How do I distribute my time between Giving, Guiding and Grading?

I am revisiting the book entitled Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment (Walvoord and Anderson, 1998). In it, the authors have an illustration (Figure 8.1, p. 127) that looks something like this:

Emphasis on Grading

G   i   v   i   n   g   / Guiding /    G        R        A        D        I        N        G

– Most time spent on grading and the least amount of time spent on guiding students to deeper understandings.

Emphasis on Guiding

G   i   v   i   n   g  /   G        U        I        D         I        N        G       / Grading

– Most time spent on guiding with the least time spent on grading.

I began to think about my distribution in these three categories. I would like to say that most of my time is spent with an emphasis on guiding, but if I hold myself accountable I have to ask: What does that look like? What is the evidence? What do I do?

Linda Nilson wrote an article early this year in Inside Higher Ed entitled: “Yes, Virginia, there is a better way to grade.” In it, she provides very practical approaches to rethink our “broken” grading system. Although I don’t think Nilson offers any new or novel methods, particularly after re-reading Walvoord and Anderson (1998), I think she helps us remember that we, as instructors, have options; that our primary purpose as educators is to help guide students toward deeper learning; that our assessment options are often limited by our own limited knowledge and creativity.

In earlier posts, I discuss ways I experiment with methods for making my grading load lighter while challenging students to do more and deeper thinking. To paraphrase John Bean, design assignments that require a lot of thinking that is followed by a little bit of writing. Assignment design is ONE key factor in reducing my grading load and shifting my focus to guiding student learning. Another factor is in how we grade.

Nislon (2016) and Walvoord and Anderson (1998) both argue that it is often acceptable and productive to give students all or nothing grades. I have taken this to heart for years now, and I have found it rewarding for both me and my students. I outline one approach here.

Walvoord and Anderson (1998) provide another example that I want to present here (with a few edits). Their key point is this: “Do Not Waste Time on Careless Student Work” (p.128). They suggest a check list that accompanies student work that will not be accepted if not present.

  • I read the assigned work at least twice.
  • I significantly revised my paper (assignment) at least once.
  • I spent at least five hours on this paper (assignment).
  • I started work on this assignment at least five days ago.
  • I have tried hard to do my best work.
  • I proofread my work at least twice for grammar and punctuation.
  • I consulted others to proofread my work.

The idea is to help provide students accept responsibility for the quality of their work. They have this checklist ahead of time and use it as a basic guide. Moreover, this type of low-investment strategy nudges behavior in ways that better align with our instructional goals and concerns.

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Beckie Supiano discusses how small nudges can help students be more  successful navigating the initial complexities of starting college. Similarly, Dan Ariely discusses the power of the nudge in changing human decisions and behavior. Ariely cites a studies at MIT, Yale and Princeton universities (p.42) where student cheating was seriously reduced when prior to taking a test students were required to sign an acknowledgement of a university honor code. Amazingly, MIT and Yale didn’t even have honor codes according to Ariely. Just the act of simply reminding students of ethical standards shifted their behavior.

When we apply this principle to our above checklist, the simple act of having students take a moment to reflect on WHAT they did to prepare and HOW they prepared can seriously reduce our workloads.

Another classic text, that I totally love, is Classroom Assessment Techniques by Angelo and Cross. This book is filled with nudges that can make not only make our grading more dynamic and enjoyable, but help one dedicate more time to GUIDING.