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Building Deadlines for Grading

As you probably know if you’ve been here a while, the bane of my existence is getting behind on grading. It’s perennially a black mark. Student feedback in evaluations usually goes something like “Dr. Cox is friendly and really cares and I loved her class but she’s very slow at getting back grades.”

Like some kind of cartoon villain on Saturday morning, every semester I hatch a new harebrained scheme to make grading faster, easier, lighter, whatever I can think of to solve the problem.

Snidely Whiplash from the Dudley Do-Right cartoons (source:
Actual image of me plotting new ways to make grading more bearable

And, like that cartoon villain, my plan never works. Something always comes up and foils even the best of laid schemes.

Naturally, I expect this semester to be no different, but I’ve got a new scheme we’re gonna try anyway: deadlines!

Of course there were always deadlines. Grades have to be turned in at certain points in a semester and there really isn’t any way to bend those deadlines. And with exactly one exception, I have always gotten grades in on time for THOSE deadlines.

So I have a reason to believe that, for me, deadlines are powerful motivators. So let’s try to use them to clear out the grading piles.

The problem, you see, with traditional grading is that the student does the work, submits it, and then gets feedback that just exists. There’s nothing specific they’re supposed to do with it. So while best learning practices require that they receive feedback quickly to create the association between the feedback and the work in the student’s mind, there’s not any pragmatic reason it matters if they get that in three days or five days, which extends to seven, which becomes… well, you get the picture. Lesson plans need to be made, emails need to be answered, and the grading winds up at the bottom of the pile until it becomes a crisis.

Last week, I talked about how I’m enlisting my students in the grading process by putting most of the weight on their self-evaluations, which respond in part to the plans that they make. So far, students are on board but very confused by this scheme. But what they don’t know is that it’s part of my nefarious plan to build more accountability into the curriculum for myself.

In this scheme, students have to use the feedback I give them to complete the self-grading in the reflection assignments. That means that I have until shortly before that’s due to get it back to them.

Now there is a deadline with teeth. Now I’m not able to complete my lesson plans (which are urgent deadlines) unless I return the grades. Building these dependencies means that the course is more integrated, and that my labor is held to the same accountability as student labor.

I don’t know if it’s going to work. I have too many students this semester (more so even than in a typical semester). The assignments are complex.

But I’m willing to try. And so far, I’ve kept up with the daily assignments and returned them before the next class. Just barely, in some cases, by working on the grading while my students are working on their own assignments in class, but I’ve managed.

I’ll check in on how these deadlines work on making grading more efficient later in the semester, but for now I’m hopeful that this scheme will keep me from letting the grading build up to crisis levels by making a series of smaller, planned crisis points.

The take-away here is that these schemes are based on a self-knowledge. I know I prioritize deadlines with real consequences for my students. Therefore, I’m building structures that force me to keep myself accountable in the ways that I know matter to me?

Will this plan work for someone else? Maybe not. I’m not even sure it’ll work for me. But I know my priorities are aligned with many other people’s priorities, so if you find these ideas useful, I’m happy to help!

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