a portfolio system, so the students are only receiving one grade at midterm and one grade at the end of the semester. It’s tricky!

  3. I agree! It’s so, so hard to put a GRADE on a piece of writing. I work so hard to convince students that writing is never supposed to feel finished…that there is always revision to be done. And then I have to tell them to finish it and I assign a grade to their efforts. Many of them tell me these grades affect things like medical school applications. The pressure of it all is overwhelming for me. I can’t seem to let go. This is my least favorite time of the entire academic year. So I’m with ya! We’ll get through it together.

    1. Katy, I also heavily emphasize revision (and its continuous nature) and risk-taking. I emphasize their autonomy as writers, and yet, I can’t erase the fact that I’ve got the power of the almighty GRADE. Ugh. Well, it’s over now!

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