Adjunct instructors
January 28, 2020 6:04 AM   Subscribe

Are you an adjunct with a full time job? How do you grade?

I am an adjunct instructor for a college. I also have a full time job, so that although I try to grade within a reasonable time frame, I don't have time to do it all within the next day. Usually I try to grade 3-4 assignments a day so it takes me 30-60 minutes a day and I catch up with everyone on the weekends.

I grade based on when the assignments were turned in so the first assignments turned in are graded first and last assignments last. Is that completely inappropriate? Should I grade them slowly and "turn in" all the assignment grades at once? This would make more work because I would need to store the grades off-site and then upload them.

I've been doing this for four years the other way and no one has ever complained, but maybe I'm wrong, idk. According the university guidelines I am supposed to have grades in within a week. Usually that happens.
posted by anonymous to Education (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
When I was cursed with adjuncting and other employment, I graded on the weekends. Assignment turned in on monday gets returned on monday. Also I structured courses to have fewer things to grade! For example when I was teaching symbolic logic we went over the assignment in class as the majority of the class, doing the proofs and that were assigned and finding out where people were having trouble. Then they turn in their homework and I just have to check off whether they did it or not. Only tests were graded graded. (Honestly, universities: you get what you pay for. $2500 for 3 months of courses? I'm not working my ass off).
posted by dis_integration at 6:31 AM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been doing this for four years the other way and no one has ever complained

Stop right there. What you're doing is good enough. If they want you to do more they can offer you some kind of real position with benefits and whatnot.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:53 AM on January 28, 2020 [16 favorites]

A week seems totally fine.

If you are permitted, I would also restructure the assignments so that they were easier to grade. 15-20 minutes a paper is very slow. I think when I was grading (biology and computer science) it was more like 5 minutes a paper.

Tangent: we always graded papers breadth first. Breadth first means, grade problem 1 for all students, then problem 2. The alternative is depth first, all problems for student 1, then student 2.

Breadth first is better for the grader and for the students. For the grader, because you get more practiced at this problem and you notice the common mistakes more easily. For the students, because prior mistakes don't prejudice the grader as much.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 7:07 AM on January 28, 2020 [7 favorites]

When I was an adjunct, I took a page from my high school geometry teacher and told the class: I expect an hour of homework for every hour in class. You're all adults: if you need to do more to make sure you get the material--or if you're slower at working through the problems--you need to be your own judge and do so.

It was math classes, so the answers for the odd problems were in the back of the book. I didn't assign specific problems, and I expected more than just the answers (since they the back of the book). I graded by giving them quarter-hours credit. One hour of work was 1.0 points, half hour was 0.5, etc.; and you had to have 2.5 points each week (three credit class, rounded down). After a week or two, I could tell who was doing an honest hour of work and who was phoning it in.

Regarding turnaround: Since I was only grading on effort, not right answers, it was much easier to grade, so i had a one-week turnaround, or less. They were encouraged to write me notes on right there in line when they got stuck. No homework was due on pre-test or test days, but they better have good questions on the former.

Regarding "bottom of the stack": I told the class that I graded top down, so the last homework turned in (top of stack) was graded first. I was much harsher on the top of the stack; by the bottom of the stack I was three drinks in, er, tired, and wanted to get done, so i was much more lenient and generous with points. This changed the tune very quick - instead of turning homework they did during class at the end of the class period, the stack of homework was full by the time i walked in the door. This had the added benefit of a much more attentive class, and the few students who could multitask would be doing homework relevant to the material being presented and could ask better questions as we went through the lessons.

This pedagogic system requires maturity on the students' part, and doesn't work for slacker students; but it engendered a teacher-student trust such that even the students that didn't do all that well told me they appreciated the class.
posted by notsnot at 7:48 AM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

A week-ish sounds like very reasonable turnaround time to me. Mainly chiming in to address this part: "Should I grade them slowly and "turn in" all the assignment grades at once? This would make more work because I would need to store the grades off-site and then upload them."

I'm assuming from this and the fact that they're pretty ubiquitous that you use some sort of learning management system? I think it's common for LMS's to have an option about when to show students their grades. If this is part of your concern, you can probably make it so that it shows grades only when all assignments are graded or when you tell it to (certain date/time).

When I was teaching on the side, I leaned on the multiple choice/automatic grading assignments features of my LMS heavily. It's hard to make everything be rigorous and multiple choice, but giving just 2 or 3 manually graded questions per assignment as opposed to 10 can make a big difference. Again this assumes some sort of technology and you do have to invest some time on the front end of creating the assignment and telling it what the right answers are, but it made grading loads faster.
posted by kochenta at 7:48 AM on January 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

You sound like you're overperforming actually. As GCU suggests, they probably don't pay you enough so I personally would focus all my energy on actual class time, and minimize grading. E.g. if it's a math class you can assign 10 problems and only grade a randomly selected 3 (same 3 for all). Also I would grade fairly generously, which makes it go even faster. Whatever the topic, design your homework with the express goal of minimizing grading time, and make sure you provide a mechanism for students to check their own work that you're not grading.

