Monday, October 24, 2011

Back to School Time Crunch

It's late October and I am just getting around to blogging again. I am reminded again about the Tyranny of the Urgent and I am longing for one single uninterrupted hour to get some stuff done.

I am experimenting with standards-based grading. Although I am thrilled with the depth of data I am collecting and the detailed feedback students are getting, I am being crushed by the amount of marking I need to do.

I am collecting a little more student work than I have in the past. But the real problem is my desire to give meaningful feedback. I am not really marking anymore, I am commenting. What used to take me half an hour to mark with checks and x's now takes me a couple of hours to write comments that will help students understand their mistakes and improve their mastery of the content.

I have discussed the problem with colleagues and we have a couple of ideas to simplify the marking process without losing the feedback.

Create an answer key
This would eliminate the need for written comments on assignments and quizzes. Students can refer to the answer key to see where they went wrong. This requires some self-motivation on the part of the students. It also develops their ability to self-assess. I am still available if they don't understand the answer key.

The major problem I see with this is the lack of personal comments that tie directly to individual student work. Recently I wrote on the top of a student's quiz "I can see you are making a strong effort. Keep working hard." I wanted to make sure they were not discouraged because they were not yet mastering some learning objectives. This student needed to know that I was aware of their effort and appreciated their hard work.

Do more peer-assessment in class
This lightens the load on the teacher but also gives no teacher feedback to the students. I will do this more for early chapter topics like "Naming Polynomials" and "Identifying the Constant Term." In these cases there is not a lot of feedback required. But for problem solving quizzes, I will need to continue to collect and comment.

Fewer assessments
The only problem here is to make sure that every learning objective is assessed at least once before the chapter test. Additional assessments will be student initiated. I have also experimented with optional assignments that students can do if they are missing several learning objectives. Students who have already demonstrated mastery will not be required to hand in the assignment. It is left to individual students to decide.

Overall it is a work in progress. I keep telling my students it is OK and even necessary that they fail at first as a part of the learning process. I need to remind myself that I am also learning, adjusting and improving.


  1. Recently, I've started having my students give themselves instant feedback by going to the back of the room and giving themselves feedback using answer keys and orange pens I provide. You can read more about it here: Post Game Analysis 2.0: Instant Replay. I think it allows me to make feedback much more personal, as I can now choose to give them feedback either on their written problem solution, or the feedback they gave themselves.

  2. @quantumprogress

    I read your post and it resonated with me. Although I want to lighten my work load, I do not want to lose the rich feedback my students can get through this process. PGA is exactly the kind of thinking I need.

    Not only would it lighten the load for me, but it may also improve the feedback students get. It is immediately after they finish a quiz so they still remember what they were trying to do with the problem. They are self-assessing so it forces them to think through their own process and identify mistakes. And I can still add more comments to their comments so it creates a kind of feedback conversation.

    I love it!