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Teaching Time Savers:The List of Grievances and Special Requests

By Amy N. Myers

Although I currently teach at an institution that hires math majors to grade homework for required courses, I have had enough experience providing this service to students myself to know how much of an inconvenience it is to mark late work. I efficiently grade on-time papers collected in class, but work that straggles in late takes an unreasonable amount of time to manage. I have to refresh my memory concerning the various correct solutions and equivalent responses, and take time to consult the grading rubric. (Was it 1 point for the correct integrand or 2 points? Did I give students 1 point for including the dx and the +C this time, or not ? or was it 1 point each?) When I grade on-time papers, I soon have the rubric in my head. For a late assignment, I have to consult the rubric for each point. One late paper easily takes five times as long to mark as one that arrives on time. Since I don?t want to burden my busy paper graders (who are limited to a set number of hours per week) with this chore, I deal with late homework myself.

I used to try to avoid the late homework time drain by dropping each student?s two lowest homework scores each semester. This policy seems reasonable, but students with legitimate emergencies that prevent them from turning in homework on time find it unfair. Why should some students be allowed to drop the most difficult or time-consuming assignments, or the one that was due on the same day as their big project for another course, while they were forced to use both of their ?free? homework scores to attend their grandmother?s funeral, or suffer through an unplanned hospital stay?

With large numbers of students in introductory courses, I accommodate large numbers of emergencies each semester, many of which I learn about through the dean or health service and believe are legitimate. To avoid having to judge the validity of each emergency myself, and to keep the time spent dealing with late homework to a minimum, I ask each student to keep her own List of Grievances and Special Requests. Students make a ?special request? when they ask that their late homework be counted for credit. They make a ?grievance? when they complain that their homework was not graded properly (since the paper graders are themselves students, the grievances are often legitimate as well).

When a student approaches me with a late homework assignment and an excuse for missing the deadline, I ask her to grade the assignment herself during my office hours using the scoring rubric and the solutions manual, and record the points she should have received as a ?special request? on her List. (I do other work while she determines whether or not she has the right integrand, the dx and the +C, and so on.) When a student complains that her solution to a particular homework exercise is equivalent to the one in the solutions manual, but the paper grader didn?t give her credit for it, I ask the student to record the number of points she should have earned as a ?grievance? on her List.

At the end of the semester I ask each student to determine whether or not the points accumulated on her List of Grievances and Special Requests are enough to result in a higher letter grade (this information is available via the course website). I then collect the List from those students who feel they need the extra points.

Since I teach at an institution where students care deeply about earning top grades, the List policy saves me a lot of time hearing excuses and complaints (whether significant or petty), and managing the adjustments they require. Students share the inconvenience created by their grievances and special requests, and feel that their concerns are taken seriously and acted upon. Having students grade their own work also provides the side benefit of making them more tolerant of mistakes made by the paper graders since they experience the difficulty of evaluating their own work by means of the grading rubric and the solutions manual.

Time Spent: 1 hour at the end of the semester updating the grade book.

Time Saved: 1 hour per week of grading, recording, and emailing/meeting with students to evaluate excuses and complaints.

Amy N. Myers is the Program Coordinator for the Mathematics Department at Bryn Mawr College.