EducationPedagogyPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Grading, how do I hate thee?

In the past few weeks, we here at School of Doubt have blogged about graded homework, grading writing in science,and academic entitlement. The comments have been interesting, discussing how students expect certain grades just for showing up, how teachers may be lowering their standards due to the sheer pain of grading, and that grading assignments may not be necessary at all.

I was at the eye doctor recently, and he enjoys discussing academics with me, including using TED talks, MOOCs etc.  We discussed how education has become more available to anyone who wants it, but how few manage to succeed in these formats.

In the comments on the graded homework pop quiz, I exchanged the idea that graded homework is ideal and how feedback is important, while commenter Kaloikagathoi indicated how they were changing their approach to homework:

I intend to change my teaching to involve many fewer graded assignments, but with a lot of ungraded homework with access to an answer key. Less work for me, and probably will result in the good students learning to be responsible, and the bad students doing not much worse than they usually do. [emphasis mine]

I followed up describing how that might not work for some students, but it got me thinking about how my classes being small is a luxury so many teachers and professors don’t have.  I can afford the time and work to provide my students with individualized and extensive feedback.

In the comments on academic entitlement, Peter Nonacs described a situation where students have two exams worth 90% of their grade and apparently are a series of true/false questions, and 10% from their discussion section.  That took me aback a bit, but then Dr. Nonacs is at an R1 and likely has hundreds of students in these classes.  My average at my current institution is under 20, though I have taught larger classes as an adjunct previously.  I know how much time and effort grading assignments requires in small, medium, and large classes.  I know the tradeoff between student number and assignment number.  I know the tradeoff between giving good feedback and getting the grading done! I know the soul-sucking effect grading can have on a teacher (oy, how I know!).  I also know, based on my own research, how necessary the assignments and the feedback are for non-traditional students and for students who haven’t figured out the game yet is for their success.

I am very very lucky to work at a school with such small classes, though the tradeoff of course is that the resources available to our students to do cutting edge science are limited. I’m happy with this tradeoff because I can assign homework and writing assignments and…whatever and the students and I will be able to do the work, provide and accept feedback, and profit!

Here’s my question to you: what would you do in terms of giving and grading assignments, if you had the luxury of small enough classes and unlimited time?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).



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Apostrophobia is a college professor at a women's college in the US. She teaches biology, does pedagogical research on her guinea pigs (aka students), and has an existential fear of misplaced apostrophes.


  1. June 9, 2014 at 3:47 am —

    Hi Apostrophobia,

    What are your thoughts on using a detailed rubric system for grading to provide a balance between assigning a grade and providing feedback?

    • June 9, 2014 at 6:24 pm —

      Hi spamiam,

      I do use such a rubric, and it does allow me to leave “shorthand” feedback, but only after I have provided sufficient examples or previous feedback to train the students to the rubric. Depending on how you set it up though, these can be a real time saver! It won’t always allow for nuance either.

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