Saturday, December 11, 2010

'Tis the season for grading

Yes, indeed.

Just a short post: while normal people may be out shopping for gifts, the proffies are all locked away from the world, trying to get those final papers graded so we can have our desks cleared for grading the final exams. My schedule:

This past Monday-Friday: Grade 30 papers from lower-division survey class (@ 3-4 pp.)

Saturday & Sunday: Grade 24 final research papers from upper-division class (@ 5-6 pp.); write final exam for same class

Monday: Administer final exam for upper-division class; collect papers from grad class (6 papers @ 18-20 pp.)

Tuesday-Thursday: Grade all of the above; write exam for lower-division class

Friday: administer above final exam; begin grading

Saturday: finish grading exams, because...

Sunday: leave for holiday visit to relatives.

It's best not to think about it all at once.

UPDATE: below, in the comments, a new discussion topic, regarding how much writing we assign in our courses in the Humanities.


Anonymous said...

Wow. In my upper-division classes, research papers were always 10-15 pages.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Different schools, different approaches. But before anyone thinks I've gone soft: this is the final paper of three papers and one other major analytical assignment for the semester.

But it brings up an interesting question: what are people's general writing requirements for a semester in an undergrad course? If you think it's relevant (and that's another topic for discussion), you can add in what type of school you teach at.

Here's what I have: upper-division classes have a three- to four-page source analysis worksheet (I talked about this in an earlier post, and yes, I'll post the questions I used, since so many people were interested), two three- to four-page analytical papers based on sources and questions I assign, and a final five- to six-page independent research paper. Total: 14-18 pages for the semester.

100-level classes are similar, though without the final independent paper. Total: 9-12 pages for the semester.

And, for what it's worth: mid-tier urban regional university.

I think it actually would be interesting to see how this varies across the board.

J. Adams said...

The 200-level class I'm taking has been two 5-7 page papers plus a final paper that's 4 pages so all together: 14-18 pgs.

Mid-tier urban state school.

Anonymous said...

The hardest papers I ever had to write in college were in a philosophy class, where the assignments were 1-2pp each. Every word counted. It was a 300+ student class so this was the only way they could assign 5 papers per semester and not have a TA revolt, but it also taught me a lot about writing that I still use, 20 years later.

Dr. S said...

Writings in my courses:

100-level (15 students): 4 full papers (3 of which go through draft, peer review, revision, final draft, optional re-revision) (3-4 pp.; 4-5 pp.; 4-5 pp.; 6-8 pp.); 3 response papers (2-3 pp.); two mandatory 20-30 minute writing conferences per semester

200-level (20 students): either 2 6-8 pp. papers + final exam or 8 2 pp. response papers + 8-10 pp. final paper

300-level (25 students): 5 or 6 response papers (2-4 pp.); 2 essays (8-10 pp., including topic proposals that I read and approve, and substantial secondary source work)

400-level (15 students): weekly response/discussion papers (2-3 pp.); final essay (15-20 pp.) with sequence including 1-2 pp. proposal, optional draft, optional conference, mandatory brief in-class presentation, optional peer review; my honors seminar this semester was weekly response papers (2-3 pp.), two "context" papers related to the honors thesis (3 pp.), an annotated bibliography (some of these are around 10-15 pp.), and a 10-12 pp. final paper

Small liberal arts college, 3/2 teaching load. Next semester, I have a 200-level, a 300-level, and a 400-level, so I'm looking at 60 students (62 actually, since I'm overenrolled a bit) x each of those levels' assigned page ranges.

I comment on everything, too, and not with "awk" in the margins.

Did I mention that I'm directing an honors thesis? and that I'm also directing the honors program (wherein 8 people are writing 100-150 pp. theses for which I need to find outside examiners?)?

And I have 35 advisees, and I am preparing to take 15 students abroad for a year-long program in England.

We rock a mandatory 5 office hours per week here; I have been holding 6 regular hours a week for the past 3 semesters.

This is why I've been quiet this year! :)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Dr. S., I remember you alluding to this in our conversations this past summer, but this is the first time I've had the details. I see why you got that teaching award! I'm also reminded again to check my SLAC-envy at the door.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

(By the way, Dr. S., I'm curious, since I know for a fact that you are an extraordinarily dedicated teacher: Do you think that the workload you assign is typical of colleagues in your department (or in similar disciplines) at your institution?)

Dr. S said...

