Friday, May 04, 2007

This Is Your Brain After Grading

Has anyone ever done a study of the effect of grading on brain function? That is, has anyone does a study in which someone has their head wired to various devices while they grade, and then the images of brain function from the start of grading to the end of grading are compared to see what brain sectors are damaged? Is the damage temporary or permanent? Does the degree of damage correlate with how the students did on the exam or homework assignment? Is it safe to operate a motor vehicle after grading?

The effects of grading somehow feel different than other repetitive activities. Some of my research activities involve fairly tedious and repetitive tasks, but that type of thing doesn't feel as brain damaging as grading. I think brain scans would show different results for grading vs. other tedious activities, but perhaps I am not thinking clearly after grading tonight.

43 comments:

Mafer said...

You see, I read about your post, not all, but some of it. Well, you are really a science professor? That's great. I wish to be a scientist but here, scientist is not a good thing to do, I hope i get the chance though. Anyway, i welcome you to visit my blog too!

Fernando said...

I have always thought grading to be much more demanding, physically and emotionally, than, say, arguing with a drunk camel driver. Shouldn't they make medicines to offset the effects of grading on the mind?

Threat Assessment & Response Canada said...

This post made me smile.

I'm really enjoying your blog. I'm a woman working in a male dominated field (and a "macho" one at that), so it's nice to learn of the experiences of other women.

Keep blogging, FSP!

Laurie

The Bananafish said...

I hate grading. It is the worst part of my job.

-. said...

If you're grading undergraduate papers, I apologise on behalf of my colleagues - we didn't mean it. Most of us didn't, at least.

Anonymous said...

I was just thinking the same sort of thing over here. The poor organization and logic almost seems ok after awhile....

Greg_Cruey said...

I don't think the damage is permanent, but it is temporarily painful. I've personally determined that drive after grading can be hazardous and that it is unwise to use sharp instruments (like kitchen knives) within the first hal hour after grading.

I think is a direct corelation between brain pain and the extent to which the assignments being graded involve constructive responses. Grade simply multiple choice questions doesn't really leave me incapacitated. Grading writing assignments that innvolve some rubric, on the other hand, can eventually reduce me a brain-cramped condition.

There also seems to be a corelation between brain pain after grading and how far up Bloom's Taxonomy the assignment takes the student (and me with them).

Those are My thoughts on the matter...

Anonymous said...

"If you're grading undergraduate papers, I apologise on behalf of my colleagues - we didn't mean it."

Is that why you put several answers down that all turned out to be wrong? Yeah, you didn't know what you "meant" all right. And do us all a favor and write your names and student numbers legibly too. There is nothing worse than looking for someone named "Ughter" for two minutes, only to figure out that it's someone named "Lighter" who can't separate letters.

The Rock Doctor said...

I agree with fernando. Grading is emotionally draining. If there is any permanent damage, it is to your faith in our educational system at the secondary level. I hate grading essay questions most of all. It is depressing to see how many people cannot communicate. The poor grammar and the lack of critical thinking skills are appalling.

The Bananafish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Renegade said...

Sounds like fun! Cheer up, summer is almost here!

Check out Renegade's BS

The Bananafish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

My solution: front-end load.
I just gave a final that took me three or four days to make (and I even recycled two out of the five questions from last year), but it took me 15 min per exam to grade.
I give them sentence limits. I tell them if I ask for two examples and they give me seven, I will only read the first two-and now when I ask for two I get two. And I've finally learned to structure the questions so that it's clear in the first few words whether they are going to be right, sort of right or completely off.
And making up the exams is the fun part. I always learn stuff when I make up an exam.

Nerdy_Girl said...

I'll think of this the next time I'm handing something up for grading!!!

Chris Kourou said...

I think that grading can leave you with two kind of flavours...
The bitter one of brain pain that all of you had mentioned earlier but there is always "the bright side of life"...
You can also get the sweet taste of satisfaction when you feel that you have influenced in a good way some of the students and really transferred to them part of your knowledge. (Even if these students are actually .... just one).
Personally I try to keep this sweet taste in mind in order to be able..... to drive after grading and grade again!

dropout said...

