Ever had a really meaningful, open, vulnerable and ‘true’ discussion with your colleagues about how you grade your students’ work?

Grading – let’s face it – is one of the most violent aspects of our academic work. We explicitly ‘value’ the work of our students and label it with a fixed ‘grade’. Depending on the sort of work you are grading and the height of the pile of the work you are grading, lots of variables are probably influencing you while you are grading students’ efforts. Gender and ethnicity – whether you like it or not – being amongst those variables. Notice how you treat the work of women differently than those of men? See how you have suppositions about the work of students with family names that are akin to yours? And, okay, you noticed the sign of dyslexia on the form you are grading, or you know that the student is a non-native speaker, are you really able to read through the typo’s, just being open to the thoughts regardless of the errors in the form they were given in?

Gosh… just taking piles of exam forms as one form of grading…

I trick myself to be as unbiased as possible, and just try to neutrally observe the answer given to a question, and try to be open for the quality of that answer, by not looking at the name of the student on the form… Still, I catch myself wondering about the student’s gender by looking at the style of the handwriting. More than once I have attributed ‘female’ to the handwriting of a student with a male name and also ‘male’ to the handwriting of a student with a female name. And yes… I know that there is a subtle difference with which I grade ‘female’ work and ‘male’ work. And yes… I really do think this applies to all of us. And yeah… I also think, this is just one marker that weighs in with the grading process. And no… I hardly ever have a spontaneous and profound discussion about this with my peers.

Grading research papers is a whole different game altogether. Piles of exam forms offer a sort of ‘anonymous’ pile of work. You can’t know all of the students involved personally. With research papers the authors usually have become ‘a story’. You think you know the students involved, at least a little bit. Usually the writing styles of your students are really in development, they need helpful comments on both content and style. And gosh… feelings of indignation and anger just present themselves when you are reading their work…. how to let go of those feelings before giving constructive feedback…

These feelings and also these self-observations were the reasons why a dear friend and colleague of mine started a teacher professionalisation training program in which we offer room for contemplation on more than one uneasy aspects of our work as teachers.

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