From Grading to Feedback & Coaching

Nels Highberg wrote humorously today about the karma/irony of chiding other instructors for viewing grading in a negative light: then he had some to do himself.

Having just wrapped up some grading yesterday, this topic is on my mind.

I teach some online courses: notably, a series on film history, and an introductory screenwriting course.

These have weekly discussion and assignments needing scoring and feedback. So it's safe to say I'm grading EVERY week.

It will always be a chore. But today I'm still basking in the experience of sharing some of the course's more ambitious goals with the students--and trying to inspire those few who don't seem to be working as hard as they might.

Structured and approached in the right light, grading can be a positive interaction I look forward to--and something students enjoy and appreciate as well.

I've noticed that professors usually talk about "grading"--whereas administrators and instructional technologists & designers tend to talk about "assessment."

The term "assessment" gets at some things "grading" doesn't. "Grading" sounds like assigning a score, making a (final) judgment about the value, merit or quality.

It can be very helpful, however, to think of grading as "feedback." Educational theory uses the term "assessment" in two flavors, formative and summative, and "feedback" falls under the formative heading.

Professor Highberg is right, in my opinion, to point to rubrics used in administrative processes as a model for grading. And if the implication is "use a clear rubric," I agree.

I would only add two things.

Grading can be less painful (for both instructor and student) when the instructor: gives clear 'actionable' feedback on the most pressing problems; coaches the student towards the bigger course issues.

These have multiple benefits. First, if the problems are few and fix-able, that gives the student hope. The message supports efficacy--instead of overloading the student with *all* their flaws.

Second, focusing on bigger course issues--the nature of historical thinking, e.g., or the creative process (to mention the issues in my film history and screenwriting courses)--keeps the student inside the key course topics, rather than waiting outside in some anteroom where those who can't write a good transition are kept waiting until enlightenment strikes.

This doesn't get instructors out of grading--just out of feeling like it's "hell."

--Edward R. O'Neill, Ph.D.


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