Week Thirteen: Grading’s Never Easy


Happy weekend to you, editing teacher!

During our weekly chat a few weeks back, Dr. Leverenz was telling how her grading was going on our students’ second projects. It was weekend two of grading for her and given the time and attention it takes to grade editing accurately, it seemed that a third weekend of grading was inevitable.

For many professors, weekends spent grading are to be expected. But what should you expect when your grading takes three weekends? What’s more disconcerting than surrendering your well-earned free time after a long week, during which you probably worked overtime anyway, to more overtime on the weekend, for several weekends in a row? An exhausting crash on Monday comes, just when you need to be refreshed and at your best.

This approach to work is not sustainable, and yet teaching editing necessarily invites it. Editing as a practice requires careful, focused attention to detail, many details. It requires multiple “passes” or readings for error. It’s an intensive effort on the part of the editor, and the reader who receives the edited piece may never be able to appreciate all the work that goes into the piece’s preparation, nor may a critic of a missed error be able to appreciate all the other changes made in the editing process. The work is invisible.

The work of grading of the editing, I’d argue, is equally invisible. The marks are on the page, the queries answered or occasional justifications made, but the time and effort that goes into grading something that required just as much time and effort means we’re giving multiple passes to a piece. We’re doing the same work as our students, plus thinking about grading, and this makes for a lot of work.

That’s not to say that grading composition papers or pieces of that sort doesn’t require intensive effort, but consider once again the attention to detail required of editors and how every error comes with greater consequences, an open invitation to criticism that a more low-stakes, freshman or sophomore composition paper may not. Because editing students work hard to learn the in’s and out’s of grammar and punctuation, it’s reasonable to expect that the one’s grading them work just as hard.

Or is it? We do, after all, have more students in an editing class than teachers. My point in all this pedagogical searching is to understand why this workload is so daunting and how we might alleviate some of it without sacrificing the quality of grading we do.

Cheryl Ball, professor at Illinois State University and editor of the online journal Kairos, said plainly, “Editing is the class that trumps all my rules for easy grading.” That comment was made in reply to a Facebook post Dr. Leverenz made on this topic. Dr. Ball quickly followed up with the only solution she could offer: “Although I did turn back a whole pile of reports to my editing students once, if I found more than four errors on the front page.”

Some editing teachers might appreciate that solution; others may have a hard time with setting the bar at four errors, arguing that it should be lower or higher. Regardless, it’s a strategy to consider. A few other possible strategies follow:

Partner up: Contact a graduate student interested in teaching an editing course or simply learning more about editing. That’s how I came to Dr. Leverenz this semester. Even though I never took a class on editing (not counting internships for credit), my past experiences in editing and writing for newspapers made the opportunity appealing to me and I was able to receive course credit for studying both Dr. Leverenz’s pedagogical methods and assisting with her teaching, i.e. grading exercises and quizzes when possible.

Save answer keys: Whether you’ve taught an editing class once or ten times, saving some of the manuscripts you grade as exercises and projects can alleviate the grading load in future semesters. Of course, these manuscripts should be replaced if they become outdated, circulated within a campus community, or prove to be not challenging enough for your students. Even so, having taught and graded the same manuscript before makes you a bit more familiar with it, and therefore, the load a little lighter.

Read first: Do you have students that consistently turn out good work? Consider reading their submissions first. Reading lets you get a better sense of the errors that even the best students will miss. Knowing the benefit of reading fist means you’ll have a better sense of what to expect from the whole class. It also means that you won’t be so harsh on that improperly linked URL because no one else in the class caught that note on the style sheet, so perhaps it needed to be highlighted in class.

Create a feedback list: As you grade, pay attention to what most students are missing. I keep a running list and then use that list as good material for discussion. In hindsight, I wish I had kept each list for each graded exercise so that we could have more closely tracked what was giving students a hard time and what improved by addressing it in class. Still, the list has helped us target specific, frequent errors and fix them. If students miss number consistency in exercise one, for example, then it should be addressed to ensure that it doesn’t continue to crop up in exercise two. Following up on the most pressing feedback points helps not only the student, but the teacher, too: fewer repeated errors to grade.

I’m sure there’s much, much more in the way of strategies. These are the ones I have relied on or learned from Dr. Leverenz. My hope is that it helps someone who stumbles across it. More selfishly, I also hope it helps me identify other strategies I can discuss in my final reflection letter on the class and makes grading editing just a little easier in the future.