Skip to main content

grading blues

On campus in summer
Last week I finished grading research essays written by my first year university students.  It is not one of my favourite tasks, I have to admit.  Oh, it starts out well enough.  As I read the first few papers I am filled with hope, eager to discover what the students have unearthed in their excavation of facts, texts, and philosophies.  However, by the end I am usually deflated, discouraged, and never want to see another essay.  After hours of grading, the mere misuse of a comma, an improper citation of a source, or a paragraph that extends longer than a page makes me grind my teeth, emit a primitive groan, and reach for another square of chocolate.  I get so tired of trying to decipher what students are trying to say and having to hack my way through a jungle of incoherent words (is there a point somewhere in it all?), that I want to put a big X on the page and tell them to start over.  In English this time, please.  But I don't.

Of course, there are always a few eloquent, well-structured, and thoughtfully researched essays which prevent me from losing my sanity, but they are few and far between.  I try to grade with mercy, remembering that a research essay is one of the most difficult assignments students will ever be asked to complete, but after awhile, even pity can't hold back the frustration that I feel building inside me when student after student seems to lack the ability to write a clear thesis or compose a topic sentence or follow a simple style guide.

The only thing worse than grading substandard papers is seeing the disappointment, shock, sadness, and demoralization on students' faces when they receive a low mark.  The last thing I want to do is demotivate students, but I can't give marks away for free.  I want them all to do well, I really do (what teacher doesn't?), so there is nothing quite so depressing as seeing a demotivated and deflated student, crestfallen and doubting their abilities.  But the fact remains that writing a research essay is demanding.  It requires a lot of diligence, attention to detail, clear thinking, hard work, extensive reading, careful editing, and most of all, practice.  And not everyone in a first year university course has had that practice.

Evaluating student's work against a static rubric is not ideal, I know.  But neither is being dishonest about the students' abilities to follow directions nor inflating their self-confidence when they have underdeveloped, superficial self-learning skills (good research is the foundation of self-learning).  I realise that part of the problem with the grading process is that it makes me feel like a bad teacher.  I am not perfect, but I am not a bad teacher.  I care about my students, I try to give them all the tools they need to learn, I try to make the study of theology accessible while preserving its mysterious and ineffable nature, and I use a lot of different teaching techniques that allow the students to come at the material from a number of angles (and keeps us from getting bored in class). 

Sometimes I (and probably my students) need a few reminders about the nature of learning. 
1.  Learning is not about getting a good grade, but about knowing more than I did at the beginning of the process.
2.  Learning takes time and never ends, so be patient. 
3.  Never compare myself (or a student) to others; this never ends well.  Either one gets inflated by a high standing (overconfident, proud, perhaps an increased pressure to perform well) or one is discouraged by a low standing (which is demotivating and can make one want to give up). 
4.  If I do something, do it to the best of my ability at the time.  Next time or the time after that, I will undoubtedly do it better.
5.  Appreciate lessons learned by correction (or error).  These are hard, but I won't forget them.
6.  Learning is a privileged journey.  Not everyone has ready access to resources like we do.  Not everyone has a positive and supportive learning environment like I do. Be thankful.
7.  Learning goes hand in hand with discernment, so make sure wisdom is part of any learning process; it's more than just getting an assignment right or doing well on a test.
8.  Be kind to your fellow learners (students).  At times one has to be firm, but one never has to be unkind.

Here are a few wise words from Proverbs 15:
Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.  Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.  Wisdom's instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor.



 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

the songs we sing

NOTE: I am going to make some pretty strong statements below, but understand that it is my way of taking an honest, hard look at my own worship experience and practice. My desire is not to be overly critical, but to open up dialogue by questioning things I have assumed were totally fine and appropriate. In other words, I am preaching to myself. Feel free to listen in.

---------------------

When I am in a church meeting during the singing time, I sometimes find myself silent, unable to get the words past my lips. At times I just need a moment of stillness, time to listen, but other times, the words make me pause because I don't know that I can sing them honestly or with integrity. This is a good thing. We should never mindlessly or heartlessly sing songs just because everyone else is. We should care deeply about what we say in our sung, communal worship.

At their best, songs sung by the gathered body of Christ call to life what is already in us: the hope, the truth, the longing, t…

theology from the margins: God of Hagar

Our contexts have major implications for how we live our lives and engage with our world, that much is obvious. However, we sometimes overlook how much they inform our concepts of God. For those of us occupying the central or dominant demographic in society, we often associate God with power and truth. As a result, our theology is characterized by confidence, certainty, and an expectation that others should be accommodating. For those of us living on the margins of society, our sense of belonging stranded in ambiguity, God is seen as an advocate for the powerless. Our theology leans more toward inclusivity, and we talk less about divine holiness and righteousness and more about a God who suffers. On the margins, the priority is merciful and just action, not correct beliefs. 
There are significant theological incongruences between Christians who occupy the mainstream segment of society and those who exist on the margins. The world of theology has been dominated by Western male thought…

the movement of humility

We live in a context of stratification where much of society is ordered into separate layers or castes. We are identified as upper class, middle class, or lower class. Our language reflects this up/down (superior/inferior) paradigm. We want to be at the top of the heap, climb the ladder of success, break through the glass ceiling, be king of the hill. This same kind of thinking seeps into our theology. When we talk about humility, we think mostly think in terms of lowering ourselves, willfully participating in downward mobility. This type of up/down language is certainly present in biblical texts (James 4:10 is one example), but I believe that the kind of humility we see in Jesus requires that we step outside of a strictly up/down paradigm. Instead of viewing humility as getting down low or stepping down a notch on the ladder of society, perhaps it is more helpful to think in terms of proximity and movement.

Jesuit theologian, James Keenan, notes that virtues and vices are not really…