My Grading System FAQ

Screenshot Excerpt of Canvas Grade Book by Traci Gardner on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseThis week I want to share an additional resource that I’ve written to help students understand how my labor-based grading system works.

First, though, I want to review the materials that students already had available. I explain the grading system on the course website, on the Requirements page (from the current semester). To help students understand how they are doing in the course, I have a page that outlines How Grades Are Recorded in the course grade book.

I also share two infographics to further the explanation. One describes what happens When Your Grades Are Based on Labor. Another provides a flowchart that shows How Project Feedback Works in a course with unlimited revision.

Even with these resources, students have told me in comments on course evaluation forms that the grading system I use can be confusing. To address the ongoing questions, I created the following FAQs that answer the questions directly:

Grading System FAQ

Why do you use a labor-based system?

I believe that a system that allows you to keep working until you get the results that fit the workplace is more humane than a system that punishes you if you aren’t perfect on the first try.

I know there are lots of situations in the workplace that require perfection. If you submit a bid to a client that has errors, for instance, you may not get a second chance—but that’s in the workplace. You are still in the classroom.

The labor-based system allows you the chance to learn and improve. You can make mistakes and try again. You can take risks, and if they don’t turn out, your grade will still be okay.

How does this system relate to the workplace?

I have worked in quite a few places, and in none of them did I ever receive a letter grade for the work that I did. Never ever. It just doesn’t work that way.

Sure, my writing was read by others I worked with. Sometimes it was good enough to go out to the intended reader right away. Other times it had to be revised first. Grades just weren’t part of the system.

In the workplace, you are assessed on how hard you work and what you accomplish. Managers expect you to show up, put in your best effort, and accomplish the goals that your company sets. If you do nothing or the bare minimum, you will be reprimanded or fired.

Grades in this course are based on a similar system. You earn your grade based on your labor—on the time and intensity that you put into your writing and collaboration. You are not punished for making mistakes as long as you work to improve throughout the term.

What’s the research behind this system

I adapted this strategy from Asao Inoue’s work on contract grading, labor-based grading, and anti-racist assessment strategies.

You can find additional publications on anti-racist assessment and on grading students’ labor on Inoue’s Academia.edu page.

Why is this system better for students?

The most important benefits of this system are explained in the When Your Grades Are Based on Labor infographic. To summarize those benefits, a labor-based grading system allows you to

  1. Focus on Ideas (Not Mistakes).
  2. Write for Yourself (Not for Me).
  3. Take Risks (Don’t Play It Safe).
  4. Have Do-Overs (No Penalty).

This labor-based system allows you to continue working on your projects until your work reaches the level that would be acceptable in the workplace. Your grade is not affected by what you haven’t learned yet, and you are free to try out ideas as you like.

Why is there no partial credit?

Work in this class is either ready to use in the workplace (and graded Complete) or it’s not ready (and graded Incomplete).

Think of it as a binary system. There can only be 1 or 0, Complete or Incomplete. There isn’t any middle ground, so there isn’t partial credit.

The thing to remember is that when a project is returned as Incomplete, you can always revise it until you do have a piece that is ready to use in the workplace. There is no punishment in the system if your work isn’t quite ready, but there’s no credit either.

How are labor logs part of this system?

You document the time you spend on activities and the level of intensity you put into your work in your labor log. You can think of tracking your work in your log as a parallel to tracking billing codes for what you do in the workplace.

I have no way of knowing what you are working on or even how much you are working in an online class. In a face-to-face classroom, I would see you working in the classroom. I could tell if you were working intensely, working at an average pace, or not working at all. Since I cannot see your work myself, I need you to tell me what you’re doing.

Additionally, you will use your labor log to gather details about your work when you write your final exam. Keeping track of what you do in your log is easier than trying to remember the details of what you did at the end of the term.

Why is there so much emphasis on peer feedback in this system?

In the workplace, you will find yourself reading and commenting on the projects of your coworkers frequently. The peer feedback activities you complete with your writing group give you the chance to learn more about that process. Writing in the workplace is as much about what you write as it is about how you help others with their writing.

Just as importantly, peer feedback helps you improve your own writing in two ways. First, and maybe most obvious, you get advice on your draft that you can use to revise your document. Second, by reading drafts written by your classmates, you can see strategies that will help you improve your own work as well as notice errors that you can later check your own work for.

Naturally, you cannot copy other people’s work; however, you can see useful ideas that you can make your own. For instance, you might read a draft that does a great job with headings. When you return to your own draft, those headings will stick with you, and you can use their example as you revise your own draft.

So what do you think? I haven’t added any details that are not included elsewhere on the site; but perhaps the question-and-answer format will help students find the information.

