One of the most enjoyable series of blog posts this year on the Chronicle of Higher Education has been Robert Talbert’s Casting Out Nines. The columns address experiences he’s had and issues he’s faced in implementing a flipped math classroom. One of the more recent columns approaches the issue of grading and how to better ensure student satisfaction (even when a student doesn’t receive the grade s/he wanted).
Talbert’s major piece of advice in this regard is to have strong and clear learning objectives (LOs) from the beginning of the course. Strong LOs benefit both student and instructor by laying out the methods and content of instruction obvious. An example from my own discipline might be that you want students to write a research paper. The easy way to do this (for the professor!) is to give a few basic guidelines: topic/question; word count (min/max); maybe 1–2 articles to get started; and a due date. Here is an example from one of my syllabi:
Essay 2 (2000 words): Were gender roles in Christian Rome more circumscribed than they had been before? How did these roles change? (N. B.: This has been substantially edited from the original syllabus in order to fit in this space)
When you are an expert in the subject, that makes everything quite clear. Grading the essays that you receive, though, is then a bit more complicated. What about grammar or tone? You did not say anything about that in the guidelines, but obviously you will want to take this into account when grading. Do you want to help students improve their writing process (i.e., do you want to to make sure that they don’t write it the night before)? Then you will need to offer graded steps, such as outlines or document reviews, to ensure that they take their time.
There are a few ways to implement process-based LOs. One of the major places to look is Bloom’s Taxonomy (example and explanation). Then, as Talbert points out, you need to stick to your LOs in your choice of assessment. That way, you’ve made sure that you’re measuring what you intend to measure.
To be fair, this will not change your grading scheme (for a humorous example, see here). But it will ensure that you and your students are on the same page regarding course expectations and outcomes.