Comments on: Grading Papers Notes and Queries in Anthropology Mon, 25 May 2015 04:47:50 +0000 hourly 1 By: Teaching Carnival 5.09 - ProfHacker - The Chronicle of Higher Education Tue, 01 May 2012 12:01:56 +0000 […] Thompson talks about grading papers and his grading pet […]

By: Teaching, Grading, and Banging My Head Against the Wall? « Anthro Brown Bag Sat, 31 Mar 2012 06:18:11 +0000 […] recent post by Matt Thompson on Savage Minds had a great quote that I thought was worth sharing. “For the majority of them my precious […]

By: Megan Tue, 27 Mar 2012 19:50:31 +0000 I have yet to give up on comments on written assignments, though I do use a rubric for all exam essays and papers, which helps me streamline. I still write comments for 2 reasons. 1) for me. If I’m reading a 10 page paper, I highlight good points, comment on problems, and try to read all the papers first before I give anyone a grade, so I need to go back through a 2nd time, and those notes help summarize my feelings. 2) I always have to hope for the student who doesn’t say they want feedback, but in finding some, might actually read it and do something with it. A little positive feedback can go a long way with the right student. Maybe in 3 more years I’ll change my ways.

By: How to Turn to the Dark Side: A Scholar’s Guide | Jonathan's Web Site Tue, 27 Mar 2012 17:42:46 +0000 […] is a brief response to Matt Thompson’s blog entry about […]

By: Stephen Sat, 24 Mar 2012 23:27:33 +0000 I wonder if anyone has any experience using a technique advertised by George Gmelch in Anthro News a while back?

In a nutshell, Gmelch asked his students to turn in a blank cassette tape with their papers, then after marking up a paper with signposts (e.g. A, B, C …) to indicate where his comments would apply, turned on his voice recorder and talked through the paper. These days, with digital audio, it would seem to be an even more streamlined solution, since all you have to do is e-mail an mp3, rather than coordinating the tape-swaps. Has anyone tried this?

By: Linda Dwyer Fri, 23 Mar 2012 01:00:03 +0000 Thanks, Fran, for the kind words. Your suggestion of including articles that represent divergent positions in the field is very helpful. My apologies for grammatical structures that would have earned comments on student papers. Morning coffee and an available send button are not a good combination.

By: Fran Thu, 22 Mar 2012 19:06:41 +0000 @Linda, some very good points.

“We also work in small groups to discuss classic and contemporary articles in order to come up with divergent (if possible) interpretations and questions before students write their essays. This helps those students who either weren’t engaged in high school or attended high schools in which critical thinking was not practiced before they write their essays.”

I find that having students research other anthropologists’ rebuttals to what they’re reading helps them appreciate critique. I have also used in-class peer review as another way to show that criticism is a positive and necessary thing. If they can gain appreciation for the act of grading when made to assess the work of their peers, maybe they’ll respect our efforts a little more?

By: Linda Dwyer Thu, 22 Mar 2012 13:52:37 +0000 This is such a helpful discussion! The “Gen Ed” introductory classes are filled with students who are never to see anthropology classes again, as well as students who need several such classes for another major, and the recruiting ground for anthropology.

I try to show the usefulness of an anthropological perspective for engaging in professional and personal life right from the start. In the 100 level class, I often ask students to start with a spatial analysis of of the room based on their “informant” expertise to determine the relationships, then to propose how to re-shape power in a room full of tables facing the white board and lcd screen. I also let them know that anthropologists seek debate and engagement within our community, so that I expect them to advocate and speak back to “power” in ways that bring us to greater insight.

Work involves essays and researched papers, but are also integrated with reflective “field journals” of readings, video, and a brief class researched project (that varies—the most popular being a shared class study asking whether students are “Cyborgs”? and if so, what is the nature of Cyborg culture.)

They participate in roundtable discussions, in which each group is assigned a separate set of questions. After the roundtables, the students submit their fieldnotes and a final reflective journal entry that comes up with further lines of inquiry.

Why? This is how we work professionally. This is fruitful in that students who learn to engage systematically in thinking about the world benefit whether they take another anthropology course or not. They are more engaged in the classes.

We also work in small groups to discuss classic and contemporary articles in order to come up with divergent (if possible) interpretations and questions before students write their essays. This helps those students who either weren’t engaged in high school or attended high schools in which critical thinking was not practiced before they write their essays. I also ask them to submit a bulleted outline that would make a good executive summary. This is because they may have to present that summary of ideas along with a report in some fashion in future life.

I therefore try to help students to see how anthropology is related to social practice, can help them succeed in whatever they do, and that their writing is good training for what can come, and is performed in processes that are more reflective of the “real world” writing experience or support students from diverse educational experiences to come up to speed.

My biggest challenges therefore are showing how the “hoop” of higher education is related to the world of work and adult life—even life in a college setting, as diverse as that is today, with working students, non-traditional students, returned vets, etc.

