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07 April 2011

Get your students to do your grading for you

In my honors/AP level junior/senior class, our routine is well established.  Everyone does their homework on a nightly basis, knowing that most assingments will be graded.  The class has separated, too, into some top students who get new material and difficult problems quickly, and some lower-level students who struggle with every problem.

At this point in the year, everyone still needs to be doing physics problems on a regular basis.  It's like athletics -- once a football or basketball player works himself into shape, his workout routine can relax a bit, but he still must maintain his fitness.  Even my top students must maintain their physics fitness.  The lower-end students, though, need to continue to review and develop their understanding.

In the third trimester I offer "exemptions" from nightly work to those who earn them by doing well on fundamentals quizzes, or through consistent strong homework.  (I first described the exemption process in this post.)

I've never enjoyed keeping up with the necessary grading in an advanced physics course.  Now that everyone knows how the class works, I can pawn off that drudgerous task -- to students.  Those top students (defined for me as those who earned an A or an A- for the previous trimester) don't need to do the problems every night.  So I've offered each student, in turn, the opportunity to grade problems instead of doing problems.

A student who accepts the offer to grade receives a detailed rubric, a class roster, and a set of papers.  He grades strictly according to the rubric, returning the papers before school the next day.  I glance through his work, and then return the problems.  Easy!

The student grader loves this idea -- even though grading the homework usually takes more effort than doing the nightly problems, it's different effort.  Grading to a rubric is a new and challenging skill for an otherwised unchallenged top academic dog.  These top folks don't necessarily learning anything new by doing more problems; however, they develop an entirely different perspective on physics and physics teaching by having to grade.  (And oh, the heady power... they get to take off POINTS!)

Furthermore, student graders cause the class to be more focused on their problems.  They're so used to me grading their problems that they almost don't notice where they went wrong.  But if their peer graded the assignment, they often pay more attention to common mistakes.  Discussion about common issues goes on outside of class -- and the fastest way to improving physics understanding is to engage in frequent conversation about physics.

Before you dismiss this idea out of hand, many perceived obstacles to student grading can easily be overcome.  After all, an enormous number of teachers have "student aides" who help with filing and grading.  If you're concerned about privacy, have students write numbers rather than names.  If you're worried about perceived fairness, just pledge to glance over the grading and correct any mistakes.  (My students are generally more careful graders than I am, so fairness is not an issue.)  If you're worried about cheating, I don't know what to tell you... the student who grades is himself being evaluated on how well he follows the rubric.  It is in his interest to grade honestly.  Just don't let someone who has had any honor issues be the grader.

Does anyone else have students grade nightly homework to a rubric?  Post a comment and tell us how it works for you.

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