I probably assign a bit more writing than some of my colleagues, but I'm not vastly out of the ordinary. This is very much a writing college, and people take assigning and commenting on writing very seriously. I'm working toward a "less is more" model, though, because I can't get this grading done swiftly enough, and I also can't stand the thought of reading -- I counted it up -- something like 1700 pages of response papers and essays next semester. What I've started doing is commenting much, much less on weekly response papers, since the purpose of those is not to get my feedback on writing but to get ready for class discussion and eventually essay topics. Most people I know assign a variety of short papers through the semester, plus longer essays and usually some kind of presentation document as well.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

What slows me down (in my particular institution) is less the number of pages than my students' lack of preparation for writing college-level papers. Nothing complex here; we're talking basic grammar, spelling, and a poverty of vocabulary that compels them to use wildly wrong words because they don't know the right ones. We could debate until the cows come home as to who or what is to blame, but in the end, the result is the same: lots of time and lots of ink on each individual paper, and plenty of opportunities for (supervised) rewrites for papers early in the semester.

One of my solutions for getting through this with the larger classes (40-50 students; I don't have the mega-surveys that my Americanist colleagues do) is to offer them multiple paper/due-date options for at least one of the assignments. So, the 30 papers I mention for my lower-division class are from a class of 50, 20 of whom did a paper for that assignment a few weeks ago on a different topic. That way, they get some choice, and I get at least one break from grading papers for the whole class at once. I don't know if something like this would work with your own pedagogical imperatives, but it might be something you could adapt to suit.

Nicole said...

We are suffering with you today, although not in the humanities.

Exams, take-home exams, final papers.

Also I'm taking my kid to a birthday party. I wonder if it would be rude to bring grading along with...

Bardiac said...

First, you're rocking the grading so far.

What a GREAT discussion!

Me, in English:

First year composition course: 5 essays, ranging from 2-5 pages to 10-12 pages (though they tend to run a little short). 10 journals, 1 page, sometimes 2. 5 response pieces 1-2 pages. Peer editing: 2-3 from each student (for their peers) for each essay, 1 page.

I figured out once that it comes to about 60 pages/student on average. (But this is a 5 credit course, and counts as nearly half my load.)

Senior seminar: 2 short essays 2-3 pages, abstract and annotated bibliography, presentation short essay (summary, 1 page), 12-15 page final essay. So, total, 20 pages for 16-20 pages for most.

I'm doing an administrative task with a course release this semester, so not teaching a lower level lit course. Usually, I ask for two short essays, a response paper, and midterm and final. Not nearly as much writing.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, sorry for the confusion - I was referring to my undergrad classes as a student (I'm not in academia now).

As a student, those upper-level history classes required one 10-15 page paper, one 5 page paper (in around half of the classes), plus two exams (my prof instituted take-home exams in my junior year). This was at a teeny SLAC.

As a grad student in a small to mid-sized state university, my adviser had for his upper-level undergrad classes a two-page journal entry usually every week, a research paper of 10-15 pages (which encompassed several parts, like an annotated bibliography, a short abstract, and then two drafts), and no exams. Grad students taking his classes, like me, had to up the paper page length to at least 20, and we were expected to contribute more to in-class discussions. (Plus he obviously held our writing to a higher standard.)

Janice said...

You have my sympathies with the grading load to manage. Hope it all gets done for your trip.

As for the requirements, I'm at a regional comprehensive.

First year survey (80 students): One 3-4 page paper, One 6-8 page paper. There's also a daily journal (one paragraph) assessed three times a year.

Second year survey (55 students): Five 2 page document analyses, 2 in-class essays. (I used to run this with six or eight 1 page document analyses and an 8 page end-of-term essay. It broke me when my 2nd year class had 135 students. This year's lousy timeslot has been a sanity-saver, depressing enrolment. But I will probably revisit the assignment model for next fall.)

With a senior seminar (18-38 students), they hand in a 2 page written accompaniment to their research presentation and a 12-15 page research essay. I used to do a scaffolded series (proposal, major source analysis, paper) but it was crazy to have a one-week turnaround on those with the other marking on my plate.

One semester I kept track of all the pages that passed through my hand for marking. It went over 4000. Ugh!

Anonymous said...

Wow, interesting discussion! I'm on a post-doc now, so not teaching, but over the last ten years, at two SLACs, one mid-size state regional and one small state college, I did 3 papers for intro courses: 1 primary source analysis (3-4 pp), 1 topic paper (5-7 pp), and 1 multiple source analysis paper (5-7 pp). For mid-level courses, 1 topic analysis/research proposal (5-7 pp) and 2 research papers (7-8 pp). Senior level seminars had weekly response questions (1 p), and one long (18-20 pp) research paper with pieces (proposal, annotated bib, notes, draft) due every couple of weeks.