I had a job grading papers once. I graded papers 8 hours a day for 4 MONTHS! I'm not sure my brain has ever really fully recovered. I still dream (read: have nightmares) about the experience.

Vamsi said...

One awesome blog which i will continue to read regularly, Btw im an Instrumentation and Control Engineer :)

AMP said...

Well, ms. female science professor, I have an idea for you: a television series! I think people would enjoy your quirky exploits. It would be kind of like Curb Your Enthusiasm, but with a more sympathetic character. You could just work from the daily journal entries, and hire writers to take it from there.

Like the dental hygienist, with a voice over of what you are REALLY thinking.

And another time, A visual of the wires and tests of your brain while grading...
and then the cat wrestling incident...etc.
And then meanwhile, the trials of a hectic life, and the "she's a dragonlady" sort of encounters...

Well, i guess i'll just enjoy your blog for now. I wish they had some sort of "favorites" option in the website, instead of having to bookmark it...i'm new here..it seems cumbersome...does anyone know a better way?

Hugh said...

This is quite a good blog. I give it an A minus. Now I think I'll go rest my brain for a while.

Female Science Professor said...

Hugh, how close was I to an A? I try really hard and I studied for that last post for days, not even sleeping, and I'm really an A student, not an A- student, and an A will help my GPA so I can get into business school, so could you please just randomly raise my grade because it is so important to me? Thanks.

Hugh said...

I agree with you, FSP. You are really smart. I will make you a deal. If you will read the rest of this post and tell me what you think, I will raise your grade to an A. If you want an A plus, you will also have to dust the erasers for the next month.
I think some of the mental damage from grading may be because of anxiety. Grading is a major way you find out if your students learned anything. So as you grade you are finding out how you did as a teacher. There is a big difference between teaching and just presenting the material. If they're not learning, you're not teaching. I'm writing, but if you don't understand, I'm not communicating. So as you grade their papers, you are grading yourself. The great lecture you gave yesterday is no guarantee that today they will understand anything. You get some feedback in class, but the judgment really comes in on the exam, after it's too late to go back and fix it. I can see why grading is hard on you. You have my sympathy.

-. said...

"Is that why you put several answers down that all turned out to be wrong? Yeah, you didn't know what you "meant" all right. And do us all a favor and write your names and student numbers legibly too. There is nothing worse than looking for someone named "Ughter" for two minutes, only to figure out that it's someone named "Lighter" who can't separate letters."

You've highlighted excellent examples of people whom I do not apologise for. Do you get a lot of scripts with multiple incorrect answers, though? I'm curious as to how undergraduates from different cultures handle questions they can't answer.

Dean: said...

Ma'am,
I have really enjoyed your blog as of late. I am new to blogspot and came across your site merely by accident as it was listed in 'blogs of note'. It has afforded me a small glimpse into what I've always considered to be a closemouthed and reticent career field. It has further caused me to shutter at the tribulations that I undoubtedly caused on my undergraduate instructors. So on behalf of all previous college students everywhere, we acquiesce and offer our apologies. Thanks for a really fun site! Feel free to visit my new blogspot site as well.

Millie said...

AMEN SISTER!! I teach middle school. Most kids have a hard time believing I'm a *real* teacher. :)

GenXsourcer said...

Hey its gr8....keep it up....

lost clown said...

I hate grading and I only have to grade one lab a week. I think I'm definitely dumber for a few hours after grading.

Hilary said...

I always found that I would get very angry during marking (especially lab reports). I would swear a lot, throw things, act infantile, all in retaliation to the arrangements of words on a page. I didn't get angry at the individuals who had written the words, luckily for all concerned. While I could overlook the same errors in tests and exams, putting them down to time constraints, lab reports were my utter undoing. Once I got up from my desk the angst disappeared. I did notice however, as you mentioned, that if I sat at the desk long enough, that certain mistakes that were unforgivable in the first instance became acceptable by the end of the line. I usually marked things twice, once with the deadly read-through and once with objectivity. This approach isn't for everyone, and most of us don't have time for it, but it worked for me.

rogueprofessor said...

