Saturday, April 19, 2008

sunshine helps grades grow

Thursday was a beautiful day. Since I was giving a test the next day in one of my courses, I had to hang around the office that afternoon in case anyone had questions. Rather than stay inside, I went outside to the natural light and warmth of the sun, sat in an Adirondack chair, and graded test essays from another class. Of course, I did leave a sign on my office door with directions to my new location.

I actually get more work done when I’m outside, especially if my tasks include doing things I don’t really want to do -- like grading. In my office I can always find some diversions with which to fritter my time away, like checking email or finding other less urgent but less unpleasant work to do.

Outside, I have only one task to accomplish: grading. The only diversions are watching students throwing frisbees or girls sunning themselves. It is hard to explain just how pleasant it is being in the warm sun surrounded by the relaxed college environment. Maybe this atmosphere brings back feelings from my own youth?

I have also been known to fall asleep in an Adirondack chair. So maybe I lose ten or fifteen minutes napping? So what if I lose a few minutes watching the students? Watching a frisbee being thrown or watching someone laying on a blanket reading a book may divert attention for a couple of minutes as I drink in the atmosphere, but it gets old pretty fast. The time lost to diversions outside is only a fraction of the time I would lose inside.

The sun, the warmth, the atmosphere actually discipline me to keep my butt in the chair and grade. I need discipline.

A colleague came up to me outside to tease me about not working. I asked him, “Don’t you ever grade tests?” He replied, “Yes, but I do it in a dark room, with only a single light bulb burning, so I can be unhappy and mean while I grade.”

I laughed and then I thought about what he said. I certainly felt the opposite of unhappy and mean. I then realized that my grades that afternoon were probably higher by a half point on a four-point scale. There were D essays that I was giving C minuses. B-minus essays were getting B pluses. There were too many undeserved A's.

The essays were already getting an extra half-point boost due to my “late penalty.” I had taken so long getting these tests back that I told the students that I was imposing a late penalty on myself. I up the grade after I give it a score. I think this is only fair since I take away points if students are late.

What to do? I was already halfway through my pile of exams. I couldn’t toughen my grading standards without having to regrade the tests I had finished.

Raise standards and regrade? That might be the reasonable thing to do. That might be the professional thing to do.

Nah . . . it would be, in fact, an extremely unreasonable and unprofessional thing to do on such a lovely afternoon. It would defy logic. Sunshine and warmth are good. Sunshine and warmth naturally make things grow. Therefore, it is only natural that grades should grow in sunshine and warmth. This is good. This is natural. Natural is good. Therefore, toughening standards and regrading would be unnatural and bad.

On Monday, my class of juniors and seniors will be pleasantly surprised at how well they did on their exams.

Sometimes you just have to do the right thing.

Be blessed!
RB

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