Satisficing & grading

I’m slow with the grading.  Some of it is garden-variety procrastination; some of it is bad planning (assignments for different classes coming in at the same time); some of it is overcommitments elsewhere; some of it is figuring out the assignment design before figuring out how the grading will work.  But a big part of it is overcommenting.  On most papers, I give three different kinds of feedback: a rubric score, interlineal comments (now delivered, in most cases, via track changes), and a terminal comment.

On the one hand, intellectually I know perfectly well that this isn’t necessarily helpful.  On the other hand, when I was a student I felt very strongly that comments = professorial love and engagement, so it’s hard for me to let that go.  Beyond that, the biggest problem with a lot of student writing is that it seems to have been produced with no thought of a reader.  It’s as if churning out material of a certain length is good enough, and so the plethora of comments is supposed to say, “Oi! Live reader here!)”

The track changes feature in Word actually makes matters worse in one way: If you change a formatting aspect of the paper (say, the margins), then it produces a comment about that for every single paragraph in a paper, so it looks like you’ve commented a lot.  But then it looks like all you’ve done is look at formatting, so I always make extra comments to convey that I read the paper carefully.

I also don’t think of comments as negative; often, I’ll use comments simply to suggest alternate lines of thought or stylistic possibilities.  (How else are the students going to get them?)

This really isn’t sustainable, however.

The other day, I re-discovered this word: satisfice, or to be happy with a good-enough solution, rather than one that is maximally optimal.  It reminded me that my current grading practice is a mostly failing attempt at maximizing the amount of possible feedback on any given assignment, which leads to two different counterproductive effects: it takes too long for me to grade, and students may well feel overwhelmed.  (Although very good students usually point to this overcommenting as the thing they like best about my teaching.)

What I need to do, then, is to develop a satisficing strategy: knowing where I’ve said enough to suggest opportunities for revision (and, to be candid, to justify the grade), but in such a way that it’s acceptably fast, light, and flexible.  Students who want more comments can always come in and talk to me anyway, right?

How do you know when enough’s enough?

(There’s always Ross’s solution . . . .)

This entry was posted in higher education, teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Satisficing & grading