Generally speaking I am good at getting things done. When there is something on my to-do list that I don’t like, I do it first so I can get to the things I would rather be doing. However, when it comes to lab reports, I avoid. I mean I avoid like the plague! I will do my entire to do list, tidy up my desk, organize my inbox, clean out old files, and then, maybe, start grading labs.
In this month where so many are sharing what they are thankful for, why am I so unappreciative in this area? One challenge I have is knowing how to evaluate labs properly. In writing my new lab manual, I am setting up rubrics for each lab. The ultimate goal is for this manual to be used by all instructors across the chemistry department at our community college, so they need to have a consistent grading system. Writing these rubrics has been challenging.
In August I wrote a blog entitled “And we’re back . . . the labs are waiting to be graded . . . “and I voiced some of my frustrations with grading. John Yohe responded with a new way to look at rubrics. He suggests a categorical approach as opposed to each question being assigned a certain number of points. I am going to consider this idea as it may offer the opportunity for a consistent rubric for all labs. One of the challenges I am having is the realization that this manual will need to go through several different instructors and students before it is ready to go to print. It is difficult for me to try something with students knowing it will need to undergo several tweaks, but I am learning that this is all part of the process.
As they are the reason for writing, I have also asked my students for feedback after each lab. Students are asked to respond to three prompts: what I learned in this lab, my favorite part about this lab, and my least favorite part about this lab. I have noticed, when I can no longer avoid grading, I am actually excited to read these final student thoughts. I look forward to seeing what they think they have learned and whether or not it matches up with my goals for the lab. I want to know what their favorite part was and see if I can replicate that in another lab. I am curious about what they did not like and see if I can minimize that piece for the future.
Why am I so excited to view these responses? Because it shows me what my students are thinking! I need to realize when my students respond to any question in the lab they are showing me what they are thinking! Perhaps I am much slower than others, but I now recognize this is a much better attitude. If I approach the pile of labs and see it as an opportunity to understand where my students are in their learning, I will be much more willing to grade! As my labs make the transition from traditional to inquiry, my students are answering different kinds of questions and I am more interested in their answers than ever before.
What about you? Do you struggle with grading labs? Do you have ideas on how to grade in a consistent manner or use a rubric you really like? Please share with us that we all might encourage one another as we seek to grow in our teaching and learning.