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 and a phased process.

Also, depending on the course, I may require periodic or 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 and expectations 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. Others have foundational questions or needs on writing.

That is why I developed a phased final paper writing process throughout the year which provides the greatest learning value for students. It also triples my workload.

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).

See this link for more on the Final paper project plus links to many other writing resources and instructions.

Grading in general

  • Effort is valued. I seek to encourage effort, because with student effort comes learning.
  • Some facts and concepts should be learned.
  • Collegial class participation and interaction is highly valued. I try to encourage it because that means students are engaged and they will learn more. Also I will learn more too.
    • Students who do not participate are more likely to become distracted, bored, learn less, and earn a lower grade.
    • Students who are shy or introverted should try to participate. They have more to contribute than they realize and more to gain with practice participating.
  • Read the syllabus to see what the course requires and what is valued.
  • I usually provide a lot of information about what the assignment entails, so read that.
    • But often, you might not know "exactly" what is expected, what the question means, what the answer is supposed to be, or what the paper is supposed to be. In the face of that uncertainty, just do your best and explain as needed. In assignments as in life, assess the information available to you, assess your options, make a decision, explain as needed.
  • I am a holistic, comprehensive grader, I grade in the interests of justice and fairness.
    • Students who put in good honest effort throughout the course do very well. So you don't have to stress about losing a point here or there.
    • If a student loses a few points here and there, don't sweat it, no one is perfect.
    • Students who consistently put in great effort, pay attention, participate, and submit good assignments get great grades.
    • The highest grades are for students who put in exceptional work and effort.

Weekly assignments and discussion

  • Copying and quoting is almost never needed in these short discussion and assignments, which call for your own writing and your own thoughts.
  • Of course, if you were to copy, you must quote and cite.
  • Do the reading first.
  • Never just go to Google.
  • Never use ChatGPT or other automated tools to try replace your own thinking.
  • Do the assigned reading. Think. Write your own words. Proofread, edit, keep thinking. Then submit.

Weekly assignment grading in general

  • See the weekly assignment instructions.
  • I am a holistic, comprehensive grader, the goal is your learning and improvement.
  • I actually read your submissions (yes, it is very time consuming).
  • I almost always leave feedback, so please read it and incorporate for next time.
  • I do not give full points merely for submitting on-time (I actually read it).
  • If you lost some points, don't stress. Absolute perfection is not required. This is a learning process. You can still get a great grade.
  • Assignment grades are designed as a form of feedback, to ensure (1) students who put in effort and learn are rewarded, and (2) students who need to improve have a way to realize that.
  • 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 may get lower grades.
  • A great submission that gets all the answers right, is appropriate for the level of course, shows the reading was done and attention paid in class and shows appropriate effort will get full points. If it falls short of that, points will may be deducted.
  • 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.
    • Comments such as "please proofread" or "needed some more explanation" are signals that I am looking for more from you.
  • 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 the truthful reason 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 full and proper sentences, with proper capitalization, spelling, punctuation, and some thought.
    • 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 generally don't 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.
      • Sometimes I make a mistake! Your careful reading helps you and me.
    • 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. Respond to prior feedback, answer a supplemental question I posed in class, in the lecture, etc.
  • Towards the end of the semester, my feedback may decrease, I might not even get to grading as quickly. By then, you already know what to expect (if you have been reading my feedback and following in class or with the weekly videos).

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 that distracts them from learning and a collegial classroom environment.
  • A few students find a grade can be 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 very good 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. Some get distressed at losing a partial point (they shouldn't).
    • Some students might fail to follow instructions for a paper project submission 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.

Uncertain or confused?

I provide a lot of instruction and guidance, so start there, reread the question, reread the assignment, etc.

I also realize every person is different. Some don't like to read instructions, some like a lot of instructions, some can feel overwhelmed by too many instructions or too much information, and some come to a halt if they face uncertainty or a question they do not understand. So here's a general guide:

  • Keep in mind the purpose and goal of the assignment (probably your learning and effort). So remember to put in effort and further your learning.
  • When faced with uncertainty or confusion, do your best. Life and work is full of uncertainties, so practice the skills needed to work through them -- that is part of your learning.
  • FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) paralyzes many, but don't let it do that to you. Take small steps forward.
  • Read the instructions again, review your notes. Note that my instructions are layered - simple and important stuff up front or bolded.
  • Read the question again. Answer it as best you can, explain as needed.
  • Ask in class! That's what the class session is for. Come to office hours.
  • Where time is tight, see the above, weigh your options, and do your best. Feel free to explain any uncertainty and how you dealt with it.
  • Email me. Sometimes I make a mistake, you letting me know helps me correct it, and lets me know you are paying attention.

Late assignments

Late assignments are marked down based on lateness and reason. On time is better than late, but late is better than never. All assignments must be submitted to pass the course. Let me know in advance of a deadline that you will be late, or as soon as you know.

Late discussion post

Discussions close after the due date for the week for your final posts. So this usually means Saturday.

If you miss the discussion entirely for the week, you will not be able to post late. This is because the discussion is done, the class and your classmates have moved on, there is no value to posting to the discussion board where no one will read it or respond.

Thus, first post by Tuesday, all required replies are due by Friday. If you miss it entirely by Saturday, you get zero points and no partial credit. If you are late with the first post or replies, or swoop in for a few minutes to blast all your posts, you will probably lose some points.

Discussion is usually the easiest points to get, if you do them on time.

Grading your discussion presentation

You will not get an instant grade on that, they will be evaluated after the semester is over. It is a high value project submission, I will consider your effort, final product, and your replies to your classmates in accordance with the instructions and rubric. Your grade may not be reflected in the learning management system. I am happy to go over your work with you at an office hours or by appointment.

Grading your final paper

You will not get an instant grade on that either. It is the highest value project submission, I will consider your effort and final product, in accordance with the instructions and rubric. Your grade may not be reflected in the learning management system. I am happy to go over your work with you at an office hours or by appointment.

Your final grade

The syllabus lays out generally how the final grade is calculated. I grade based on that and in the interests of justice considering what is fair for the individual student and for the class in general, and to encourage effort, learning, and collegial participation and interaction.

Reviewing your papers and presentations is complicated and time consuming and always is a part of your final grade. Even if it is not reflected in the learning management system.

Providing feedback is complicated and nuanced and I am always happy to meet with you to review that.

As always, the best solution is to take advantage of my instructions, guidance, and time during the semester. Follow instructions, follow my feedback, and meet with me during the semester to discuss how to make your paper better before you submit it, and before it is evaluated.

Again, the final grade I submit to the registrar incorporates all course work. Even if an assignment is not graded within the LMS. I take a deep dive into your final paper, presentation, and everything done over the semester prior to submitting the grade. Your final course grade will not be a rigid reflection of points totals within the LMS.

Questions about individual grades or final grades?

Come see me at office hours. I will be happy to go over your presentation, final paper, and other coursework and feedback during office hours. But not until all of my grading obligations are done for all courses, and not during holiday vacation.


Posted 6/26/2022 based on years of teaching. Updated 5/6/2023