I spent a fair amount of time this weekend grading papers from my class. It was their first foray into writing a philosophical essay for me, so it was an interesting indictment on whether I was effective in teaching for the first half of the course. There were the natural ups and downs, but I suspect my grade curve falls in line with what is expected (I have two late papers yet to grade, so the jury is still out).
I jokingly grumbled about the extra work it takes to grade poor performances for me.
This isn’t to say that I look down on students who do poorly, nor do I want to make light of their performance. For me, marking is an opportunity to help the student learn and develop. When a student does well, I often feel less compelled to give a lot of feedback because there is little they could have done to do better. I praise where it’s merited, but I don’t think the students are helped if I don’t offer something constructive to mull over.
Marking poor performance, on the other hand, takes significantly longer to finish for three reasons. First, as in the tweet above, when I’m dealing with plagiarism, I need to do more research to ensure it’s genuine cases of plagiarism versus sloppy citation practices. I use the TurnItIn service to give a “sniff test” for the paper, but the majority of the cases of flagged plagiarism are merely properly cited references to the text. Otherwise, I use context clues to determine where students might have plagiarized, such as changes in font, and changes in voice or phrasing the student uses in their writing.
The second biggest reason why it takes me so much longer to grade poor papers (and this will relate partially to my next point) is that I have to sufficiently document my reasons for awarding a poor mark. This is to not only justify my decision to the student (and avoid seeming arbitrary), but it’s also to protect future me. My annotations and comments help me in the potential case where a student wishes to talk to me about their mark. After time has elapsed, I need memory aids to help me understand why I made the decisions I made while grading.
Finally, the most important reason why it takes me so much longer is that I have to identify instances where the student could have done better, and give them direction on how to improve. It’s not enough to rely on quick notations to tell the student the problem (i.e. Awk or awkward phrasing, SP or spelling error, Citation Needed, Does not follow, etc.). I have to take the next step to identify the problems and provide guidance for improvement. This is why the process is so time consuming. It’s an important process. I remember how important that direction was when I was in school. Without the time my profs took to help me through my papers, I doubt I would have won an essay prize in grad school.
Grading has its rewards, though. Sometimes, you are amazed at the quality of the work that gets turned in, as happened in this tweet below.