Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Unanswerable mysteries of grading, and the grade-giver

I'm the one who assigns my students 5-6pp. papers. And I'm the one who goes out of her way to explain that what this means is that each paper should probably be substantively onto a fifth page--with no funny stuff done to the margins or font size.

So why is it that, as I work slowly and grimly through a stack of essays, I sigh and grumble every time I see one that fills a full six pages. . . and perk up every time I see one that's three and a half?


medieval woman said...

I think we end up seeing the future through rose-colored glasses at the beginning of every semester. We think, "of course they need to write all these papers and takes these exams to prove that they've truly synthesized the material - indeed, if I *don't* assign these things, they won't learn anything!". And then I want to jump off the roof at this time when I have to grade it all.

Maybe this is just a me-thing, tho! :)

Profane said...

I find, however, that the 3-4 page papers you get in this situation are also the most poorly written and organized, and require a great deal more attention and effort than the ones which are, as requested, in the 5-6 page range.

I finished up a set of joyful papers on Procopius' _Secret History_ last weekend. I am dreading the ones that I am set to mark this weekend on Elie Wiesel' _Night_. . . why does 20th century history have to be so grim?

Flavia said...

MW: yes, that's it--and I do think that a 5-6pp. paper is a different beast than a 4-5pp. one (not to mention a 3-4pp. one), and I do think that it's what my students need to be writing. But gawdalmighty, that extra page can take years off my life.

And Profane: it's true that the 3.5pp. essays are never good, but in my experience they're extremely easy to grade; they usually have an introduction and a thesis, and a couple of ideas. . . but they're just skimming the surface of things & soon run out of steam.

Now, the worst of all possible worlds are the 6pp. papers that were clearly written in 20 minutes: the student just sat down and free-associated, occasionally making an argument, occasionally plunking down a quotation.

I had two or three of those in this last batch of papers. They were all Ds (one I gave a D-, which I guess is a special kind of insult), but I'm quite sure I spent more time grading them than their authors spent writing them. Ds aren't punishment enough--flogging, really, is what's called for.

Chaser said...

I do this, and I think the answer in my case is that...I'm kind of dumb.

Horace said...

I tell my students (in my course policies) that:

a) Fiddling with margins and fonts is sending me the message that they believe I can't tell the difference between quantity and quality, and that if I think that's what they believe of me, that their work will be graded by someone who feels personally insulted.

b) 5-7 pages is a minimum of five full pages, and that if they do 4 pages of that, that 80% is the top ceiling of their grade (usu. of course, a 4-page response is not an A or even a B anyway, but still).

Seems to work--not by getting rid of all these problems, but reducing them, and reducing the kvetching when I quote the course policies when turning back these papers.

Anonymous said...

I switched to word count a while back. Quicker to explain.

I get happy at those students who never give me a paper. One less to read!