Sunday, May 22, 2016

Cut the Fluff (and grading assessments) #My500Words #224

Day 24 of the 500 Words Challenge is an unusual one - "cut the fluff". According to Jeff Goins everyone "has their pet peeves". He doesn't like "fluff and useless words that only take up space". Today he wants us to "just get to the point" and write without using the word "that" or "very". Curiously - for the first time in this Challenge he does not give us a subject.

For most of the past three weeks since semester II ended in the College I have been grading exam scripts and continuous assessments. Grading is a difficult job at times - how do I decide whether to award 16 or 17 marks out of 25 for an answer to a question?

Image source: MindSumo.
Some grading is straightforward - in my statistics exams if you calculate the right answer you get full marks in the question. If a student makes a mistake I'll dock one mark, two mistakes I'll dock two marks, and so on. But where explanations are required it is not so easy to give full marks as I can almost always point out something else which could have been written. In my opinion high marks should be awarded for something extra, eg give two examples instead of one, compare your answer to the literature, show extra reading on the subject, show expert knowledge, and demonstrate higher order learning. I have grading rubrics and many year's experience to guide me. Also in the College we have a second marking system where a colleague will review and grade some sample papers. As is normal in all Colleges, we have external examiners as well.

The hardest part of grading is when I add up all the marks and have to write a fail grade on the cover of the exam script. In my early days in the College I remember mentioning to a colleague I "had failed students in an exam", he retorted I had not failed the students - the students had "failed themselves". I keep this in mind when I am grading. In the end the mark is a judgement on my part I have to stand over. Students can request a feedback and review of their exam papers - this is done within a week of results being published. For feedback I often get one or two students who just want feedback on their exam, where they did well, and where they lost marks. Sometimes however I get a request for a feedback session when a student feels he/she should have got a higher grade. I go through the paper with them - in the feedback sessions we are not allowed to change grades (unless a mistake is discovered). Every time I have had a feedback session students are accepting of their grade as I show them how it was determined by me. Following the feedback session students can request a formal review of their grade if they are still not happy - so far in my 13 years in the College I have not had such a request in any of my exam papers. It is only when these sessions are finished when the academic year is truly over.

Cut the fluff really works! While writing the above I use the word "that" eight times, and did not use the word "very" at all. So I changed the eight occurrences of "that", eg I replaced "for that part of" with "in". I also replaced "that" with "which", and simply deleted it several times.

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