grading papers

I used to be able to just power my way through a stack of papers, averaging one every 20 to 30 minutes. Now I find myself pausing to think about the point of the assignment for the umpteenth time, looking back at already graded papers to compare them to the one in front of me, re-reading the opening paragraphs. Have I lost my grading mojo?

Is grading papers always a grind? What kind of assignments in a literature class would result in papers that are not, first of all, likely to be downloaded off of the web and that, second, fully engage both halves of a student’s brain? I try different things from one semester to the next. I’d like to assume that my students already know the mechanics of writing an essay, but often this is not the case, and this failure to construct, say, a fully developed paragraph gets in the way of my knowing what they are trying to say. I swing between concluding that some students just lack the necessary writing skills and concluding that I have failed to explain the assignment adequately.

I will say this, however: In the past I’ve been frustrated by what are supposed to be argumentative papers that instead provide detailed summaries of the text under consideration. This assignment, however unfamiliar it might be to students, is succeeding to varying degrees at getting them to focus on interpretation and the strategies of persuasion. I’d like them to see that one text might support multiple interpretations of a particular issue, but that this does not mean that anything goes. Some interpretations are better supported by textual evidence than others. Some are more persuasive than others. Some, finally, just don’t hold water.

Sometimes I fear that I’m the only one who struggles with these teaching issues and that everyone else just effortlessly gets their students to write interesting, well-constructed essays and then just effortlessly glides through grading them. We usually talk the most about our successes, not what feel like our shortcomings.

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3 thoughts on “grading papers

  1. I think I’ve gotten in the habit of trudging through my papers. When I teach film, I tend to require similar assignments (discussing afilm’s meaning in terms of its use of specific formal techniques), because students ned to develop a very specific skill set in introductory film courses. The only method I’ve developed for getting around this problem is to require students to write on a specific, limited set of films (which I change from semester to semester).
    But I struggle a lot with grading, and when I have to graed quickly, it usually sours my mood for a few days.

  2. Ah, the dreaded “book report” syndrome. I look at this as an artifact of high school. People are so used to having to prove that they have read the text by summarizing it that they always go there first, thinking it will get them the best grade.
    Ye olde “banking model” of education. The bane of critical thought. It’s a hard habit to break, especially with first-year students.
    You are not alone. If I didn’t have an open revision policy, I suspect I’d never have anything good to read. Students never get it right the first time.

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