Before You Start Grading + Spring Syllabus Clinics

Getting Ready for Grading

Grading isn’t most people’s favorite part of teaching. In fact, for many of us, it’s difficult to get started doing it—it’s not just the work and the tight time frame; it’s also the emotions we’d rather not experience. We may fear being disappointed by some students’ lack of progress this semester, or worry that they will be disappointed by their grades. We may feel anxious that students will complain or even challenge grades. We may worry that we’ll be inundated with last-minute requests for extra credit. We may find ourselves tempted to grade on a forced curve. We may also be dissatisfied with our grading criteria, or that students’ understanding of their task in a final project doesn’t align with what we intended for them to do. Considering all of our possible concerns, it can be grounding and clarifying to reflect on what we intend for students to learn in the class— our highest priorities—and what we intend for grades to communicate.

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

All of that said, the final assessment in a course (whether paper, project, performance, exam, etc.) can be an opportunity for students to demonstrate how much they’ve learned throughout the semester. Before you start grading, it’s helpful to review 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 off their learning.) Keeping your eye on the goals can help you resist being distracted by the minutiae. The more exhausted we get, the easier it is to be 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 and resume when you can focus. Then you can return 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.

If you would like to think more about your approach to grading as you plan for the spring semester, you could check out any of these books: Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman, Specifications Grading by Linda Nilson, or Ungrading, edited by Susan Blum.


Spring 2023 Syllabus Clinics

We’ll be holding Syllabus Clinics after fall classes end! You can schedule an appointment to meet with us during this time to discuss your syllabus, how you’ve designed your course, how you plan to use class time, or any other aspect of your teaching. We can also reflect on how your fall classes went, and how that might shape your planning for spring. If you and a colleague(s) are working on revising a syllabus together, we can meet with you as a small group.

To sign up, email us at, and let us know your name, department, and the course you’re planning. Please also let us know which day and time (from the options below) you’d like to meet, and whether you prefer to meet in person or on Zoom. We look forward to working with you!

The Syllabus Clinics will be held from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Wednesday, Dec. 7th
  • Thursday, Dec. 8th
  • Friday, Dec. 9th
  • Wednesday, Dec. 14th
  • Thursday, Dec. 15th