(MAPLE XXX) Grading

As a TA, I enjoy holding office hours to give individualized or small-group-ized attention to students who need help on math homework.  Additionally, getting to teach the recitations or even the lectures is a test of my communication skills and how to explain concepts in different ways.  Although some people don’t like TA’ing, I find it to be rewarding, as interaction with students is important to me–I at some point would like to become a professor at a university, doing both research and teaching.

However, the thing that does not resonate as warmly with me is the grading.  I do not DREAD grading, but it is certainly my least favorite part of TAing.  There are so many different philosophies that can be used on grading, and I have adjusted my technique several times.  I’d like to describe some of these, just because I can.  (If any of my students read this, this might explain my thought process as well.)

Previously in my academic career, I noticed that grading was inconsistent among different graders.  Some gave comments, others did not, and sometimes the points I lost were explicitly enumerated; other times not.  It reminds me of my physics classes, where comments on homeworks were lacking.  Many a problem had pretty much the whole problem covered in scribbles, “X,” and check marks with ticks on them, yet after all of that I got a 7/10 on the problem.

I find that grading is a teaching opportunity for both the student and the grader.  Giving comments, though it takes more time than simply marking off points, is a more useful type of feedback.  Feedback is more important than the grade, so that the student has an idea of what he or she is doing correctly or incorrectly.  I make this a point on quizzes and exams, although sometimes I slip with comments on homework assignments.  (This quarter, though, there were no collected homeworks in my class–all grades were based on exams and quizzes).

In the New TA session last year, I learnt about different ways to grade.  In math, there are usually two schools of thought: an itemized rubric and a holistic look.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and sometimes my philosophy attempts to combine both.

In the itemized rubric, the problem is essentially broken down into smaller parts for the grader, each of which are worth a certain number of points.  This works well for some problems, but not others.  And when an error is made at one point that tears the rest of the problem asunder, the itemized-rubric philosophy can break down.  A good example of this–having the idea of reversing the order of integration, correctly drawing the region, but then setting up the limits of integration incorrectly.  The correct idea was formulated, but it was executed incorrectly and leads to a problem that might not be solvable with elementary functions.  Because the concept was correct, I am more likely to be generous with partial credit.

This example is a better idea for using a “holistic” grading rubric.  The assigning of partial credit is more difficult here, but it gives more emphasis on the concepts than the computations when errors are made.  Of course, whether I am grading holistically or itemized-ly, I tend to be fairly lenient with minor algebra errors, but more harsh with calculus errors.  Knowing when to drop the hammer is important, because though some errors are minor, determining which errors are minor is not always trivial.

What I have done lately has been to grade the assignments in two waves.  The first is to put marks and comments on the problems, without assigning point values (except that perfect answers still get full marks and blanks get zeros).  The problems with errors are then sorted into piles, approximately taxonomized by the conceptual problem or other error that was made, before deciding on point values.  This combines holistic and itemized, because sometimes you don’t know a-priori what is likely to be a common error or what is the most important part of the problem.

Since the grader may think differently than the student, it is important to attempt to put yourself in the student’s shoes.  Of course, that is very difficult for me, but if I want to continue in academia, it is something I must learn to do!

Today’s count and nugget:

Today is the 30th day of MAPLE.

Firsts are both exciting and nerve-wracking, whatever they may be.

Advertisements

One thought on “(MAPLE XXX) Grading

Let's have a conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s