Stop! Put Down that Pencil!!

in Articles from our Newsletter

pencil_red_smallerI’ve noticed as I’ve coached hundreds of professors, that so many of you feel burdened by grading at this time of year. That fact moves me to issue the warning I issued regularly at Ithaca College. I hope this perspective speeds up your grading.

What you are facing is grading final exams/papers/projects, right? The best practices on grading emphasize that we should separate comments from grading. And we should comment only if the comments will improve the student’s learning in the course.


  • Will the student rewrite the work?  If not, don’t comment!  Why should we edit a student’s final paper???? (For that matter, why should we edit any paper; but that is another conversation.)

But you need to justify the grade, right? And you need to be prepared in case a student returns to challenge your grade, right?

Yes, we all know we should have developed thorough guidelines before the assignment, with rubrics and notes about specific items that lead to a successful product. But we didn’t, or not enough to keep our commenting fingers still.


  • Make yourself a checklist, photocopy it for each student, and write little notes as you read the writing. You can use some generic items like:
  • Uses course terms correctly
  • Provides the expected example or illustration
  • Communicates effectively
  • Sufficient number of sources
  • Sources are appropriate
  • Citations are correctly made
  • Paper’s overall argument is clearly made
  • Paper meets the expectations of the assignment

This advice is from someone who always assigned lots of writing and gave lots of feedback. But I tried to do it wisely, when and where it would help the student learn. For most of us at this stage, extensive comments will not help students learn.

My very favorite resource on grading (and actually on course design too) is Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College by Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Anderson. Promise it to yourself as a present for when this grading binge is over!

As always, before you start grading, do one writing session [15 – 45 minutes] so your own writing is not entirely buried!

*Susanne Morgan, Ph.D., completed nearly 40-years teaching sociology in 2010, at Ithaca College since 1983. Since 2001 she has also been a faculty development professional, designing the college’s virtual Center for Faculty Excellence and providing mentoring, workshops, programming, and resources for faculty members and administrators. She now supports faculty writing as an Associate Coach in the online Academic Writing Club of Academic Ladder, and consults with individuals and departments about the tenure process and other academic concerns. Her writing on organizational development explores the concepts of social capital and communities of practice, and, more recently, the issue of chronic illness and the faculty career.

A more complete bio and her cv can be found at

**Warning:  Shameless Plug Alert:

Join the Academic Writing Club.  It will give you the ongoing encouragement, gentle nudges, and a group of supportive colleagues to help you get clear that You are the experiment, and your behavior is the data. Joining the writing club will help you get real about your work and get on with it.

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