28 January 2006

On Marking

Serendipitously (via pedablogue, a site which I originally visited for its witty name) I came across this interesting if lightweight article discussing how flexible one might be in marking (or grading in the US), and its comments.

I hate marking. I put it off as long as possible; but the students were asking me about it last Monday, so I have to do it this weekend come what may.

Why do I hate it? Two reasons, really. First, I have no problem with providing formative feedback; indeed on the Master's course where the submission of draft work was encouraged, I tackled it with enthusiasm at the first opportunity. My problem is really with summative assessment—actually closing down the debate and discussion with a unilateral mark. I am not so confident with my own authority as to do that comfortably. It is not made any easier by the fact that in deference to my seniority (perhaps) second-marking colleagues rarely disagree with me. OK, there are some (most, I suppose) clear cases, but...

The second reason is of course that the work students submit is the rawest form of evaluation of the teaching. They have done the best they can, I assume. I have no problem with castigating them for lack of referencing, for grammatical solecisms, for poor structure. But when they show that they have not really understood a concept—that says more about my teaching than their performance. And if several of them make the same errors; that says more about me than about them.

In the States, "evaluation" is often used for what we in the UK call "assessment"; we routinely (and without much thought) refer to "assessment" of student learning, and "evaluation" of teaching. But we do make a big mistake in assuming that "assessment" is purely about students; it is also about us. It is a cruel mirror to the teacher's effectiveness.

In part, of course. Oh, and see http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/marking.htm for ways of removing personal bias.

Today our session included a discussion of what really works in teaching. See http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/what_works.htm What really works is, in Hattie's phrase, "dollops of feedback". Marking really matters, and detailed constructive marking feedback matters even more. Going back to the link at the top of this post, the "grade" is a really crude instrument. Your scrawled comments in the margin are for more important for actual learning. (Assuming you can get the students to read them, of course.)

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