Saturday, October 18, 2008

Grading Jail: The File in the Cake

This semester, I'm fortunate to have a very light teaching load. That's because my Chair is a Good and Merciful Chair, who decided that the grants I brought in last year actually bought me out of a bit of my teaching this semester.** So I'm only teaching two undergrad classes (both ones I've taught before), plus one independent study for a grad student who showed up to work with me just as I left for Fellowship City.

This was very nice, as I had to function on teaching autopilot for the month of September while I worked on my book MS & tenure file, all while adjusting to post-fellowship re-entry.*** But while sailing through my classes, I completely forgot that the grading was piling up. So now, I find myself in Grading Jail. Thursday, I finished grading a stack of papers for my intro class, just as they were finishing their midterms. So net gain/loss: zero. Five minutes ago, however, I finished another stack of papers for my upper-division class, so I'm pushing ahead.

You know what has helped me? The proverbial file in the cake sent to bust me out of Grading Jail? It's simple: A timer. Yup: I now set a timer for grading (mine happens to be and "egg timer" downloaded from Mac widgets, which pops up a chicken at the end and says "time to check the grading!"). Each three- to four-page paper gets ten minutes, then I move on to the next one. I do a six-paper (one-hour) stack, then take a break. Three sessions like this (either back to back or spaced out during the day), and I can crank through almost 20 papers, writing fairly detailed comments all the while. It's fantastic.

UPDATE: I've managed to get through all the papers for my advanced class, and the larger papers for my intro class. I now have remaining a stack of short assignments for my intro class, and their midterms, which they took on Thursday. Next Thursday, advanced class sits for its midterm, so that's my deadline for getting the materials for intro class polished off. My goal is, by next Friday, to have only one stack of grading on my desk, and to possibly be completely busted out of Grading Jail by a week from Tuesday. At least I know what I'll be doing for the next week and a half...

**Actually, her repsonse when I contacted her in February to schedule my Fall Semester classes was, "You're teaching this fall? I thought you had three semesters?"

***The biggest challenge here was that I had forgotten about the stupidity: mostly administrators, but also some students. Sadly, I readjusted to this distressingly quickly.

5 comments:

Good Enough Woman said...

I've had someone recommend the timer strategy before. But what happens if you're not finished when the timer goes off? Or do you just eventually learn to write less on the papers, thereby grading faster?

Notorious Ph.D. said...

The latter. The first couple papers, the timer went off before I could finish. I quickly learned to pick up the pace at the beginning of each paper, so I had time to get all the way through each one, commenting evenly throughout.

Of course, you have to make your time goal something reasonable. But remember that grading will take up as much time as you give it.

You know what this strategy really eliminates? That time *between* papers, or in the middle of any given paper, where you dither around, checking e-mail, reading news sites, etc., because you can't bear to read any more for the time being. It keeps you on schedule, and lets you feel good about rewarding yourself with a little break at the end of each hour.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

What a great idea! I love the widget.

Dr. S said...

Oh, the timer. I loaned my old real-life timer to a friend years ago and never got it back, but it was really helpful in grad school, especially, since I seemed to want to spend an hour on a five-page paper. I've just downloaded the egg timer myself, since I have my first batch of full-length papers to grade this week.

I'm experimenting with grading them on the computer, by the way, instead of on paper. I'll let you know how that goes... I suspect that I'm going to allot 30 minutes for each paper, since they're 6-8 pp. And then if it turns out that I'm getting them all done early, I can always back the time up.

Also, thanks to your suggestion about the widget--and my inability to find it quickly on Mac's website--I've downloaded this to-do list program called Lifeshaker. I'll let you know if it's any good...

hominy said...

Loved the idea. Yesterday, I used the timer in a variant: I jotted down how much time it took me, giving myself x amount of time, allowing for 2-3 minutes extra per paper (they're longer and for an honor's class). I write all my comments on a computer so that I have a written record which is handy in cases of disputed grades and letters of recommendation.