3 Common Myths about Grading, Busted.

Based on the number of pageviews it's gotten, my previous post on 25 tips to make grading suck less has clearly struck a nerve. After all, grading seems to be a common denominator in teacher stress and burnout.

But despite all of the healthy discussion happening online about grading - like the dialogues about effective feedback and having limits - there seem to be some persistent myths floating around as well that I propose are destructive, both to teachers and to the non-teacher general public. 

From the biased worldview of a middle school English teacher, here are three myths about grading that need to be reconsidered, if not fully busted.

And by the way - the myths written below are ones that I have committed, perpetuated, or wrestled with, too. I'm still working on these, and I also accept that every teacher's grading style will be different. 

Myth #1: The comment that "If you just assigned less, you wouldn't have so much to grade."

I get this comment from well-intentioned non-teachers (like some of my friends). They either believe this because they see my weariness of grading and are trying to be helpful, or perhaps because they have strong opinions about school and/or homework. 

What's TRUE is that some teachers COULD take a good hard look at their curriculums, assignments, and rubrics to make the assessment cycle more effective for everyone. For example, we know that:
  • Not everything students do has to be graded (by a teacher). 
  • Not everything that must be graded needs to be taken home (i.e. can be verbal feedback). 
  • Not all feedback must come from a teacher (i.e. getting peer comments or self-assessment).
  • If an assignment is hard to grade, it COULD be because changes could have been made to the directions or rubric for more clarity. 
  • The type and amount of feedback you give will vary by the assignment, and it's okay to write a little less on certain papers. 
But what's NOT fair is to look at a teacher's workload that he or she HAS brought home as a sign of weakness. When we bring something home, it could be because:
  • It's a major assessment that no one else can (or should) grade for us. 
  • It's a curriculum standard that we have a legal obligation to assess this year. 
  • We have to assess it/assign it for another reason, fulfilling the expectations of stakeholders like our department/district/building. 
  • It's a time-consuming item, such as writing, a test with short or extended responses, or something else that requires time and attention to grade right

Myth #2: Saying to your pile, "I should grade this a little at a time, over several days."

To be fair, this method works REALLY well for some people. I tip my hat off to you. But if you're a procrastinator, or if your life doesn't work well for that, it's okay to let go of the guilt that grading "should" be done this way. 

For example, I operate best in immersion. I not only believe in flow theory, but I know that I am happier and more effective when I focus, hunker down, and get something done in one or a few sittings. So when I'm grading, I try to only start something if I know I can finish AT LEAST one entire class period's worth of that item at that time (if not all class periods of that assignment). The exception is that I might do half a class at a time if it's a really long piece of writing. I like to not only be able to concentrate, but also get that satisfaction at the end that some notable increment of work is finished. 

But there are other reasons why fewer days might work better for you:
  • More consistent assessing. I find that my thinking, grading, and commenting are more fair and consistent when I've looked at all the papers in close proximity to each other. 
  • Better compartmentalization of your life. Do you need to grade EVERY day, or will that drive your family crazy? Might it be easier to negotiate certain nights that you will grade, and certain nights being totally "off-duty"?
  • Less guilt. Active procrastination is sometimes okay IF you truly are going to have the time and space to get it done tomorrow. Is there TRULY a reason to start it today? Or do you just think you have to?

Myth #3: Looking at a paper and thinking, "I will totally remember to (say/do/teach) this later."

Nope. You better write that idea down NOW, or you won't remember to give that child the verbal compliment, do a mini-lesson on pronouns, email that parent, or do any other responsive task that arises while you're grading. 

I get SO many ideas DURING grading that I have to keep paper nearby to take notes to self, and not just notes to students on their work. In fact, that note-taking has evolved into different grading forms that I use to self-regulate. (You can get my set of forms here.) As much as I really want that grading pile to be GONE and DONE, I also know that some note-taking ends up being worthwhile to everyone. 

For example, I try to create a paper trail for...
  • Praise to give later
  • The biggest thing each student needs to learn or fix still
  • Who turned in a paper late, incomplete, one piece missing, etc. 
  • Interventions or Accommodations that we DID or WILL give
  • Notes for what to teach next
  • Notes about how to teach this assignment differently next year
  • ...etc. 
Bonus Myth (#4): There's one magical system/ method for grading. 

I say "nope" to this one too. In the words of some of my favorite co-teachers and students, "You do you." As long as you're giving task-appropriate feedback to students in a reasonable timeframe, exactly how, when, and where you get it done is between you and your school stakeholders. Don't let a salesman, non-teacher, or fellow educator add unjustified self-doubt to your style, especially if it isn't "broken". 

1 comment

  1. This blog post was great! Assessment and feedback can become overwhelming and I know it has taken me many years to find a system that works for me but flexible enough that allows for constant change. I love when you said "For example, I operate best in immersion. I not only believe in flow theory, but I know that I am happier and more effective when I focus, hunker down, and get something done in one or a few sittings" I feel the same way. I need to just sit with it, focus and get it done! Breaking it up does not work for me (although I have tried to convince myself many times that it would :) )