I got my first stack of papers this week and set out to get at least halfway through over the weekend. Usually, any attempt at tackling the majority of a stack leaves me wiped out and grumpy. However, this weekend, I had almost all Saturday to pace myself while the family was at the Renaissance Festival (the font while loading is the best part of the page, I think). As I graded, I realized "Hey, I like this." And then I had to ask why I liked it. Usually, as Nedra Reynolds points out in her book, Portfolio Keeping, I am one of those professors who really doesn't like that part of the job. I'd rather just sit and talk about the writing and what the student can do to improve it, like a tutoring session. Alas, students want written comments and, I think it provides a record of my reactions we can both reflect upon at the end of the semester when they argue about what they learned and I distribute grades.
So, there I was, totally jazzed about grading. Only I realized was doing more than that. The essays my students wrote provided me with an opportunity I hadn't really gotten in the first two weeks of class. I got to sit down with them and know them through their writing. I wasn't rushed into evaluative mode, but, rather, settled into a mode that was open to their texts, their voices, and the choices they made as they wrote.
Sadly, this didn't last as long as I hoped it would. After I graded half the papers, I had to grade the rest in smaller increments during the week. That meant under more time pressure -- after conferences with the students whose papers I had already completed, in between teaching classes, or -- more often -- in front of the TV after the kids had gone to bed. I tried to remain as open and relaxed about the grading process, but I don't think I accomplished that. I felt more quick to judge and less accountable to each student as an individual. I still graded on the same criteria and often pointed out many of the same things in the last half of papers, but somehow I feel the quality of my responses didn't match their predecessors. I'll have to grade the next stack in reverse order from this one.