Monday, December 04, 2006

Grading Break

Last Friday, I went into class to collect a batch of papers from the survey class. I expected to get 26 papers (from an original enrollment of about 36). Most everyone was present, which was a good sign, even one student who contacted me to tell me he wasn't going to have his paper ready and wanted to know the standard penalty to know whether it was worth the extra time to get it up to snuff...

But while most of the students were there, a bunch of them didn't look so hot. Like they had been up all night. One student noted that he had spent Seven. Whole. Hours. writing this paper (He said this as if it were a really really long time to spend on one paper. Others didn't complain, but clearly didn't look like they were in great shape. I asked a few questions, and it seemed like several of them weren't really happy with the results. So I made a deal.

If they were happy with the paper and ready to turn it in today, they'd get it back by today with a full set of comments (anywhere from a half to a full page of typed, single spaced end-note, plus extensive margin comments). This is significantly faster than I usually turn around papers, but I figured I wouldn't be grading the whole set. If they wanted, though, they could have until Monday )today) to work on the paper, and the only thing they'd forfeit would be comments--no grade penalty. Lateness penalties began accruing today then.

So of the sixteen who turned it in on Friday, a few clamored for extra credit, and I told them that I couldn't give extra credit for doing the work expected of them--that I respect their ability to get the work done in a timely manner, and I would show that respect by treating their papers carefully and responding to them thoughtfully. They had the option everyone else had to take the extension if they wanted it. This seemed to appease them, but some still had a look about them as if they had just been robbed of something they didn't know they had. I don't know...maybe that was the case.

What I can say is that the average grade of the papers I collected Friday and returned today was a full letter grade higher than the class average for the last paper. Which should tell you
who was really prepared on Friday and who wasn't. Of the ten students who took the extension, six turned their papers in today, and two of those who hadn't still came to me today looking for direction on the paper, 'cause they were still stumped (uh, hello? what about the three weeks that you had the assignment?).

Anyway, I've glanced over the papers from today, and they actually seem like improved work from the students who had been performing, well, in a more lacklustre fashion earlier in the semester.

So did I give the slackers too much of a break? in the end, their work is better, and my reading load is easier. Did I short-change the student who were prepared? Was thoughtful and extensive commenting a sufficient "reward" for their being prepared? Am I gonna catch this on my evaluations this week?

8 comments:

Dr. Crazy said...

Well, my cynical view is that you will catch it from at least one B student from the first batch on your evaluations. Some students will find thoughtful and extensive commenting a reward - others will find it poor payment for effort expended, especially since it's a) the end of the semester or if b) theyare friends with a slacker who ends up doing better than they did on the paper. But I may be too much a cynic, and in fact they may be more appreciative of your extensive commenting and quick turn-around time than I'm giving them credit for.

On a final note, you are WAY nicer than I am. Both to the slackers and to the non-slackers.

Horace said...

I have in the past been more of a stickler for deadlines and due dates. But generally students respond well to this sort of thing.

But the thing is, I am inflexible about my expectations that they meet high standards of work. I am just flexible about giving the space they need to reach those high standards. When they don't meet them, i don't feel much compunction about assigning a low grade when they deserve it. It's why, right now, my RMP ratings are high on helpfulness and low on easiness, which is just the way I like them.

Nels said...

See, my late policy on the syllabus from day one is that students can have a full week after the deadline to get it to me with no grade penalty but they get no comments. I allow revision on everything, so getting not comments terrifies them, especially because I can be pretty demanding with writing (hence the need for revision or no one would ever get an A in my classes). Very, very rarely do I get late work. And in the years I've had this on the syllabus, no one has ever complained about it on evaluations. In fact, I credit this late policy as one of the reasons they say things like I really seem to want them to write well or that I have high expectations but create a space for them to meet them. Maybe. Also, a big difference is that it's on the syllabus, so it's clear up front and available to all. I think it's clear you're trying to help them do well. Some may complain, but that is their right. In the end, you're clearly trying to create a space for learning.

jo(e) said...

I really love the idea of not putting comments on late papers -- that students have to hand them in on time to get comments. I find it really hard to grade late papers because I'm not on a grading roll at that point. I definitely want to adopt that policy. It's going on my spring syllabus ....

Fiona said...

There's not much point in putting comments on last papers. Just the grade is fine. Unless you have unusually academically-inclined students, they never read those comments you slaved over.

Sad and a blow to the ego, but true. If students want comments, they can come see you in your office.

academic coach said...

No comments for late papers.

What a brilliant idea. I will recommend it to my coaching clients.
I especially like the way it will reduce resentment towards slackers. Profs will be happy for a few stragglers....

Nels said...

To be fair, I got the idea for no comment on late papers from the book What the Best College Teachers Do. I'd love to take full credit for it, but I can't! It is a great idea, but instead of meaning fewer papers on which to comment, I find I've been getting fewer late essays, which is good in its own way.

Anonymous said...

Just a question but do you really expect someone who is turning in a let end of the semester paper will actually read the paper? It beeen my experience very few if any of these types of papers actually get picked up. In a way it is a bit unfair to the students who turned it in on time, some may have worked on it anfd felt they had done a reasonable job, even if to you it was B work.