Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Monday, February 22, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare Step by Step: Week 6 Grading

The last couple of weeks have seen a number of articles about spec grading, and how people are implementing it in their classrooms.
I'm already working on the next syllabus, things I want to improve or revise for the next class. So I thought I would write this week's post on how I grade and why.

In my classes, regardless of what the course is, I tend to follow a couple of key ideas:
  • Percentage weights of grades go up as we move through the semester. So the first assignment is maybe 15% of the final grade, but final assignments are 20% or 30% because I hope they've mastered more skills by the end, and I want that to be reflected in their grade. They're rewarded for this progress. 
    • I also design assignments so that they scaffold- the weekly assignments/discussion boards serve as practice for the major writing assignments
  • Participation and weekly assignments are graded on a simple 77, 85, 100. 
    • For discussion boards, just posting your stuff earns a 77. Commenting on one classmate an 85, two a 100. Many students choose to just take the 77.
    • While I don't accept revisions of these assignments I do provide a lot of opportunities to grade replace these items.
  • Because I want students to master concepts and skills they can revise any major writing assignment. My only requirements are that they submit it within a week and that it has to be accompanied by a cover letter that explains the changes they made and why. 
    • The only exception to this is the final paper/project as grading turn around and final grade university deadlines make this impossible.
  • I encourage students to send me drafts, and in submission comments to tell me if there's anything they'd like me to focus on when grading.
    • I never mind the drafts because it makes the final grading easier.
    • This also helps me see core/foundational issues with writing and critical thinking and possible misunderstandings in a way just seeing final drafts doesn't. I can often "see" what the disconnect was, and therefore can help.
  • My major writing assignments and projects are graded according to a A-F rubric scale. I choose this years ago and have stuck with it because I think it's easier for a student to understand what makes an "A" versus what 342 points means (but maybe that's just me)
Now here's HOW I grade:
  • I log into my course and grade every day, first thing. Since many of my weekly assignments require not just a post but comments and the deadline for this is midnight Friday, those don't get graded until Saturday morning. The other assignments I grade every day. 
    • I do this for a couple of reasons. The first is that I believe in timely feedback so I like to get assignments back to students as soon as possible. The other reason is practical because this class has 60 students and doing this enables grading to be manageable. 
    • It never takes long, and is worth getting the work back quickly (students comment on it as a positive).
  • Most assignments have a midnight Friday deadline. Many students submit earlier, and those are the ones I daily grade (above) but Saturday morning is when the rest gets done. 
    • This also works because discussion boards require comments and postings, so I need to wait until after deadline to grade.
    • Everything gets graded Saturday. Everything.
    • I make notes on cool examples to mention in the ShoutOuts section of announcements.
    • I also make notes on misunderstandings or things I need to clarify that also go in the weekly announcement (which I post after grading is finished).
  • When I grade I use assignment comment starters that restate what the assignment requirements were, the checklist so to speak. After this I write the personalized feedback based on their assignments. This feedback tends to just be in the comment box.
  • Larger assignments get graded according to the rubric plus personal feedback. For these the feedback is more and comes in the form of the insert comment feature. I try to ask questions to guide the students rather than make comments because I want them to think about why they made the choices they did and what the effect is.
  • Also in my class this semester we're in week 6 and for the first seven weeks the only assignments the students have are practice/participation/discussion board assignments. My logic with this is that these assignments are 15% of the final grade but there are roughly two per week so over thirty, so one or two missed or low assignments doesn't end up hurting them. They can also grade replace these. 
    • This is important to me because in the first weeks of class students are juggling a lot- how to take an online class, work in other classes, work schedules, a lot. I like starting class with low stakes assignments because it acknowledges these challenges. 
    • It is only in week 8 that students have their first major writing assignment that we've then spent seven weeks practicing for. The next major writing assignment builds on the first, and the final on both of these.
In part I've adapted and revised these approaches to counter student beliefs about grading:

I don't want students to feel like this. I know many do. And I know many do because of actual past experiences. I don't believe grades should be punitive. I have discussions about grades and how I view them both on my syllabus and in class. When I have conversations about specific grades I try to get students to see what earned the grade and focus on how to move forward. I try to be encouraging.