By: AS Wed, 21 Mar 2012 22:03:46 +0000 Oh Matt, we could talk about this for days. Part of the issue is moving from a culture of self-driven learning to a culture of assessment–I’m not even sure whether my students even want to learn, or just be assessed. I think that a rubric is a good idea for standardizing the assessment part they hunger for. But I can’t give up that need to give them constructive feedback. I’m becoming more specific about my criteria for successful papers upfront, cutting back on my comments, and grading all papers as if they were drafts. I then give students the option to revise based on my feedback. It works wonders for the grade grubbers and those interested in learning to write, and I feel like my feedback isn’t wasted. But it’s a lot of work. I struggle more with making graded assignments (tests) meaningful for large classes.

By: Sydney Yeager Wed, 21 Mar 2012 06:51:29 +0000 This is a fascinating system. I’m in my second year of grading papers and exams as a TA and I have been repeatedly told that I spend too much time and put too much effort into leaving detailed comments on assignments. I think that whenever I find myself grading for a class of my own I will barrow this system of self-designation. Thank you for sharing your insight.

By: Fran Wed, 21 Mar 2012 00:25:45 +0000 @möngke can you elaborate? I’ve never seen any assignments (outside of final exams) anonymized in the British system.

By: Rex Tue, 20 Mar 2012 23:23:28 +0000 Rubrics dude, rubrics:

Hand ’em out with the assignment so people can see the criteria. Provides richer feedback and forces you to figure out what your criteria actually are.

By: MTBradley Tue, 20 Mar 2012 18:08:39 +0000

Have you encountered any non-traditional format writing assignments worth sharing?

In the Linguistic Fieldwork course I took at IU we were given an assignment similar to the following:

Tomorrow you begin your trip home after a year doing fieldwork with Daza speakers. As you check in at the front desk at your hotel in Kano you are handed a package containing a leather-bound book with a note reading, “The old men in the village have been working to keep this record of our language over the past several years and have decided they would like to make it available to you before you leave Nigeria. Please leave it at the front desk of the hotel before you depart.” The following two conditions hold—1) Your departure ten hours from that moment can not be changed. 2) The only means of reproduction available to you is longhand.

During our next meeting (five days later) you will be asked to discuss whether you did or did not depart Kano with the package in your possession and how you arrived at your decision. I find that writing about something forces me to identify any mutually contradictory ideas I might be holding in my head, so prepare a short written explanation of your decision for me, as well.*

Last semester my better half had the members of one of her classes listen to this episode of Fresh Air. Later she asked them to write up a response to a prompt along the lines of “Do you feel anthropologists would have been able to offer suggestions beforehand that would have improved the outcome of the U.S. State Department program discussed in the episode of Fresh Air you listened to earlier in the semester? If not, why? If so, what might some of the specific suggestions have been?”

*No word or page length was specified. When we pressed our professor about length he said something along the lines of “long enough to tell me what you think I need to know but not so long that I loose interest.”

By: Lorin Yochim Tue, 20 Mar 2012 15:49:06 +0000 @Matt, my trajectory had been nearly identical to yours. I began grading and commenting in exactly the way you describe, the difference being that I moved to commenting on PDF documents, which the students (at least those who took time to say so) absolutely loved. Of course I didn’t know that everyone was reading the comments, but they were not easily thrown out. This did lead to the occasional challenge, mainly when a student found a comment with which the disagreed. These comments, however, were typically misunderstood as being the basis for a lower grade when they were often merely meant to demonstrate how the paper could have taken a different tack at a given point.

The problem was that the process was very time consuming. What I’ve done more recently is offered student more or less free access to me in the weeks leading up to a due date. Students can send unlimited drafts (at any stage of development) by email which I comment on. This of course benefits students willing to get out in front of the assignment and works against those who attempt to write the day before. A potential problem is that it works against another group of potentially “good” students, those perfectionists who fear handing in imperfect work. About 1/3 (enrolment of 29) of the students took advantage. The second part of the process is that I now write limited comments on graded papers and tell students that I am happy to write extended comments for anyone who asks. This past term, not one student took me up on this. Also, I began to attach a detailed rubric and ask that students make their complaints/inquiries about the grade with reference to the standards described on the rubric. Students seem very pleased at this kind of access I’m offering, and it hasn’t been particularly daunting in term so time commitment for me.

By: Matt Thompson Tue, 20 Mar 2012 13:42:46 +0000 @Matt – I have recently come to the same conclusion. As I stated above, very few people are going to have the opportunity to write essays outside of college. Being able to think and communicate through the written word is important. Shouldn’t we think about assigning things other than papers? Something that might have broader applications?

This semester I’m having my upper level students write blog posts. A friend of mine had students write wiki entries. For both of us, I think, this has turned out to be a mixed bag, but then the traditional essay is a mixed bag too. Have you encountered any non-traditional format writing assignments worth sharing?


I figure that they’re adults, and it’s more a matter of how they value their learning.

Yes, my sentiments exactly! Our mantra back in New College was “In the final analysis, every student is responsible for his or her own education.”