Assessing Student Work

It’s the work, not you.

April 22, 2015

I finished marking, and had to remind myself to review an earlier version of this post. I get to know my students fairly well in my lecture and discussion style class. I also flip the classroom, and offer computer lab time, which means that I interact with my students a lot. I want to see them succeed; however, I cannot control the amount of time or effort that they put into assignments. It is not fun to calculate grades. I want to send this to all my students, though. The grade is about their work and not them as a person. Here are my thoughts to my students:

Your course grades do not reflect who you are as a person. The grade is only an assessment of your performance in this moment with these assignments – no more. This grade is not about whether or not I like you. The grade is about your work. You should not take the grades personally and wonder if this means that the person who assessed your work doesn’t want you to succeed. Trust me: instructors like seeing their students do well. We are assessing so much work and it’s ultimately about the writing, analysis, presentation, ideas, grammar, spelling punctuation, directions, but not about you as a person. The assessment is about the performance of the assignment or the project, and it is not personal. And, I also ask that you think about the assignment that you submitted. Was it your best work and did you follow the directions? Are you owning the grade and the comments? It is so easy to say that the Teaching Assistant or Instructor has it in for you or does not understand you, but is there more there? A moment of introspection is needed, so that you can think about the assignment and the expectations for your work. I think about my office hours, and wish that some students had visited me or even emailed me about their working ideas for the last assignment.

I remember when I started teaching and I was more casual with the students. I would occasionally hear the following, “But I thought you liked me.” I conferred with my mentors and was told–you have to be more formal and you need to tell them it is their grade. Use your title and remind them that you are assessing their work and not them. Who they are has nothing to do with the grade. It’s about the writing and thinking. I re-worked my syllabi and did become more formal the following term and didn’t hear those personal statements again. For my students, the paper grade is about research, thinking, and writing. I encourage them to manage their time well so that they can do justice to their ideas. My purple pen is here to comment and tease out ideas. I pick up each paper and think, “what is here and how can I help?” The assessment is really about the ideas. I will often write “given another week the next draft would explain this better.”

Please remember this. It is not you, it is merely the assignment at this moment.


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