I was mostly good yesterday, and have been quite good in tackling my grading today. This morning I walked down through the fog (haze, really) to a coffeeshop and graded a bunch of essays while slurping coffee after coffee, until, too jittery to hold still, I walked all the way back to my apartment.
This is my ideal work structure --- the fresh morning air wakes me up, the coffee is tasty and pleasant, and when I've had so much caffeine that I can't hold still to pay attention, I give my self a break by walking home, and maybe doing some cleaning or dishes. Then I'm nice and tired out and ready to hold still and (hopefully) focus on papers yet again.
I'm having troubles this time around because I decided to let my students email their research papers to me, which means I am grading on the computer. That wouldn't be so bad in and of itself --- I need to take sanity breaks anyway so the fact that I'm reading a lot on screen isn't annoying me too much --- but I'm finding it difficult because I grade so relationally.
How can I be sure I am grading fairly without referring back and forth amongst my papers? I usually make a running commentary down the margins of a paper and then write maybe a sentence or so as an end comment, and the types of comments I make help me arrive at the grade. But I also only mark the letter grade in pencil the first time around, and pile all the papers in separate stacks based on what is wrong with them. If all of the "half-digested, unexplained quotes" papers are about the same quality, they should get the same grade. Likewise the ramblers who are repeating rather than deepening their argument. And what do you do with the ones who just go off and pontificate about life for a few paragraphs with nothing related to the course in sight? (Surprisingly, I already have two of those today.)
After I have worked my way through them all I re-skim the piles and my comments, just checking to make sure papers with similar comments and similar qualities have the same letter. Usually they match up pretty well, but I like to check and be sure. And while I'm at it I tally up the grades on a graph to see if I have a rough bell curve and consider pushing things around a bit to make it more of a bell --- depending on the group of students I have, this either means I am merciful and lenient to a bunch of Cs or go back and re-evaluate more stringently when it appears I have lots of As.
But I find that when I am opening files on a computer --- even though I am taking a single line of notes on a sheet of paper for all the papers --- I'm really having trouble remembering one paper to the next or how they stack up against each other. It may seem unfair to grade students against each other but really it is because I know myself. My first couple papers tend to get higher grades than the rest, and the last couple graded on any given day tend to get slammed because I am cranky. When I first start out on a pile, I always react like "OMG you had an idea brilliant!!!!!" but by halfway through the stack I discover that most of the papers have about four ideas that I like and really that first grade needs to be re-evaluated.
(you know, I feel like I wrote exactly this same post about a year ago? Maybe I did. Whatever.)
So, in sum, I don't like the onscreen grading. The one benefit is that I won't have to store and then shred a big stack of essays, because students never come get their final papers in my experience. But I like my little habits and the system I have developed, so if I were ever to teach anything again I'd want hard copies of essays.
Now, everybody go post something interesting or update your blogs so I have something entertaining to look at when I take my next break! "Good in tackling my grading" does not mean I'm anywhere near done with today's quota.