Assignments and Grading

by John Bandler

After five plus years teaching, I know it is important for students to get good practice researching, writing, and editing. So I usually require a paper during the course, and I have developed resources for students for that process.

Also, depending on the course, I may require weekly written submissions, to aid in student learning, as a means of assessment, to ensure regular communication with the student, and as regular writing practice.

I tailor the requirements of each course and expectation according to the school level (undergraduate, graduate, law school)

Paper related assignments

I have had students at all levels (even law school students) tell me they have never done an outline, and that they don't know what that entails, or ask other questions about the writing process. Thus, I have developed a phased final paper writing process throughout the year which I believe provides the greatest learning value for students (but also is a lot of work for me). Students that follow the instructions and put in good continual effort throughout the semester will learn a lot (and earn a better grade for the final paper and in the course).

Those paper assignment instructions start here:

I also developed some writing resources (see next). Grading is discussed below, and weekly assignments have their own instructions.

Writing resources include

These are some resources I created to assist students with the process.

Research resources include

  • Course book
  • Syllabus materials
  • This website
  • Laws, regulations, cases
  • Other experts
  • The school's library

Grading in general

  • Effort is valued. I seek to encourage effort, because with student effort comes learning.
  • Some facts and concepts should be learned.
  • Class participation is valued. I try to encourage it because that means students are engaged, they will learn more, and I will enjoy the class and learn more too.
  • Read the syllabus to see what the course requires and what I value.

Weekly assignment grading in general

  • Assignment grades are designed as a form of feedback, to ensure (1) students who put in effort and learn are rewarded, and (2) so students who need to improve have an easy way of realizing that.
  • I actually read your submissions (yes, it is very time consuming).
  • I almost always leave feedback, please read it and incorporate for next time.
  • I believe in continual improvement, so my feedback is often an idea on how to improve something.
  • I do my best to be fair and reward effort and quality. Being fair means great submissions and great effort get high grades, and those that fall below that need to get lower grades.
  • If things need improvement, I may deduct points so you know to improve for next time.
    • Don't take it personally, don't stress about it.
    • I don't expect any student to submit perfect submissions every time. Nor should you.
    • Losing a point here and there is not the end of the world, so relax if you miss some. It is not nitpicking, I am just trying to be fair. We have many touchpoints over the semester and your overall grade will be fair.
    • If you are continually losing many points, or making the same mistake repeatedly, that will add up. Please improve.
  • Assignments should be submitted on time. Late submissions lose points (that is only fair to those who got it in on time). If you are late, hopefully you let me know in advance, and also please indicate in the submission and why.
  • Look to the assignment question for clues on how to answer.
    • "List" or "name" means you don't need a full sentence. You can just list it or name it.
    • "Summarize" or "explain" means you need full sentences that "stand on their own". They should not require reference back to the question. They should be proper sentences, with proper capitalization, spelling, punctuation, etc.
    • Do your best to answer the question asked. Feel free to explain your answer, including if you found the question confusing (not every question is perfect, but sometimes the answer is in the reading, in class, in the video.
      • I hesitate to give individual guidance for the homework because that would not be fair to other students and can be time consuming on these weekly assignments. So if you email me to ask "What did you mean by question X", my answer may be "Please just answer it the best you can, and feel free to explain your answer or any confusion."
      • If you find something confusing, and you have done the reading and paid attention, maybe the question is less than perfect. Just do the best you can, and explain any confusion.
    • The last assignment question is always a check-in. You can ask me something or tell me something. If you ask me something it should be something you really want to know, don't just make up a question for the sake of it.

To grade or not to grade, that is a question

  • I may stop grading certain assignments in some courses. I am weighing whether grading has an excess negative effect with some students which distracts them from learning and a collegial classroom environment. I have found that a few students find their grade is a distracting source of distress if they fail to get a perfect grade, or if their grade is very low.
    • For example, sometimes I might give an excellent submission a 19.5 out of 20. It's a good submission, but there is room for improvement and I want the student to do better. I have had a high achieving student get distressed at losing a partial point (they shouldn't).
    • Some students might fail to follow instructions and get a 10 out of 20. They see the grade and all the lost points and worry they cannot make it up in the course (they can).
    • Despite my communications, I worry the grade sometimes gets in the way of the learning. So I will experiment with adapting to what serves us all best.
  • Whether graded or not, students should incorporate feedback for future submissions, put in good effort, and strive to improve themselves.
  • I realize that some students put in more effort when they know the assignment is graded and/or counts towards their final grade.

Grading of paper topic and paper outline assignments

  • Here is where I am really thinking about not grading these assignments.
  • If I grade the paper topic submission or paper outline submission, please take it to heart, read my feedback, get caught up if you need to, but don't stress. You can catch up, it won't sink you in the course. It is your wake up call. Now you know you need to follow my instructions, and when I say you need to have put in substantial research and effort, I really mean that.
  • If I do _not_ grade the paper topic submission or paper outline submission, then do the work and read my feedback and incorporate it _as_if_ it was graded. If you don't, your final paper will not be as good as it could have been.
  • Typically when I grade, my philosophy is that an honest grade is feedback for where the student needs to be. It is just a checkpoint to get them on track for their final paper, and sometimes it is a wake up call. Students who failed to follow instructions, do the research, or put in the effort usually get a grade that reflects that. A low grade is never the end of the world, it is mostly a communication to let you know to catch up with the goal an excellent final paper.

Posted 6/26/2022 based on years of teaching. Updated 8/29/2022