Now, here are the things I want my students to get from my grading:
  • Understand what I'm saying with feedback and grades
  • Focus on the feedback, not the grade because one helps them improve and the other doesn't
  • Be more interested in what is LEARNED than the grade earned (although this may be naive)
  • Improve throughout the semester
  • Not see writing as a one and done activity
 Here's what I've taken away from what I've read about the spec grading approach:
  • That assignments should be directly tied to student learning outcomes/course goals
  • Individual assignments are on a pass/fail
  • If students can show mastery of certain skills/objectives they can opt out/skip certain assignments
  • Final grades are determined by "bundles" of assignments. Complete a certain amount of bundles = C, that plus more = B, etc. 
 So I was thinking of what I can take away from this spec grading approach.
  • I like the idea of designing assignments so that they're more closely tied to objectives and that this connection is transparent to the students.
    • This helps me have a focus both in designing the course objectives and the assignments
      • When I taught high school I did this they were called Prove to Me projects and they had to create projects that proved to me they understood the state objective- what it said, what counted as proof, etc.
    • On a tangential note this parallels a thought I've been having about how detailed my assignment guidelines are. They've been designed in the past to be super detailed, to answer every possible student question. But what they don't do that I wish they did was ask students to think about the audience, purpose, and how to get there on their own and I think that's the more valuable lesson. 
      • I have NEVER gotten a paper prompt that was more than a couple of sentences- Write a thematic paper that explores a theme seen in multiple texts. I'm not saying this is GOOD but I always had to do a certain amount of work with these, work that I think is valuable. 
      • I may experiment with giving shorter prompts, and then spending time on asking the students what is expected (format, length, citations, etc.) and get them thinking about WHY. To me this is the more valuable lesson.
  • I like the idea of grading some assignments as pass/fail since this would put the focus on the feedback for improvement although I worry students will just say "hey, I passed, done" and not use the comments like I want them to or even read them.
    • But I think I'll start this because I think it would help more than it hurts, and I'm all for siding with what helps students. If students then choose not to take advantage of this or use it for their best interest then that's not on me.
      • On a side note, I really need to work on not taking these things personally and internalizing them
  • I don't know about the opting out of assignments, as I genuinely can't think of how that would work. I don't give busy work, and I consider each assignment important, so I don't know. But I can think about it.
    • One way maybe it would work is that in the three weeks leading up to our first major writing assignment the close reading paper the students had a lot of close reading practice assignments. 
      • I COULD base these on the grade of the first. So if a student passed the first assignment they could opt out of the rest of the practice assignments.
    • But I don't have lots of these so I don't know if this would work. 
  • I'm also not sure about the bundling of assignments, but do think I could explain what the minimum of a C, B, A are in my course, the contract grading approach. I'm still a little unsure on this as so much depends on grades earned later on papers/projects so just submitting things doesn't work you need to submit a certain TYPE of work- just turning in the assignment doesn't work you have to have a certain quality of work.
So that's the how and why of my grading.
How do you grade and why do you do it this way?  


  1. I do feedback only. The assignments are all P/F which the students record on their own in D2L (so they get credit for an assignment, or not; it's that simple — they use a checklist to make sure it is complete); they can decide if they want/need an A in the class, but a B or C is fine (I teach Gen. Ed., and for many graduating seniors, it is a much lower priority than their major classes, which is fine by me). At any time in the semester, they know exactly where they stand with regard to their grade goal, whatever it is. Details here:
    Grading without Fear
    I've used this system for years, and I love (LOVE) never putting grades on things, just giving abundant amounts of feedback which they actually USE for rewriting and revising.
    The project assignments on which I give that feedback are here: Portfolios and Storybooks.

  2. Thanks, it helps to hear how others are using this and the practicalities!