Friday, December 2, 2011

Grading As Media Making

cross posted from my Media Justice column

Imagine it: me surrounded by a never ending abyss of papers to grade with only 2 weeks left before the semester ends. I’m writing this post because it speaks to my life right now. Now, I told my students I would have their papers to them by last Monday, only one of two classes received them. I was sick for most of a holiday break we had and could barely lift my head up. This limited the amount of papers I got to grade. Now, grading seems to never end!

There were math equations I would do to see how many papers I had to grade a day to get through them all. How much time to dedicate to each paper. This isn’t anything new. However, I realized that when I grade a paper, especially a formal paper a student submits, the comments I’m giving them, the things I’m writing in the margins, this is all a form of media. My goal is to help Amplify readers understand this form of media and to get a perspective from an educators point of view on grading (perhaps it may encourage you to go to office hours for support, ask for clarification, or see your teacher as a person too!).

I have a love/hate relationship with grading. I see how it may be useful for many students, schools, organizations and professions. However, I believe there are multiple ways to assess if someone is being critical and analytical around certain topics, to value the quality of work and participation they bring to a classroom. These are some of the things that make up a grade for a student in my class.

Grading is my least favorite part of teaching. No matter what I’m teaching, I dread grading. I think in our society we have created a grading system that is set up to destroy individual students. I have to remind myself that I don’t want to be the educator that broke a student’s spirit or drive because of what or how I’ve written a comment on their paper as I grade. There is also a balancing act between helping students learn how to improve their writing and expressing their thoughts and learning from constructive criticism.

Now, I know all too well how it hurts and destroy’s ones motivation when they are told they are not a good/quality writer or that their writing is poor. It has happened to me numerous times and it probably will again. However, it is from these experiences that I try to really be honest, thoughtful, and grade from a place of love. Not just love for education, but for helping students evolve and grow. A love for the person who w told their writing was not worthy or good enough (i.e. myself). A type of love for the work I do and for the things I do that I don’t always love but that come with the work. A love that is challenging yet rewarding at the same time.

I’m reminded of the Allied Media Conference that I attended this summer. There was a workshop titled Editing as an Act of Love that had my good homegirl Maegan Ortiz of Vivir Latino on the panel. Maegan had posted a video that would be shown during the session by Lisa Factora-Borchers and her experiences editing an anthology, Dear Sister Anthology, for survivors of sexual violence. Check out her video below.

Allied Media Conference Workshop: Editing as an Act of Love from Lisa Factora-Borchers onVimeo.

I really love Factora-Borchers 5 guidelines of editing as I think it speaks so directly to grading as well. These guidelines include:
1. You’re dealing with work that came from someone.
2. Like love, editing is a 2-way street. (with many, many detours).
3. Like love, editing cannot be about power, ultimatums, or one way. It’s often visionary, and takes mounds of patience.
4. Editing is standing shoulder to shoulder, not head to head.
5. Above everything else, editing is all about the relationship.

This video really helps me put into perspective my love/hate of grading. It’s not that I hate or dread it as I think I do, it’s that I’m invested in grading in a way that is not often discussed or taught to educators. I have high expectations for myself, my students, and the effort I put into assessing their work. I value the relationships I build with my students and I would like to be a part of a positive memory of what education, especially higher education, may look like for them.

As someone who enjoys writing in the margins of books and texts (that I own, although I do love the idea of writing in the margins of books owned by others or at the library even though that’s a no-no, but imagine what we can learn from those notes by others! And I’m not the only one into marginalia! The historical context alone is exciting to me, but I digress), I enjoy writing in the margins of my student’s papers as well. It is a way I connect with my students and with the habits I embrace and use when doing personal reading. It’s one way that I find comfort in a difficult task.

I have over 20 papers to grade and three times as many homework assignments, so I’ll keep this short. But I do want to note that those of you who may find yourself in a similar situation, here are some useful tips for grading that a friend provided me via tumblr. I most definitely make a not to avoid red pens, I usually use purple, pink or teal. However, there are times when those pens run out of ink and I must resort to the traditional red, but it’s a rare occasion. Do you view grading a bit differently? What are some of the ways you cope/manage grading?

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