I used to like math. I liked how everything made sense, how math quantified the abstract, and used numbers to tell a story. A story with clear answers, gradually revealed, all of them fitting together to reveal a larger puzzle.
Then, abruptly, math stopped making sense. There were no clear answers any more. I became confused. Worse, I became sad, as I was now struggling to deal with something that I used to enjoy... something which had now become a chore. A chore I wanted to avoid.
Wait, hold on, wrong subject... silly me.
|I should get a clue.|
I used to like grading. I liked how everything made sense, how grading quantified the abstract, and used numbers to tell a story. A story with clear answers, gradually revealed, all of them fitting together to reveal a larger puzzle.
Then, abruptly, grading stopped making sense. There were no clear answers any more. I became confused. Worse, I became sad, as I was now struggling to deal with something that I used to enjoy... something which had now become a chore. A chore I wanted to avoid.
STANDARDS BASED GRADING
Let me be clear on two points right from the outset:
1) Grading on standards (rubrics) rather than points is a philosophy I agree with.
2) Grading on standards is the single biggest reason I am considering leaving the teaching profession.
You may not believe this, but ten years ago (as a student teacher) I used to enjoy grading. I'm hyper organized, and I thrive on repetitive tasks. More than that, grading was a chance to see what was getting through, and what still needed work. The only real issue was volume - I remember suffering complete burnout one year teaching summer school, having to take a day simply to catch up.
Still, the process itself wasn't so bad. Then (pretty early on) I was introduced to the communication rubric, and T's/C's (technical/communication errors). Which was also fine. Better in a sense, as it meant I didn't have to deduct silly half marks for sign errors. I could flag "T"s and mark overall communication.
But soon after I needed to create my own rubrics. Then dispense with points. Then have tasks that could address various levels. The grading became a matter of "professional judgement". I distinctly remember saying to someone, "Why are am I being asked to mark like an English teacher??"
I am a mathematician. I have spent most of my life devoted to studying and embracing numbers. To me, "using my professional judgement" means deciding whether this is a 2 or 3 mark question, and whether that's a half mark off or a Technical flag... not saying "ah, that's a 73%". WHAT? No, that's... I don't know, what you do when you're marking an essay.
Picture yourself as a computer technician. You are an expert at troubleshooting PCs. Except you never see them - everyone keeps bringing you their Macs to repair. Um, sure, they're computers, and you'll get better at handing them as you go, but it's hardly what you signed up for, right?
That's how I feel.
BUT SBG MAKES SENSE
Standards Based Grading does make sense. It's more flexible, perversely less arbitrary, and makes the student think about what they did rather than tally up points. Again, I'm NOT against SBG. But to use an analogy, using Macs rather than PCs also makes sense. (Oh snap!) That doesn't mean you can simply haul off Mr. Root's PC and give him a Mac, claiming "here, this is better". You also need to give Root:
1) INCENTIVE. Humans are creatures of habit. You can't merely tell me SBG is better. You need to explain why. More, you have to do it in a way such that I UNDERSTAND - which may be very different from how someone else understands! In my case, this has been accomplished, so I don't want to dwell. I am on board with having this albatross around my neck.
|More Magic: The Gathering|
with Monty Python at the MtG Lair
3) UNDERSTANDING. This is the killer. Do you understand that SBG is an albatross for me? Even if it isn't for you? Maybe the bird is smaller than it once was, but the idea that I can look at something and say "That's Level 3-!" (72%) instead of "That's Level 2+!" (68%)... that's HARD. That's DAMN HARD. It's not math! More, it makes ABSOLUTELY no difference whether I'm getting good at it or not - it's HARD! Even after five years! Can you understand that?
I called this post "My Grading IEP" - Individual Education Plan - because in Ontario we have such IEP plans for students. For instance, students have one if they need proximity to the instructor, or prefer verbal cues, or if they are gifted in some subject. Well, I'm telling you that I have an IEP as far as grading papers goes. I NEED EXTENDED TIME.
EVERYONE NEEDS MORE TIME
No, please, hear me out! I am not saying this lightly.
I know, some of you are saying "suck it up", or "I've been there it gets better", while others are ready to offer me coping strategies. (Don't say "return to points", that's not an option. Hybrids don't seem to work for me.) Thing is, I've tried some coping strategies. Doing 5 papers per night to have 25 by end of week? It doesn't work for me; I can maybe mark all of page 1 for a set of 25 in a night, but not 5 individual papers. Partly because I need to get a sense of that page for the class, but also because I'm a lot more "all or nothing". I'm working on it.
Put a few checkmarks and circles on a paper, no comments, then move on? Or mark with highlighter? That doesn't work for me either, because firstly, if I'm still marking all of page 1, then 2, then 3, by the time I go back to tally up the level, I'll have forgotten exactly what the problem was. Effectively, I'd end up marking the test twice. Secondly, it would involve turning off the editing part of my brain, and a year ago I babbled on about how I can't seem to do that either.
At present, my method is to go through and mark all my papers... then instead of 20 seconds to tally up points (because what points?), I take 2-3 minutes to decide what part of what expectations have been met, most likely assigning a level to each of them, and averaging the expectations together in my head to arrive at a final percentage I can live with. For a class of 30 students, this is 60 TO 90 ADDITIONAL MINUTES.
I'm not going to claim this is a "math" thing either. For all I know, English teachers have it harder - at least I'm being asked to completely realign my thinking as I move to a new system. My suspicion is that they're being asked to completely realign their thinking while working within the SAME system. Going back to my analogy, it's like keeping the PC but after years of Windows XP you're expected to transition immediately to Windows 7. Not so simple.
So I NEED MORE TIME. Which I DO NOT HAVE.
This always hits home at the end of January. During the semester, I can artificially create time, by spacing out my evaluations. Can't do that during exam week. In the span of 5 days, I have over 9 hours of duties (administering exams), 3 sets of exams to grade, 3 sets of report cards to generate, plus an entirely new semester to prepare for. Oh, and throw in 3 sets of summative tasks to grade too, since I never have time to get to those earlier, what with spending time SETTING exams and finishing final tests.
It is hell for me.
This year, the week before exams, I was seriously considering falling down the stairs as an "out". No joke. Possibly the only thing that kept me from doing it was the fact that I don't actually want to paralyze or kill myself.
I NEED EXTENDED TIME.
WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD
I completely understand if "suck it up" or "heck with SBG" is still your response at this point. Fine. I know we don't have IEPs in the real world. Everyone has to do the same job in the same amount of time, whether you're a teacher or a doctor or whatever. However, I will say again: Standards Based Grading is the single biggest reason I am considering leaving the teaching profession.
Why? Because it is an internal issue.
Problem students come and go. Any issues with colleagues aren't a source of extended stress to me either. Even government politics and policies have a limited life span, albeit on a somewhat larger time scale - and by the way, I don't see SBG as a policy, I see it as a cultural shift.
All of that is external. Marking on rubrics, without points, without using the math that has been at my very core for so long... that's internal. That's a chore. That's something I'm constantly wrestling with. It is exhausting me. And I don't know how much longer I can deal.
Do you know anyone else like me? Are YOU like me? Because that's why I'm writing this. You're not alone. Then again, this whole post may still make no sense to the majority of you! Either way, feel free to drop me a comment below.
|I know perception is part of the battle too.|
By the way, I switched to a Mac over 5 years ago. Liking it. Found that transition to be tons easier - go figure.