Blog on Grading (The Week After We Discussed Grading In Practicum)

This past Monday’s discussion of grading was well-timed.  Although I chose not to blog on grading because I was actively in the midst of grading my students’ third projects, our discussion and blogs helped me decide how I want to approach grading the required Reflective Argument + Portfolio project all ENG 1020 students are to complete.  In another bit of perversity, I missed today’s workshop on the Reflective Argument + Portfolio assignment in order to attend my final fairy-tale working group meeting.  Perhaps to assuage my guilt, I’m today sharing how I plan to grade this assignment in my ENG 1020 section.

While a rubric is provided with the Reflective Argument + Portfolio assignment description, it doesn’t cover all the aspects of writing that I have been stressing and grading in my students’ writing this semester.  I therefore needed to determine a method for grading these projects for individual grades (as opposed to the departmental assessment the rubric was created for, if I’m not mistaken).  This past week, my fellow classmate blogged about grading contracts, where a list of criteria is compiled and, if met, will earn the student a specified grade (such as B).  While I’m not sure how I feel about this type of grading for an entire class (I like that it takes into account effort but feel class should involve more than simply racking up points to earn a specific grade–even though this is what class may always be for some students), I do like this concept for grading a final project, especially one that is to focus on an accurate reflection of how students have or have not met established course learning outcomes.

The Benefits of Contract Grading for the Reflective Argument + Portfolio Project:

  1. This is the culmination of the ENG 1020 course.  The only “new” skill it is meant to evaluate is reflection, which isn’t really “new” as I’ve encouraged and/or forced reflection throughout the semester in preparation for this assignment.  Therefore, this project is more continued practice than skill-learning.
  2. It is a final paper, so detailed feedback becomes difficult to provide and/or students have completed the course and are largely uninterested in the details concerning their grade.  With contract grading, less feedback will be necessary, as students have either met or not met the criteria to earn a B.
  3. It simplifies the final project in a way to assuage student anxiety by simplifying the grading rubric to a list as concrete as possible.  There is as little subjectivity as possible in the contract list.
  4. It simplifies grading for me, the instructor, in the same manner as #3.

Drawbacks of Contract Grading for the Reflective Argument + Portfolio Project:

  1. It simplifies grading in a way that can remove nuance (although this could be a benefit depending on your perspective).
  2. It simplifies (to some degree) the final project to a checklist, making it more formulaic than individual and creative.  I would address this by pointing out that the assignment is already encouraging a formulaic response in many ways: individuality is largely limited to the evidence used and analyzed and there is only so much variety for the thesis statements when all my students are pulling from the same group of assignments (short and long) and discussing the same four learning objectives.
  3. This is a new grading method for me, which means it might be more anxiety inducing than anxiety reducing than I am anticipating.  I’m also experiencing difficulty trying to anticipate what is necessary to include on the contract “checklist;” I’m sure I’m forgetting something important.  To address this final point, I’m including my current contract draft below.

All this being said, I, like my colleague who originally brought up the concept, wonder how this would work for a literature course.  In terms of literature and writing, where writing is still a large component and students are building to a final project, I could see this working with similar benefits and drawbacks, especially if sufficient feedback is given prior to final paper submission (perhaps on rough drafts or through the formative assessment/progressive build paper discussed by Debra in the online teaching workshop).  For a less writing focused course, such as a survey course, this may prove problematic if not all students are at a reasonably similar level of writing expertise.  However, if writing is de-emphasized as an outcome, the simplicity of the grading contract could be appealing, either for a final project or for the whole course.  All this is to say, I think the grading contract has its uses and am willing to test it on an assignment in ENG 1020 but could foresee it proving problematic in some literature classes.

Feedback and/or suggestions are most welcome!

Contract Grading Rubric (in progress):

To earn a B grade on Project 4, students must

  • have a clear, specific thesis statement that makes an accurate claim regarding the student’s success in meeting or progressing in the four learning objectives.
  • compose an 8-10 page argument consisting of an introduction, logically organized body paragraphs, and conclusion.
  • have clear topic sentences stating the main claim made in each body paragraph.
  • earn an average 3 or 4 on the learning objective rubric above.
  • include properly cited and explained textual evidence.
  • include a portfolio consisting of all the texts used as evidence in the argument.
  • submit the project on time and in the appropriate manner.
  • format their paper according to the guidelines listed above.
  • have fewer than 15 grammar/sentence structure errors.
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