Do you have any suggestions for clarifying the system? How do you explain your grading system to students? I would love some suggestions from readers. Just leave me a comment below.

 

Image credits: Screenshot Excerpt of Canvas Grade Book by Traci Gardner on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Online Trip Report Assignment

null by Beryl Chan on Flickr, used under public domainIn the workplace, employees write trip reports to document what happened during a business trip. Some companies use those reports to show how the goals for the trip were met. Others use them to share what happened with the rest of the organization. I use a Trip Report assignment in my Business Writing and in my Technical Writing classes, and it can be adapted into a website analysis assignment for a first-year composition or digital literacy course.

The trick to transforming the assignment is to rethink the idea of trips, making the excursion the writer takes into a visit to an online site, rather than a geographical destination or event. With those changes, the rest of the assignment needs only some minor phrasing adjustments.

The Assignment

This assignment is modeled on trip reports, which are used in the workplace to tell coworkers what happened or was achieved on a business trip. For this assignment, you will choose a website that you will share with everyone in the class and then report on your visit to that site by writing an online trip report.

You’ll begin the activity by deciding on a website and choosing a specific reason(s) to visit it. Think of your reason(s) to visit as your research question(s). Next, you will visit the site, looking for the information you identified as the reason for your visit. After you explore the site, you will write a trip report that explains how well the site is likely to meet the needs of people who visit it for the same reason(s) you did. You will share your trip report with the entire class. Your report will provide an analytical review or recommendation.

Step 1: Identify your search questions.

Brainstorm a series of questions related to your online visit. These questions will guide your project. Your research questions do not have to be complicated, but they should require more than a simple answer. You should be able to break the guiding question down into a series of sub-questions. Here is an example:

Instead of This Try This
Guiding Question
How much is admission to Disneyland during the first weekend of June?
Guiding Question
How much should I budget for a trip to Disneyland during the first weekend of June?

Sub-Questions

  • How much does it cost for admission?
  • How much does it cost to stay at a Disney resort? Are gratuities included?
  • How much should I budget for meals?
  • What special events will be taking place during the time I am thinking of visiting?
  • How much should I budget for special events?
  • How much should I budget for other expenses?

Step 2: Choose a website for your project.

Once you have your search questions ready, choose a site where you believe you will find the answers. You can choose any website that includes both visual and text content. Your site must meet the following criteria:

  • Appropriate for the classroom.
  • Free and open (no login required).
  • Professional (not a personal site).

Good choices for this assignment include these kinds of sites:

  • an official university site.
  • a university-related site (such as a club site).
  • a professional association’s site.
  • a nonprofit organization’s site.
  • a corporate site for a company you might work for.
  • a news media or journal site.

If you are unsure whether the site fits the questions that you have identified, skim through the site to determine whether it includes the kind of information that you are looking for.

Step 3: Familiarize yourself with the characteristics and format for your report.

Read the following resources for information on writing trip reports:

Additionally, read the details on memo format, since your project should look like a trip report from the workplace. You can also read about memo format in The Business Writer’s Handbook or The Handbook of Technical Writing.

Step 4: Go on your trip: visit the website, and gather information for your report.

With the preliminary work taken care of, you can begin work researching the questions you identified above in Step 1 on the website. Check out the pages linked to the site’s main navigation. Browse the information on the site, looking for the answers to your question and paying attention to the supporting details and other related information.

To provide evidence of the answers to your search questions in your trip report, you identify specific details. Take notes on what you find and gather any materials that you can use as you write your report. For instance, you might take some screenshots, copy important passages, and note important page links. Remember to keep track of where your information comes from so you can cite your sources in your report.

Step 5: Write your Trip Report.

Write your trip report in your word processor, using memo format. The length of your report will vary, according to your search questions and the information you found on the website. There is not a minimum or maximum page length. Write as much as you need to, but be sure to include all of the required information.

Your trip report should include the following information:

  • the goals for the trip (your website visit).
  • what you actually found during your visit.
  • the lessons learned from your visit:
    • What made the site a good (or bad) resource for your search questions?
    • What features on the site indicated that the creators were thinking of you as an audience?
    • What about the site worked well?
    • Would you recommend the site to someone with similar questions? Why, or why not?

Include concrete details from the notes you took during your website visit to support the information in your trip report. You can quote or paraphrase information from the site. Insert the screenshots you took to illustrate your points (be sure to crop out irrelevant information in the images).

Once you have a complete draft, check the information in your report to determine whether you have included the answers to your search questions and the information required for the report, listed above. When you are sure you have met the requirements, proofread your report and turn it in.