Ma'am,

I know what you're saying here.
I retired as a Professor just a few months ago.
Over the years taught both Quantum Physics and later, Entrepreneurial Science and helped create a business research corporation.
People don't really know what work "our kind" really performs and the efects on us at times.
Am excited to have visited your blog. Will visit often.

Regards,
Michael B. Dycus, Ph.D

Mr. B. said...

Hmm...

I probably should not admit this.

Many years ago, in the seventies, I used to put my organic chemistry exams in "n" piles where n will go undefined for obvious reasons.

Then I would grade the first pile and have a beer. Repeat this procedure until the exams were graded.

It is important to randomize over the course of the term. Usually grades improved slightly as the session proceeded. (I do not give multiple choice type exams.)

A fond memory.

Mr. Bonzo

Mr. B. said...
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Fitz said...

One of my least favorite answers to grade is "here is every possible fact about the general topic of your question. I am sure the answer is in there somewhere - you find it." I take a lot of points off for that. I laughed at the requests for regrades too. Ever since I started asking for regrade requests in writing, with a written explanation of why their answer should have sufficed, my regrade requests have been nil. I honestly don't think that the written request is too much to ask. Maybe, just maybe, the students have been preparing these written requests and then been able to tell how genuinely off the mark their answer was?

I LOVE your blog and check it religiously. I hear about advances for women in faculty positions, but none of this seems to be happening at your school. Stick with it and keep the reports from the field coming!!

grandma teacher said...

I was enticed by your heading that you work in such a male dominated field. My daughter is a PhD in chemistry and working for a pharmaceutical company which is male dominated. When she tells me what her boss says about why she is passed over for promotion - well, you know you were gone for awhile, so you have some catching up to do - I cringe. My daughter had a baby 1 1/2 years ago and yes, she stayed home for 6 weeks! So how do women scientists get noticed, especially if they have families?

ZahirEbrahim said...

Dear FSP

Here is another perspective on grading which might help reduce the head traumas!

For ten years I watched my kids practice Martial Arts, and more importantly watched various 'Sensei's and 'Masters' and basically 'FSP' equivalent teachers teach - very very patiently, the same things over and over again - but at different and increasing expectation levels for the same things.

Few years ago when all of them were up for their first degree black belt test, the teachers started teaching them how to teach - as now the new black belts to be were required to teach the 'lower belt levels'.

And as a parent, I watched, and more importantly, learned, the 'Masters' explain their teaching craft. Since then I also employ it when appropriate. Makes the headaches far less.

So what was that piece of wisdom that they were attempting to impart to the new generation of black-belt 'teachers'?

Let me try to quote from memory as close to the words as I can recall:

"Always teach in its most correct form - but don't expect them to learn it in that correct form right away - Mastery takes a lifetime of work, and each will learn according to their own mental/skill levels at any given time, so what you should look for is whether or not they are making their best attempt - not whether they have reached that perfection level."

So subsequently I went up to the teacher, who actually was a 5th Degree wonderful lady instructor, maybe in her mid 40s - and her remarkable quality was that she was very very friendly with all her students, and very popular with the parents as well. She couldn't herself anymore physically do all the complex stuff that she once used to be able to do in her youth and early 20s and which was documented in the videos that were available there, but her mastery of her craft, and her personable style created enormous respect for her. The head instructor was, and still is, repeatedly written up as one of the greatest martial artists of the 20th century - and this lady in question learned all she knew from him, including the teaching style. So I was most puzzled at what she had said because this school had created legendary martial artists and performers only with the teaching philosophy quoted above.

And so I asked her how could one apply that philosophy to med school or law school or to any teacher who is required to impart a certain core-level curriculum and guage mastery in it before passing the student on to the next level - just by guaging whether they were doing their best when a core competency is required.

So she asked: "do you think a core competency is required in getting this black belt that your kids are not getting - do you think they have learnt the first degree curriculum as is shown in the video to the level of mastery that is expected, as also shown in the video?"

I said of course.

So she asked if others in my kids' class had done the same?

