One of the compromises I make as an educator is grading assignments. I really like all the other stuff that comes with teaching, but grading is something that wears me down and seems to be my least favorite part of the job. Usually I structure my classes so that I have the smallest amount of grading possible or so that grading is as easy as possible. I've noticed 2 effects of this on the students. First, they get the message that detail is not important. If their teacher is just going to breeze over it, then there's no need to be super careful or take too much pride in what they do. Second, their work is not important. If their teacher, who may be the only person to see this, doesn't give it much attention, then what's the point?
So I changed things this semester.
I used to work with a teacher who had students put a tag on every assignment that was turned in. On the tag was information about when it was submitted, if it had been accepted for credit, and if there were changes that needed to be made in order to be accepted for full credit. I've adopted versions of this in the past, but only this year have I taken it seriously. When a piece of work comes in, I can leave the student notes about revisions, give extensions, ask questions. The story of the assignment is right there on the front, so I don't get lost when looking at another piece of work. This communicates to students that there will be accountability for assignments, and that revisions are a possible and common occurrence. By including language like "draft #" and "new due date" I am communicating how I value updates and drafts. This has already made a difference and is less for me to keep track of.
I included a system of extensions this year. If students turn in a complete piece of work (everything is done) with mistakes, there is no penalty. I just point out mistakes and give them a new due date. The student makes revisions and resubmits the work. However many times it takes to go back an forth is fine, but they don't get credit in the grade book until it's done. This is what made me feel happy while grading.
Usually when I sit down and look at student work I feel one of two things: "Nice they did it right, on to the next one" or "Oh look they messed up, I wonder if I should have been more clear". By focusing more on the issues and grazing over successes, I get upset and start feeling like a failure. Oddly enough, when I started using tags to document revisions, I began feeling happy while grading. It definitely takes longer to grade, but it is really rewarding to see assignments that initially were not acceptable develop into high quality work. A new emotion was present during grading: "Man, I knew they could do it!".
Philip Estrada is a teacher at High Tech High Media Arts in San Diego California. He teaches Physics by having kids build things in a woodshop.