Students at the SLACs (both ranked in the top 25 nationally) were better prepared to do this kind of work in terms of grammar, vocab, etc., but even at the state school that was 90% first gen American/first gen college students, the students were capable of doing excellent work when taught how to do it. My attitude is that I can't bitch about seniors not being able to write decent papers if I don't train them how to do it in lower level classes. My grading load varied, of course, based on number of students and teaching load, but I've done this with a 2/2 load and less than 50 students a semester and a 3/4 load with close to 200. My life got a LOT easier when I started using grading sheets! I have a sheet that lists all the common expectations (spell check, proofread, cite quotes, etc.), along with common errors (comma splice, sentence fragments, unclear logic, etc.). Students can download a copy from the course website, and I use a copy when I grade - checking anything I see as I go. There is a space at the bottom for my comments. I scan in the sheet after I've graded the paper, then staple it to the work before returning it to the student. It gives me a record of how students are or are not improving, and where they are having problems, so I know who to send to the Writing Center and who needs more one-on-one help.

Oh, and I also have a primary source analysis worksheet, with questions for the students to use when reading sources. Since I often teach upper-level courses using only primary sources and a few articles (like an Enlightenment course), it is really crucial that students know how to read them!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

@ Anon 10:29 -- this is what's so frustrating for me. As I noted in a previous post, I'm doing all these things you mention. In fact, as the post notes, I've stepped up my activity in this area, assuming that if they don't hear it from me, they don't know it (a depressing assumption, but there you have it). There have been scaffolded assignments, general instructions, multiple proposals and multiple mandatory one-on-one conferences, and detailed step-by-step guidelines when it's time to write the final draft. And yet the only measurable results so far seem to be a drop in my enrollments and increased comments on evaluations that I demand too much in terms of writing.

And then I get all these great contributions from my commenters who seem to be able to get so much more out of their students, and I start to question whether I'm any good at this at all.

Friends, I'm at my wits' end. Suggestions (other than what I'm already doing) are more than welcome, because this can't go on like this.

Anonymous said...

I swear every year I won't do this again, but here's the writing load for my upper-level class, which enrolls 80-100 depending on room size: 4 installments of a fictional "autobiography" (ca 4 pp each), 2 papers each on 2 novels (ca 6 pp each . . . down from 1 4-p paper on each of the 4 novels till a couple of years ago), and a take-home essay portion of the final (ca 6 pp). Total (assuming 100 students): 3400 pages! (Oh, did I mention the in-class midterm & final - ID terms?) I have a grader, but because of the load and the nature of the assignments (and the fields of our grad students), I have to do at a minimum all those autobiographies: 1600 pp. (assuming the students stick to the page limit, which they don't).

Why do I do it? (1) I find each and every one of the assignments irresistible - I'm convinced they learn something from each one that would be terribly missed if I dropped it, (2) I teach at an R1 university and figure that with my light teaching load, the least I can do is give a little extra to the classes I do have, and (3) I'm a lunatic. Seriously, someone needs to do an intervention with me.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Anon, I agree with you on your reasons... but most especially the third one.

Graders are another thing to take into account. They allow us to delegate a bit of the grading labor (though supervising graders is its own kind of work, I'd imagine).

On another note: One thing I did today, in response to my queries about my own competence as a teacher, was to write a letter today to a colleague in the department who recently won a university teaching award, and ask her for honest feedback and suggestions. We're going to meet tomorrow and go over my assignments, and see if there's something that I could be doing better.

Asking for help: we tell our students to do it, but often forget to do it ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Where I am currently expects between four and eight c.2500-word essays per course from each undergraduate, and each undergraduate has one to three courses per (trimestral) term. It's set up so that when they have the big survey courses that demand eight essays, they don't have too much else to deal with that term, and they will only be on three courses at once if none of them's a survey. So, it comes out as each student generating about 18,000 words a term split between one to three teachers. On the other hand no-one on staff is supposed to teach more than six contact hours a week and teaching is typically *very* small-group, one to three. The Faculty is currently trying to cut down the amount of teaching we do as this model hæmmhorages money.

In the USA I'm pretty sure my current employer would be R1 and regarded as completely mad.

Anonymous said...

Oh! Lectures and seminar teaching were not included in the above hours count, but not everyone has them to do.