ATT6: Marking Scheme

Been thinking about my “scheme” for marking assignments. It’s something I’ve designed based on some comments I was frequently making on those assignments.  Basically, all of these comments are positive but they’re set in a hierarchical structure, with “insight” at the top and concision at the bottom.

  • IF: Insightful
  • OC: Original and Creative
  • HP: Honest and Personal
  • TR: Thoughtful and Reflexive
  • EX: Appropriate Examples
  • ED: Elaborate and Detailed
  • CSF: Concise and Straightforward

In some ways, “TR” is the baseline. A “TR” paper is one which shows that the student has “done the work.” Nothing more, nothihng less.

The three marks above TR are “added value.” Not only has the student given back what was expected, but s/he put her-/himself in the work, did something unique, or even reached a high level of insight.

The three marks below “TR” are a way to emphasise the positive while pointing out some potential problems. An assignment with appropriate examples is useful, but it may not reach the expected level of understanding. Long papers filled with lots of details require some effort, but may miss the point of the assignment. And some very short but clear assignments at least show an ability to be concise, even if they don’t do much more.

These “marks” are usually combined in some way and student work can be “TR and ED” or “CSF and TR.” Order counts, with the first mark being the most important. Outstanding work will usually have “IF” as the first mark and often has two other comments. Suboptimal work is often “CSF and EX.”

Obviously, I also provide some more elaborate comments about some key points in the assignments. These range from “interesting emphasis on concept X but bear in mind that this was about concepts X and Y” to “you’ve clearly understood the issues and you’ve really managed to do something unique with this paper.” Even in those fleshed out comments, I might end up reusing the same comment, if similar issues happened in assignments by diverse students. Generic work may get generic comments and outstanding work often gets very specific comments.

As I assess an assignment, I have something close to “sliders” in mind, with something resembling VU meters. (Not literally, but the image works.) The balance between the abbreviated qualities may shift as I work with the text: “It seems to be mostly TR but maybe there’s a nugget of creativity, somewhere” or “It starts out in a very unique way but let’s check if this originality carries through.” When something reaches a high level of insight (relative to the context, of course), it can “peak out the master” and, unless the rest of the text causes a radical drop in quality, the “IF” level will remain as part of the overall assessment.

The correspondance between the abbreviated marks and points/grades isn’t linear. I typically mark all assignments before I add the actual grades, so I get a good idea about the range in quality. I usually don’t work by direct comparison, but I also won’t grade down papers just because they’re not “publishing quality.”

In fact, as may be obvious from these marks, there are many things which don’t usually matter, to me, in an assignment. For instance, the only elements of form which do matter have to do with getting the message across and displaying a thorough understanding of the material. My assignments are about insight, not about production value. More specifically, I typically don’t “grade language,” though I could do so and have done so on occasion. In most cases, I’d rather not have students too self-conscious about their mastery of normative language.

I realize how idiosyncratic my “scheme” may be, but it’s worked quite well in several of my courses. For one thing, it helps bring home the point that I’m looking for insight. And it can help me explain that length matters very little.

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