How-to: Using Rubrics to Grade Content Knowledge
How-to: Making Them Read

How-to: Using Collective Marks

By Stacy Palen

In the last two posts, I explained what a rubric is and why they are useful. In the prior blog post, I explained how I use the first part of the rubric to guide me as I assess content knowledge in each question. In this post, I will explain how I use “collective marks” that apply to the whole assignment.

I first heard of collective marks in the sport of dressage. In this sport, the horse and rider complete a test consisting of 25-40 movements, which are each scored individually against a rigid standard of perfection. At the end of the test, the horse/rider pair are scored on four different and more subjective standards, such as “effectiveness of the rider” and “harmony.”

These collective marks might be loosely summarized as “sure, it was technically perfect, but did they make it look easy?”

I use collective marks for all the things that I care about that are not technically astronomy, such as spelling and grammar. But I also include here other features of the assignment that may appear in question after question, like units or neatness or labels on graphs.

It is tedious and time-consuming to keep writing “units” or “complete sentences” after every question. Grading these items collectively allows me to focus on the content in my first pass through the assignment. Then, I leaf through the pages again to recall my general impression of the “beauty” of their performance. I scale the collective marks to be worth about 10% of the student’s grade on the assignment.

For example, if the assignments are all worth 100 points:

For each assignment, 10 of the points will come from the “collective marks,” determined by the neatness, clarity, and other aspects of the work that are taken as a whole.

10: Excellent: You remembered to use units on every measurement or calculation. The assignment is neat and easy to read, with correct spelling and grammar and complete sentences! All mathematical steps are included, and all the graphs and tables have labels, with units! You are a rock star!

9: Very good: There are one or two minor flaws of spelling or grammar. However, all of the numbers have units.

8: Good: There are three or four minor flaws. I could find all of your work, but it was disorganized and a bit sloppy.

7: Fairly good: There is a major flaw (forgetting units or a label) or a combination of 5 or 6 minor flaws.

6: Satisfactory: There is a major flaw and several minor flaws.

5: Marginal: There are two major flaws and several minor flaws; I could barely read your writing.

4: Insufficient: There are several major flaws; I could not read your writing on many of the answers or had to hunt through your papers for the answers.

3: Fairly Bad: I could not find some of the answers, and the work is very sloppy. There are major and minor flaws. Please visit the writing center for a reminder on spelling, grammar, and sentence construction.

2: Bad: I couldn’t read your writing, and the spelling and grammar were poor. The work is sloppy, but it appears that you attempted every question in the assignment.

1: Very bad: You have made no effort to show respect for your own work, or for the time your professor will require to grade it.

0: Not performed

Giving collective marks takes very little time, once I’ve graded the content.

Depending on how many students I have (and how far behind I am in my grading!), I may circle the flaws (such as spelling errors) on their assignment. But I don’t stress about making sure to catch every flaw or giving a correction. I just make a circle and move on.

Before I started using collective marks, I felt conflicted about grading for things like spelling. It seemed wrong to just ignore bad spelling or messy papers, but at the same time, I didn’t feel I had adequate time to correct every student’s grammar.

Collective marks let me do that in a way that lets students know I care, and I notice, but then puts the student back in the position of learning how they should have spelled “gallactic.”

I also find that collective marks reward the students who take the time to carefully write out their assignments, check their spelling, or make careful drawings. I have been known, on rare occasions, to give 11/10 for collective marks, because a student shows such diligent care.

Using collective marks saves me time, makes my grading more consistent, and rewards students who are careful and thoughtful in their work.

Give them a try and let me know how it goes!


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