Friday, December 15, 2006

Frustrations in essay grading

As usual, my current ‘stack’ (electronically submitted) of essays to grade has brought back a world of frustration. If I didn’t care how students do, there would be no frustration. But because I do care, it brings this emotion back almost every time I grade a stack. Worse, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to express this frustration in essay comments. If you express it in too-strident terms, students will feel put upon (and justifiably). But if you are too polite about it, they just won’t get it.

It doesn’t frustrate me that students are not always able to measure up, or that they may not always get what I say. Dealing with these things, after all, is my job as an educator. The frustration for which there is seemingly no relief, though, is that arising when students won’t listen. When I repeatedly give instructions, in strong and simple terms, and they are not followed – that gets to me.

It’s not all bad news. I can see that some of the students are profiting from earlier comments and taking them to heart. But when I have to say the same thing for the third time, I have to wonder if they even care. I don’t put comments there for the good of my health, after all. Why do students throw away valuable points by ignoring them?

- When citing ideas from an author or quoting, you must include a specific reference, every single time, without exceptions. Dear student, when I write that, I don’t mean you sometimes should reference, or that you usually should reference. I mean…what the goddamned sentence says in black and white.
- The phrase ‘based on’ almost always is too vague to say what you need. Now, if I read this from a professor, I think I’d say to myself, “well, better stop using that phrase and try to find more specific ones.” Wouldn’t you? Not all my dear students, apparently.
- Saying that two authors are ‘similar’ or ‘different’ is insufficient: you must explain what these similarities and differences are. So why are you doing this again?
- Titles of books are either italicized or underlined, no quotes. What don’t you get? One more time: what part of this don’t you get???
- (at the end of an introductory paragraph) What are your conclusions, in one or two sentences? What are the basic reasons for them, in one or two sentences? It’s not obvious when I write this, that your essay and its grade will improve if you answer these questions? No? Oy vey.

The vast majority of all the essays graded below 70% would gain at least 10 points more if they responded to these comments. What am I missing? I should add that in this particular course for which I am a TA, the students are offered an excellent package of resources and services to help with their essay writing, some specific to this course, and of which they are constantly reminded.

No comments: