Archive for October 14, 2010

Procrastigrading; or, How to Grade Efficiently

Woman climbing ladder to top of stack of papersNot That Kind of Doctor‘s delightful post on “The Five Stages of Grading” prompts me to share my own grading method: Procrastigrading.  While the word is a portmanteau of “procrastinating” and “grading,” I do not mean “put off grading indefinitely.”  Instead, give yourself a one-week deadline for each assignment (quizzes, exams, papers, anything), and begin grading on day 6.

I adopted this method over a decade ago, while working as an adjunct professor, with a 4-4 teaching load.  Here’s why.

  1. Grading devours all the time you give it.  You need to limit its diet.
  2. Grading stacks of comp papers (as I was at the time) can be a soul-crushing experience.  Why spread the agony over multiple days when you can ruin a single day instead?
  3. You have other important work to do.  Whether you’re a grad student or a professor (at any rank), you need to keep advancing that research agenda.  Time spent grading is time not spent publishing the articles and books that will get you (a) a job, (b) tenure, and (c) promoted.  Priorities!
  4. Teaching is also important work.  Time spent grading is time not spent reading or preparing for class.
  5. And thus… efficiency!  A one-week deadline & starting as close to the deadline as humanly possible means an extremely intense (and, possibly, grueling) grading experience.  But it prevents the grading monster from gobbling up too much time.  See also no. 2, above.
  6. I am now at the point where I literally cannot focus on grading unless there is a metaphorical gun to my head — that metaphorical gun is the deadline.  And, unless the deadline is imminent (i.e., tomorrow), then the metaphorical gun is too far away to be really threatening.  Really.  Prior to day 6, my attention simply will not remain on the grading.
  7. The week deadline is important not just because it provides a narrow window of grading but because recency in feedback better helps students to learn from their mistakes.  The longer it takes to return the work (with comments), the less pedagogically effective your comments are.  Ideally, you would turn the assignment back the next class (and I try to do this with quizzes).

True, this method does not always work perfectly.  Sometimes, it means I’m up until 2 a.m. the night before (morning before) class and then, after a few hours’ sleep, grading feverishly in the hours before class.  Sometimes, I miss my mark and end up returning the work in 9 days instead of 7 days.  But 97% of the time, I return work in 1 week or sooner.

I suspect that this method is not original to me.  And I admit that it’s an imperfect solution to the anguish of grading.  Indeed, one might argue that procrastigrading works better on the 2-3 teaching load that I now have rather than the 4-4 teaching load that I had when I started using it.  Whatever its limitations, one thing is certain: procrastigrading will help you move through those “Five Stages of Grading” much more swiftly.  You’ll skip Denial, have limited time for Anger, be too conscious of the ticking clock for much Bargaining, too busy to be Depressed, allowing you to spend most of your time on Acceptance/Resignation, a.k.a. Getting It Done.

man looking at stack of papers

Images from Dave Pear’s Blog and Save Pottstown!!

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