                                                                                                                                                                                               

Closing Thoughts

This trip report assignment upgrades the basic analytical essay. Students will still complete an analysis project, but the trip report format adds interest for students already looking ahead to the workplace. Further, by asking them to work with a different genre, students necessarily get beyond the comfort of the five-paragraph theme.

You can further adapt this assignment if you ask students to take online field trips. For instance, you might ask students to explore a genre or period of art on an art museum website. They can report their findings in a trip report.

Do you have unusual writing assignments that work well for you? I would love to hear about what you have tried and what’s worked for you. Just leave me a comment below!

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

A 1–3–5 Revision Activity

Reichsstraße 135 number.svg by 3247's Image Wizard, on Wikimedia CommonsLast week, I wrote about Online Identity Revision Plans. Today, I want to share a focused activity that fits online identity revision as well as revision in any writing classroom. This activity is modeled on the 1–3–5 rule used in planning and to-do lists. The goal is to change revision from an overwhelming challenge to fix everything into a targeted plan to improve the document.

The 1–3–5 Rule for To-Do Lists

Using the system, you divide your to-do’s into three categories:

  1. Simple tasks that are easy to complete.
  2. Medium tasks that take a little more work.
  3. Large tasks that take more time and require more effort.

As this Post-It Note article explains, “A small task might be washing dishes after dinner, while a large task might be preparing your garden for spring.” After you prioritize your tasks, you create a to-do list for the day that includes one large task, three medium tasks, and five simple tasks. The Muse shares a simple template to structure the to-do’s in their article “A Better To-Do List: The 1-3-5 Rule.”

Applying the 1–3–5 Rule to Revision

It’s fairly straightforward to adopt the 1–3–5 rule as part of a revision activity:

  1. Ask students to prioritize their revision tasks into the three categories:
    1. Simple tasks
    2. Medium tasks
    3. Large tasks
  2. Choose tasks to complete: one large task, three medium tasks, and five simple tasks.
  3. Focus on those nine tasks in your revision.

Easy-peasy, right? Students determine what counts as simple, medium, and large, and then they follow their plans to revise their drafts or online identity. As teachers, we know that what is simple for one writer may be quite large for another, so this system works well for differentiated instruction. Students are in control, choosing what fits their needs. With the same structure as the to-do list version of the rule, students can even use The Muse template (above) as a handout.

Customizing 1–3–5 Revision

If students in the writing classroom need more structure than the open version of 1–3–5 Revision provides, you can easily customize the activity to fit your course. Rather than simple, medium, and large tasks, describe kinds of revision. For instance, focus on the difference between surface-level changes and deep revision with this 1–3–5 Revision schema:

  1. Conceptual Change: Think about changes to your overall idea and development. You might change your thesis or supporting paragraphs. This change will require working throughout the draft to change the way the ideas are conceived.
  2.  
  3. Structural Changes: Consider how the document is put together. You might rearrange ideas or work on how sentences work together. For instance, you might set a goal to work on sentence variety in your introduction.
  4.  
  5. Surface Changes: Focus on style and mechanics. You might look at word choice or a particular comma rule.

Another option for 1–3–5 Revision activity focuses on where the revision effort is centered, like this example:

  1. Paragraph Level: Think about changes you can make to your paragraphing that will strengthen your draft. For instance, you could think about a way to unify your paragraphs or about a strategy that improves paragraph openings.
  2.  
  3. Sentence Level: Look at how sentences work together to improve the draft. For instance, you might set a goal to work on sentence length by combining sentences, or a goal to make the phrasing concise and direct.
  4.  
  5. Word Level: Examine the individual words in your draft with a goal to increase their effectiveness. You might consider whether the words in your draft are concrete and specific, and make changes to improve the phrasing, such as deleting filler words.

These custom versions simply help students with the process of prioritizing their revision plans by showing them which kinds of revision are valued and the amount of effort that they should apply. Surface changes should be simple tasks while conceptual change should be a large task. Like the 1–3–5 Rule for To-Do Lists, the specific attention to prioritizing according to guiding categories should increase the effectiveness of students’ revision plans.

Keep Revision Active and Specific

No matter what kind of 1–3–5 Revision strategy you try, encourage students to keep their 1–3–5 plan active. ProfHacker’s “3 Ways to Makeover Your To-Do List” begins with the suggestion to “Start Each Task With a Verb.” This strategy stresses the action involved in the revision task rather than the end result or a need that should be met. Rather than adding “details” as the one large revision task, for instance, begin with a verb that says what to do about or with details. The actively-phrased task on the 1–3–5 plan might be “develop concrete details in the body paragraphs.”

Active phrasing has to be paired with specific and well-focused ideas. A writer might list “work on concise phrasing.” While that idea begins with a verb, the writer still has to figure out how to “work” on that phrasing. What exactly is she going to do? She could strengthen her revision plan by specifying exact strategies to apply to the draft, such as “delete unnecessary filler words, such as really and very.”

