What Are We Grading?

Grading Final Projects

Regular classes draw to a close today, and only finals week remains. For many of us, the work of grading final projects, papers, or presentations looms. On one hand, it’s gratifying to see the learning students have done this semester, and on the other, evaluating their work takes a lot of thought and effort, and for many of us there are emotions to process while grading, too.

Since we all have different kinds of work (and life!) pulling on our attention at this time of year, this week we’d like to offer a focal point to guide you through grading final projects: In general, students’ final course grade should match up with their learning. If they learned a lot but their final course grade is low, that can be a sign of course design issues. Likewise, if they didn’t accomplish important learning goals, but their grades are high, that is also a sign that you need to make adjustments to the course.

When a course is well aligned, the learning goals are clear, the assessments (projects, papers, exams, assignments, etc.) suit the goals well, and students get practice and feedback throughout the course that helps them make progress if they put in the effort. Though it may sound straightforward, alignment is one of the more complex and challenging aspects of course design. So, if you notice things are off, know that 1) you are not alone in needing to make regular adjustments, and 2) we are happy to help! You can email us at pro-teaching@fsu.edu.

All of that said, the final project in a course is often an opportunity for students to show what they’ve learned throughout the semester. Before you start grading, it’s helpful to remind yourself what was most important for students to learn, and to learn how to do, in the course. (Hopefully, the final project is designed to be an opportunity for students to show that they did that important learning.) Then, as you grade, don’t be too distracted by the minutiae.

Sometimes when we’re evaluating students’ work, we get distracted by our pet peeves or by things that are actually outside of the scope of the course. We can go on thought tangents that make grading take longer and that aren’t really relevant to the learning goals anyway. When that happens, it’s helpful to take a short break, walk around, get a glass of water, etc. Then, come back to students’ work, asking: What should I really be grading here? If you focus your attention on those priorities, it can make grading less stressful, less time consuming, and more fair.