Updated article originally published November 13, 2018.
Assessments for students means grading for instructors, which is why mid-term and end of term can be stressful in higher education. These periods have become seasons unto themselves—with people becoming routinely overwhelmed and overworked at these junctures annually. But, due to the gift of foresight, this time of year does not need to be overwhelming. Everyone knows assessment time is coming, and with a few strategies in mind, grading can be a lot easier.
Strategies for effective grading are not as challenging to conceive as they may seem. In fact, a solid set of guidelines can be developed through an awareness of three major components: grading efficiently, giving good feedback, and avoiding educator burnout. With these considerations and some tips from Kevin Gannon from Grand View University, in mind, the hectic stress of mid-term and end of term can be relieved.
When looking to grade effectively, organization is the place to start. Using a calendar–digital or physical–can help to visualize work and manage grading time. While this requires some front-end effort, it is ultimately worthwhile.
Similarly, rubrics are an important organizational tool. They are huge time-savers, and especially help the grading process in large courses with multiple TAs. From here, the process of chunking–splitting up assessments into more manageable chunks–will make the task seem much less daunting.
For assessments requiring more verbose feedback, consider using speech-to-text software—like Google Docs—to transcribe oral comments. Transcriptions or audio recordings may then be copied into the assessments to provide students with rich feedback. This technique can save time otherwise spent writing comments to students.
Beyond these organizational techniques, using an online grading app can be particularly helpful for TA management, submission organization, and grading process centralization. Grading apps are the key for efficiency, as grading software, such as Crowdmark, offers a variety of grading tools that streamline exam marking. Moreover, Crowdmark seamlessly integrates with any major LMS or VLE including Brightspace, Blackboard, and Moodle.
Provide Good Feedback
While many instructors focus on how to make grading easier, the importance of good feedback cannot be forgotten. Fast grading is compatible with solid feedback, but educators must make a conscious effort to fit the two together.
While rubrics are a good tool for efficiency, it is important to discuss the rubric with the students—addressing any concerns they may have, and clarifying any problems to help demystify the assessment process. Moreover, reviewing rubrics with students before administering an assessment will likely result in more structured submissions.
There are many resources designed to guide thinking about how to create a rubric that works as both a grading tool and an assignment guide, A guide from DePaul University, for instance, helps to give structure to conceptualizing the type of rubric would be most meaningful for your purposes.
This guide categorizes the rubric into two main types: analytical and holistic. Analytical rubrics are simply organized in a matrix of skill and achievement. For example, with an essay, formatting could be the skill, and the various ranks of achievement could range from “needs improvement” to “exemplary”. On the other hand, holistic rubrics link achievement to success overall.
Both models have strengths and weaknesses; analytic rubrics provide more specificity in dilleniation, but make it difficult to target the performance of certain skills. Analytic rubrics are also harder to create, whereas holistic rubrics are easy to make but do not inspire much reflection due to their simplicity.
Once settled on a rubric, an instructor can look to increase grading efficiency. Often, multiple students make similar mistakes. Thus, creating one thoughtful articulation to speak to each common issue and reusing these notes when a common error is identified saves time and allows grading teams to give consistent feedback to all students. Moreover, standardizing comments for common mistakes leaves more time to give richer comments on other areas of the work.
It is important to remember that grading does not happen in a vacuum; teaching and learning do not stop when it is time to grade. With all of these workload aspects peaking at the same time each term, it is imperative to adopt measures to protect mental health.
To prevent burnout during exam times, consider developing or heightening self-care habits, including maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Further, look for these early signs of the onset of burnout: an unusual sense of fatigue, difficulty focusing, and a sense of dread, among others.
Since grading is a major workload component and can spark burnout, think about possible preventative measures. Prior to the term, perhaps implement new types of assessments that break from traditional forms that may become monotonous to grade. Moreover, something as simple as workspace ergonomics can really help, especially in remote learning contexts. If burnout does occur, the best course of action is to take a break.
Packing a Mid-Term or End-of-Term Survival Toolkit
The biggest tool educators have to mitigate the stressful effects of mid-term and end-of-term grading is preparation. Knowing the season is coming, and having faced it before can go a long way to future success. When hit with a storm of marking, keep in mind the various strategies offered here. Staying organized, finding ways to manage grading workflows, using an online grading software, and strategizing feedback without compromising its quality are all ways to make the season easier and combat the possibility of burnout.