By Daniel J. Bauer
For a couple years, my department chair has been pushing composition instructors to occasionally exchange exams or homework assignments, and to offer sample grades on the work of one another’s students. We’ve been free in the end to make final decisions on our students’ grades, but the idea, you see, has been to introduce a new pair of eyes and another mind to gently challenge our personal systems of evaluation.
I fought the idea in the beginning. Why should I pay any mind to my colleagues’ views on my grading? Students were not complaining about my scores on assignments or my grades for courses, so why waste time worrying? Pardon that sensible cliche but, come on, if something’s not broken, why fix it?
I have come to find it however rather educative to compare the scores of my colleagues with my own scores for my students’ work. To do so once or twice a semester in writing courses, and then to talk with colleagues and students alike about the apparent similarities and differences has been worthwhile. Almost always we had the same thoughts, my colleagues and I, more or less the same standards. Our scoring unveiled few gaps or worries. The process was however for me interesting and even illuminating.
As I penciled in a suggested grade on mid-term composition exams some months ago, for example, I was acutely aware that another person would be matching a score with the number I was using to rate a writer’s performance. Later we would sit and discuss why we scored as we did. We’d listen to each other, weigh our reasons, and engage in some self-reflection.
Strange as it may sound, I am visiting this question of occasional peer counseling in the Department of Grades because of a boxing match. I sat beside a Filipino friend at a meal shortly after boxer Timothy Bradley had beaten Manny Pacquiao in a 12 round split decision in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. I expressed wonderment that someone had managed to beat the boxing legend. The June 9 fight ended a 15 match victory streak for the man known as The Pacman. He hadn’t lost a fight since 2005, when Erik Morales overpowered him in a unanimous decision.