Students will get annoyed if you lag too much or treat them poorly; students will never complain that you didn't grade enough homework, or graded it too leniently.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:09 AM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’m a professor, but not an adjunct. And I teach math, and grading advice depends on discipline, but...

(1) I do not strive for overnight turnaround. Getting stuff back within a week is important, though, and you definitely don’t want to lap yourself on grading.

(2) you don’t have to grade every problem—some things can be graded for completeness.

(3) I *always* grade one problem at a time.

(4) i would suggest that each student should get their graded work back at the same time. (I didn’t quite follow your grading plan of grading the first one first...if you’re grading written papers, I guess that makes sense. But students may get cranky if one student gets work back a week before their classmate.

(5) my institution has a subscription to a service called GradeScope, which I used last semester and I’m a fan! I think the grading is about as fast, if not faster, than grading with a pen. If you find yourself writing the same comments over and over, you only have to write once, and then you can reuse it! If you’re grading with someone else (say, on different problems), you can both be grading, in different places, at the same time. And I’m using it this semester because I think that it makes me a more consistent grader—I can take off the same number of points for the same error, because I have a record of what I did right there. And because the feedback is typed, I can say more. (And it is good for math—has integrated LaTeX formatting, can parse handwritten mathematical stuff, it’s really pretty nice.)
posted by leahwrenn at 9:23 AM on January 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Caveat: I’m full time adjuncting now, because having a second job utterly slayed me. Also, I teach philosophy, which means grading papers—sounds similar in time-allotment to what you’re doing, but my method is explicitly for that type of grading.
First, use a rubric. Writing “your thesis is unclear” a million times a semester, a year, a career is a waste of your time. Populate the rubric with descriptions of what each section means and a point breakdown. So, 3 points is a clear and well structured thesis, 2 points is missing x, y, or z and 1 point get the idea. Just checking points off means you grade faster AND you can skim for content. If more description is needed, you can spend your time writing a couple sentences of clarification instead of a whole ass paragraph for every student.
Second, give multiple short “check off” assignments that are low stakes and student-created rather than rubric-graded. I have mine write a question once a week and then respond to the question—it’s fast grading because they either succeed for full credit, don’t fulfill the assignment criteria for partial, or don’t do it at all. Takes about 100 min to grade 150 of these. Vocabulary sheets, about every 2 weeks, covering terminology which is field specific but that we’ve been using in class are also a good way to get students using the information points in a VERY quick to grade assignment.
Finally, give everyone their work back together as a stack. A week turnaround is pretty damn good, but trickling stuff back to people feels like you’re never actually done, you’re just pushing the rock up the hill. You *should* be keeping your grades in a spreadsheet, honestly, or even just having a list of students with numbers somewhere. Too many times I’ve lost grades or had students claim I never gave their assignment back so having a recording system not contingent on the LMS is just good for your sanity and makes it clear when you’re done with a stack.

Adjuncting and working full time is BRUTAL and you’re doing great! Sleep whenever you can, lol.
posted by zinful at 9:37 AM on January 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

I second everything leahwrenn said. In particular, Gradescope has been a life changer for me, but I am lucky to have institutional access, so I can use all features at no cost to me. But honestly, streamlining your grading process will vary a lot depending on what kinds of assignments you give. Grading essays is really different from grading STEM problem sets.

If I were an underpaid adjunct, I would make as many assignments as easy to grade as possible (e.g. multiple choice, check HW for completion, etc.) and give noticeably fewer graded assignments than I do as a full time unionized lecturer with benefits.

If the school wants high quality work, they should pay for the time it takes to complete it.
posted by ktkt at 10:15 AM on January 28, 2020

It's in my syllabus that I will upload grades within the week. On very rare occasion, that doesn't happen so I send out an announcement explaining the delay. Sometimes I grade it all the next day. Doesn't mean I'll give them the grade the next day, though.

Do you use blackboard? If so, there's a function in the gradebook that allows you to hide grades from student view. You can turn that on, enter the grades gradually, then turn it back off when all the grading is complete.
posted by Neekee at 1:02 PM on January 28, 2020

When I adjuncted on the side while working full time:

-Multiple Choice quizzes online in your LMS of choice that are autograded save boatloads of time if you can use them in your content area.

-Similarly, using discussion board participation is also an easy way to get students involved and grade for full, partial, or no credit.

-Have the students grade each other’s quizzes/assignments while you read aloud the answers if they must be given in class. All you have to do then is record the grades.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:02 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

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