Busy Week….Great Students II

It has been a very busy week as I move towards completing my 8th year of teaching. I did not leave the office until almost 11:00 last night. I am still marking papers, working with various colleagues on projects, and writing finals for next week. I really should recycle exams, but I will not since I emphasize different concepts from year to year; however, I do recycle a few questions. The essays are going to take me a bit of time to mark. I was supposed to head up to Little Rock last night for a meeting but could not get all of my individual work done. Next week will be the challenge: We have commencement on Friday, I am scheduled to fly up to Chicago, and I am making a drive to Little Rock. The trip to Little Rock is always anticipated; I will stay with a former CAC colleague, Anita Davis. The challenge of course are my exams; I am still trying to figure out how I am going to mark the number of essays students will write for their final while traveling; I might use the system below (or here); I learned about it from my former political science teacher, Mark Elrod.

Grading begins with the stack of exams, shown in Figure 1 below.


The next step is to use the most precise grading method possible. There never is 100% accuracy in grading essay exams, as subjective elements can never be eradicated from the process. Numerous methods have been proposed throughout history, but there is one method that has clearly been proven superior to the others. See Figure 2 below.


The key to this method is a good toss. Without a good toss, it is difficult to get a good spread for the grading curve. It is also important to get the toss correct on the first try. Exams can get crumpled if tossed too much. They begin to look as though the professor actually read them, and this is definitely to be avoided. Additional tosses are also inefficient and expend needless time and energy. Note the toss in Figure 3 below. This is an example of a toss of considerable skill — obviously the result of years of practice.


Note in Figure 3 above that the exams are evenly spread out, enabling application of the curve. Here, however, is where the experts diverge. Some contend that the curve ought to be applied as in Figure 4 below, with the exams at the bottom of the staircase to receive a lower grade than the ones higher up on the staircase.


According to this theory, quality is understood as a function of being toward the top, and thus the best exams clearly are to be found in this position. Others, however, propose an alternative theory (Figure 5 below).


Many of my wonderful students have made life great of late. One student gave me a pair of $50 (a piece) baseball tickets to see the Astro-Cubs game; the Astros won 4-2 off a Hunter Pence grand slam. One graduating senior bought me a Starbucks gift card while another gave me a nicely plated business card/clock/note pad stand for my desk. To conclude all of this, a student gave me a card with these wonderful words:


Thank you so much for being such a great teacher. Being in your class this year has made me feel 10 times smarter, and I am looking forward to being in your class next year (AP US History). I found myself growing not only academically, but improving in other areas of my life as well. I like how you challenge your students to try really hard and apply themselves. I became more interested in what was going on in the world after your class. I just wanted to thank you personally for a great year of learning; I truly benefited from it.

This is clearly one of my favorite students – – and not because she wrote me this great card; she is a favorite because she took time outside of class to swing by and chat with me from time to time. This makes writing letters of recommendations much easier. Oh, and she is very bright and extremely hardworking.

6 thoughts on “Busy Week….Great Students II

  1. The grading scheme cracks me up. Believe me, there are times when I wish I had a handy staircase (oh, and just for the sake of collecting data, I’d go with the “closer to the bottom of the stairs gets the A” technique – those papers had farther to go and, therefore, must earn the higher grade.

    Isn’t it wonderful when you get acknowledged by students for what you do? It’s truly one of the things I treasure in my work.

  2. I love my subject, but teaching students with a great attitude makes a difference. There are those that I will always remember, and those I just had last year and cannot remember. The difference: Those willing to chat and enjoy the process.

    Oh, as for the stairs, I am with you.

  3. Yes, that method does work. And, I suspect this is not one of your more conservative students. I suspect she is paying respect to you for giving the another view.

  4. Thanks for making me smile this morning. The grading scale is superb. And, yes, there are always those delightful students whom you love to teach! Then, when they do take the time to tell you how it felt on their end, it is such a wonderful feeling. Good luck with finals.

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