28 January 2006

On Marking

Serendipitously (via pedablogue, a site which I originally visited for its witty name) I came across this interesting if lightweight article discussing how flexible one might be in marking (or grading in the US), and its comments.

I hate marking. I put it off as long as possible; but the students were asking me about it last Monday, so I have to do it this weekend come what may.

Why do I hate it? Two reasons, really. First, I have no problem with providing formative feedback; indeed on the Master's course where the submission of draft work was encouraged, I tackled it with enthusiasm at the first opportunity. My problem is really with summative assessment—actually closing down the debate and discussion with a unilateral mark. I am not so confident with my own authority as to do that comfortably. It is not made any easier by the fact that in deference to my seniority (perhaps) second-marking colleagues rarely disagree with me. OK, there are some (most, I suppose) clear cases, but...

The second reason is of course that the work students submit is the rawest form of evaluation of the teaching. They have done the best they can, I assume. I have no problem with castigating them for lack of referencing, for grammatical solecisms, for poor structure. But when they show that they have not really understood a concept—that says more about my teaching than their performance. And if several of them make the same errors; that says more about me than about them.

In the States, "evaluation" is often used for what we in the UK call "assessment"; we routinely (and without much thought) refer to "assessment" of student learning, and "evaluation" of teaching. But we do make a big mistake in assuming that "assessment" is purely about students; it is also about us. It is a cruel mirror to the teacher's effectiveness.

In part, of course. Oh, and see http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/marking.htm for ways of removing personal bias.

Today our session included a discussion of what really works in teaching. See http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/what_works.htm What really works is, in Hattie's phrase, "dollops of feedback". Marking really matters, and detailed constructive marking feedback matters even more. Going back to the link at the top of this post, the "grade" is a really crude instrument. Your scrawled comments in the margin are for more important for actual learning. (Assuming you can get the students to read them, of course.)

27 January 2006

On preparation

My email is working again, so ignore the earlier post.

As I wrote to a correspondent a few minutes ago:
  • " It's 11.25 pm, and I am wrestling with my lecture for tomorrow. How did I ever teach for two hours on "motivation and learning"? (I go through this every year--perhaps for the last time?) I have reviewed my PowerPoint, which is rubbish, and the exercise, which even I don't understand... And I have just picked up a new text (pub 2006--my first of the year) on this with 400 pages of text and 70 pages of references (which the keen ones will expect me to have read already). So I need to re-do the whole thing. Not that I will use it, of course, it's merely a safety net in case the discourse does not emerge. It's a con-trick, really. We are supposed to teach the students that if you are properly organised this kind of situation does not arise. Bullshit. I've been doing this for 40 years and it still happens. And I would not have it any other way. I'll miss it! "
(Note to students; you're not supposed to know that!)

23 January 2006

On being off-line

For some reason my main email account (to which other email addresses get re-directed) has been corrupted. My ISP says that they will fix it in 48 hours, but that I may lose anything still in the in-box on the server. So my apologies to anyone who has tried to contact me over the past day or so; the gmail address still works, though. Try that one or try again in a couple of days. Thanks.