Final Thoughts

The 1–3–5 rule structures revision in a way that asks students to think more deeply about the work they need to do on their drafts. The strategy requires that students move beyond the idea of making corrections. It requires them to choose tasks that are more than simple editing and proofreading. While making the revision process move beyond surface errors in concrete ways, this 1–3–5 activity also makes the revision process specific and manageable. There are just nine tasks to complete, and at the end of the activity, the student should have the satisfaction of a checked-off list of to-do’s.

What do you think of this revision activity? Are you willing to give the 1–3–5 Revision strategy a try? Do you have revision activities that work well with students? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

 

Photo credit: Reichsstraße 135 number.svg by 3247’s Image Wizard, on Wikimedia Commons, used under public domain.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Online Identity Revision Plans

Several years ago, I developed a revision plan assignment, based on information I first found on Kristin Arola’s website and that is also discussed in Writer/Designer, the textbook I was using for a multimodal composing course I was teaching at the time.

In my version of the activity, students wrote a revision plan for their websites instead of rewriting the sites. I certainly believe students benefit from rewriting and revising, but there are situations where it’s not practical or even possible to have students revise a project. This week, I want to discuss using this strategy to ask students to evaluate their online identity and make a plan to improve it.

Why Plan Instead of Revise?

In the case of online identities, students won’t have time to demonstrate concrete improvements to their online identity beyond simple and cursory changes. It takes a while to remove problematic photos, eliminate troublesome websites, and delete questionable social media accounts. The Internet has a long memory unfortunately.

Further, cleaning up your online identity requires an ongoing process, so students need to develop a plan to continue monitoring their online identities so that they can take action when necessary. Creating a long-term plan will be more useful than making a few short-term fixes.

Why Does Online Identity Matter?

Chances are that students already know that their online identity matters. If students completed the project to research a public figure’s online identity, they have already had a chance to think about how what they post online and what others post online about them shapes what people think about them.

You can use the infographic (full-size version) on the right, from kbsd, to review the importance of establishing a strong, positive online identity. Sections 1, 2, and 3 directly address why online identity matters and how it can affect a person’s career.

Once students understand the goal for the revision plan, they’re ready for the assignment.

The Online Identity Revision Plan Assignment

  1. Ask students to begin by assessing their online identities. If they mapped their online identities, they can return to their maps as a starting place.
  2. Have students explore their identities by using the tips in the “Stay on Top of Things” category of Section 4 of the infographic. The class can brainstorm additional online spaces to check.
  3. Encourage students to gather all evidence they find—the good, the bad, and the neutral. Everything they find will contribute to the plan they make.
  4. Provide the following brainstorming questions to help students gather ideas for their revision plans:
    • What are the strengths of your online identity that you want to be sure to keep?
    • What aspects of your online identity are problematic, and how can you change them to improve your reputation?
    • What is the balance among good, bad, and neutral information about your identity? What can you do to ensure there is always more good information than bad?
    • How secure are your accounts? Do you need to make changes?
    • What personal information is online about you that shouldn’t be?
    • What positive achievements have you made that you can add to your online identity?
    • How much is your online identity affected by family and friends? Do you need to work with others to improve your identity?
  5. Once students have assessed their online identity and worked through the questions above, ask them to write a revision plan that outlines how they will work to improve and/or maintain their online identity.
  6. Discuss possible organization structures as a class to help students get started, such as the following:
    1. Go site by site (e.g., Facebook, then Twitter, then Instagram).
    2. Arrange the plan chronologically, focusing on immediate plans, short-term plans, long-term plans, and so forth.
    3. Organize the plan by kinds of information, like factual information on profiles, images, and subjective information in blog posts and status updates.
  7. Share expectations for the project with students to ensure they understand the project. Students are probably more familiar with actually revising projects than with creating revision plans. Emphasize these ideas:
    1. Students are writing a revision plan memo. They are NOT actually revising their online identity (though obviously, you should encourage them to take that next step in their own time).
    2. The best submissions will go beyond providing a cursory answer to the brainstorming questions. They will show a concerted effort to rethink their online identities and improve them.
    3. The best responses will talk not only about what changes are needed, but specifically how to change things.
    4. Students can include whatever makes sense for their revision plans (e.g., mock-ups, a revised online profile, a chart showing a new design or structure).

Any Ideas to Add?

How do you address online identity? What concerns do students share? Do you have activities to encourage students to pay attention to how they are represented online? Please leave me a comment below with the details. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Image credit: Infographic created by kbsd on the Visually site. Embed code and larger image available on Visually.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.