And there were several levels of competencies in the pre-black belt class, some really awesome, and much higher performing than my kids, and many the same or less performing (I'd say, roughly and equivalently to academic speaking, the numeric grade, on an absolute scale, the distribution could have been 70+ to 90+). All of them looked good and all seemed to have the basics level of expected competency for the black belt level. In fact, the way it was set up, you could only get to that level, if you met the requirement of that level.

But how did that happen? How did it happen that just by expecting to do their best at every level in the belts, and always teaching the 'most correct forms', but not expecting them to perform at the most perfect level at any level, they were training them to meet the minimum competency requirements? They had passed tons of lower belt level tests to get here.

And grading at that level seemed a lot of fun to me watching the instructors. In fact, grading at all lower belt levels had also seemed a lot of fun to me, watching as a parent from the side. None of the instructors or the students seemed stressed, and neither did the parents seem to complain.

I'll leave this here for some reflection by yourself and your readers, and come back to it later.

Regards
Zahir.

Lynn said...

LOL - I am a science teacher for 5th grade and I am amazed at what some kids will write down for answers. Grading has got to be the most tedious part of the job. I think you are on to something...

AvariceAngel said...

You're very interesting, I enjoy your blog very much =) Love the way you write about things, its so educated hehe!

lost clown said...

hilary-
I notice that I get more lax as the labs go on. Sometimes I end up just skimming to see if they got the general idea. Labs are evil to grade.

Ms.PhD said...

I agree that it is possible, though difficult, to write exams in such a way that they are easy to grade. It is a worthy goal.

I also think it is worthwhile, if an unwritten part of your job, to TEACH grammar, to TEACH logic, and to TEACH handwriting if necessary. Don't spend a lot of time, maybe five minutes here and there on common mistakes. One of my favorites is the difference between "which" and "that." Everyone can learn it. Most people don't teach it.

Tell them you'll deduct points for anything you can't read or otherwise understand.

I was lucky enough to have had a couple of professors along the way who maintained high expectations and enforced them. It takes a special kind of person, but you can see how it should pay off in terms of your own sanity in the long run, not to mention improving the general state of scientific writing. Teaching well is a noble profession... which is a fancy word for underappreciated.

Ortho said...

When I grade, I experience a range of emotions: happy, excitied, angry, disappointed, annoyed, intrigued, upset.

When I wish grading, I'm always tired and feel a tad dumber.

Ann said...

The only things worse than grading are writing the test and deciding the final grade breakdown. It's splitting hairs some days!

Deborah said...

I was about to say that I'm glad to know I'm not the only one -- but then again, is that really good news? I'm a grad student teaching two freshman level classes and starting to ask myself if I really want to do this. And, yeah, students in communication classes also think they should get an A because they tried really hard and are an A student and got an A in English, so they should get an A in communication class too!

Chris said...

I wind up triple-checking correspondance course answers each time my student(s) email them to me. I'd probably sextuple-check them if I had the chance to do the courses using postal mail.

The pain of grading turned to the pain of database design and implementation. A database for multiple-choice lessons became my refuge. I can even import answers automatically and have the computer process the results.

Call me obsessed if you like. Perhaps it might ease your work load.

But, then again, I wonder whether I should have electrodes attached to my head to measure the brain damage I undergo when I fire up Microsoft Office and begin working in a database.

Christina Hauck said...

Ha ha. I'm an English prof at a midwestern land grant institution. Virtually ALL of our assessment is via essays. Grading them is brutal. I've learned that when I start a) getting angry or b) excusing huge mistakes in grammar or citation, it's time to take a break.

Hugh said...

You in business school? I don't believe it. But some people pick a major for the darndest reasons.

There once was a student who was having trouble deciding what to study.

He looked at history but couldn't see any future in it.

He thought about math, but it just didn't add up.

And philosophy? Why??

Psychology? Are you crazy?

And sociology, what would everyone think?

As for business, he saw no profit in it.

And in art, he really had nothing to draw on.

He had no foundation in architecture.

He cosidered physics, but the chemistry just wasn't there.

And biology seemed so lifeless.

Languages all seemed so foreign to him.

And English? What can you say?

So he signed up for theology, just for the hell of it.