Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Faces Behind the Numbers

I thought I had finished writing about teaching, but I decided that grading deserved its own post. So here goes.

With the exception of the evening of January 5 (the Fiesta Bowl), I have spent every evening since December 28 parked at my dining room table pouring over the papers that my students turned in about two months ago. Typically, I'm not a procrastinator, but this task was more than I had bargained for.

I started grading the papers the day that I received them, but I managed to grade only two that first weekend. After that meager start, it was hard to go back to them. Thankfully, my computer broke down right before Thanksgiving, so I graded 11 more during that three-week period. And then came Christmas with ten days at home with my family--a time that papers were not allowed to compete with. So the grading of the 9 remaining papers resumed in full force on Dec. 28.

As I marked the innumerable grammatical errors on each paper and attempted to arrive at a grade that would reflect what I had seen, the numbers side of me wrestled with the words side of me, as well as the feelings side of me. All of the markings meant something, but what? What should a 40-point argument look like versus a 35-point argument versus a 30-point argument? What objective criteria could I use throughout this subjective process to make sure that I was being consistent in my grading over the two-month period? And even though I had only pen names, I knew that there were actual faces behind each of those papers and that bothered me. I didn't want someone to do poorly.

After years of being a competitive student who thrived on beating others, these grading struggles surprised me. I didn't expect to have such a tender spot for those who had not followed instructions or applied the rules that they were taught. But at the same time, I did not want to reward those students to the detriment of the students who had followed the instructions and rules and far exceeded my expectations.

In the end, I read the papers through about three times each, created a chart to explain how I had arrived at the points awarded (to quell my fears about being challenged on a grade), performed the multifarious averaging calculations, and finally let go of them. Amazingly, the final grades ended up matching well with what I would have predicted had I assigned grades based solely on class performance. A few students will probably not be pleased with their grades, but I assume that is to be expected in every class. I wasn't perfect, but I did my best to be fair and am finally okay with that.

Ultimately, I know that most of the details of the past semester will fade. But the faces of my first class of students will stick with me. I'll be interested to see how they perform in their chosen career path and hope that they will apply at least something I taught them, even if it is simply a silly grammar rule.


Momma Bean said...

I can only imagine how you agozined over this grading process. I am glad that this chapter is now complete for you. Happy New Year!

Krista said...

Wow- talk about a learning curve. That's tough. Glad it is over--- for now!