Grading: is it OK to drink beer and eat pizza?

DSC05957 We know a lot about fair grading. It is best all done at once. It is best that you grade all of one question before moving on to the next. It is best that one person grade all of one question if multiple people must grade one assignment. But how do we make this happen in our busy lives?

We gave a test today in Behavioral Ecology. Actually it is the only test of the class. There are quizzes nearly every week, but they are small, not cumulative, over one chapter each. This test was over The Greatest Show on Earth. Not. It was over that other great book by Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene. This book is also available on Audible. I love this book. I love the passion it generates in students. I love the way it prepares them for all the contradictory details of life. I have study questions on it that the students use.

DSC05962Today we graded right after the students did their work. Kim, Bo, Jason, and I gathered around our conference table and dug right in. We each did a page. We took a quarter of the pages and graded one question through before beginning the next. We had a key and we had each other for discussion. I gave the group the overall instructions. We would grade the ten short answer questions zero, five, or ten. The students got to pick which ten questions they answered out of the twenty possible. Some took twenty minutes to do the assignment. Nearly all were done in an hour. A very few took longer.

I really appreciate all the hard work my teaching assistants do, so I wanted this to be fun. So I ordered a couple of pizzas, cheese, and veggie. I figured it would do no harm if we also had a beer while doing this early evening grading, but we decided against it. They don’t call it conscious altering for nothing, light as it might be. After all, a grade is serious business for a student. They might forgive a little pizza oil on their test, but really wonder about the rank smell of old beer.

We were as fair as we could be with our grading, following the guidelines above. There was no beer. We waited for the wine after the evening poetry reading across the quad in English. Overall we were delighted with how the students did, but puzzled that they thought evolution meant the origin of life.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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