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Grade Early, Grade Often

22 Sep Posted by in Academics, Faculty, Students | Comments
Grade Early, Grade Often

This is the time of year when faculty in many types of courses need to be sure they have developed a basis for early assessment of students so that, where problems exist, they can be conveyed to students directly and to relevant advisors with enough time to do something to remedy. My own experience after a lot of years teaching freshmen, here and elsewhere, is that where students are really lagging, reaching out explicitly with information about deficiencies will result in some real improvements in a fair percentage of cases (though not, I admit, in all). Students often get lost; they haven’t picked up the conventional signals offered; they respond to real efforts to help.

So: the strong recommendation is, at least in courses with freshmen and maybe sophomores, make sure there are some assessable assignments early on, and get the assessments done and the results communicated. The University now has a number of systems designed to help in this process, including the Mapworks program. The results measurably improve student retention, they make teaching more effective and, above all, they benefit the students.

When I first got to Mason I quickly installed a requirement for midterm grades in freshman and sophomore courses. I was a bit arbitrary, and got properly slapped by the Faculty Senate. But the Senators forgave me and positively responded to studies that showed the educational importance of midterm grades. (I learned my lesson too, or at least I think I did.)

Since that point evidence has accumulated that even earlier grading, before midterms, is important and has impact. And my guess is that many faculty who teach transfer students, even as juniors, will find benefits in some early grading to help the process of adjustment to sometimes-new standards.

Grading is a chore. I have a dear friend who, at an appropriate age, has decided to retire because of the tiresomeness involved. But it is essential. I personally regard it as a challenge to get done promptly (I am, as many know, a faculty Stakhanovite), and to some extent a partial pleasure where students are doing well and, most particularly, when they’re evidencing improvement. Whatever the mix of techniques, including a stiff drink after a round of evaluations, the exercise is part of the teaching process. It’s one of the ways we add value to the college experience, beyond the more mechanical reactions available from MOOCs and some of our other new competitors. Let’s do it well.