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the five stages of grading

Everyone is familiar with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her stage model of coping with grief popularly known as the five stages of grief. What you may not know is that Kübler-Ross actually developed her theory as a graduate student, basing her conception of the process of loss on the experiences one goes through over a grading weekend.

In coping with grading, it’s important for graduate students and young professors to know that they are not alone and that this process takes time.  Not everyone goes through every stage or processes the reality of grading in this order, but everyone experiences some version of at least two of these steps.

Denial.  At this stage, the instructor is unwilling to acknowledge the size of the task ahead of him or her. An instructor in denial may be heard to say things like, “It’s not really that many essays, when you think about it.” An instructor in denial will grossly overestimate his or her potential assignment-per-hour output. Denial at the syllabus-creation stage of course development can lead to tears. Denial can also manifest itself as avoidance, where grading is put aside in favour of vastly more important activities like cleaning the fridge, baking, working out, or writing elaborate blog posts about the stages of grading.

Anger.  Usually anger begins once the instructor starts grading.  The first few papers are likely to excite the grader, but as a steady stream of errors trickles in, the instructor may become disillusioned. Commonly heard at this stage: “But we covered this in class!  A lot!” “Wait, what does this even mean?” “Redundant!  This is redundant!” Instructors at this stage of the process are likely to have unnecessarily large reactions to relatively small frustrations; for example, in one case an instructor screamed into a pillow upon discovering that every student in the class was still using “they” as a singular pronoun.

Bargaining. This stage usually begins as an earnest attempt to buckle down and grade.  The instructor might say, “If I grade five papers, I can watch one episode of House,” or, “For every page I grade, I get to eat a piece of candy.”  This process starts well, but as the instructor progresses the amount of work required to achieve the reward generally becomes smaller and smaller, until the instructor is checking Facebook after every sentence he or she grades.

Depression. At some point in a marking weekend, the instructor will come to realize that in spite of his or her best intentions, the papers won’t be marked in time for the next class. For the idealistic young instructor, this is also usually the moment he or she realizes that the assignments themselves are not particularly strong.  These realizations can lead to feelings of failure, spiralling into reality TV watchathons or video game blitzes instead of grading.  Ultimately, though, recognizing one’s limitations is a healthy part of the process that leads directly to the final stage.

Acceptance/Resignation. At some point, the instructor comes to term with the reality that the papers must be graded. This reality is usually acknowledged the afternoon before the instructor wishes to return the papers, leading to an all-night grading blitz. At some point and by some miracle, however, it all gets done, and the instructor is primed and ready to start to the process over again when the next major assignment comes in.

This blog post brought to you from somewhere under a pile of essays.


202 Responses to “the five stages of grading”

  1. HEE! This is exactly dead on, especially the small rewards for each little bit of grading and the inevitable all night grading binge.

    Posted by Kim | October 9, 2010, 11:00 pm
    • I’m using this artcle at the present moment – (stage 1 denial)! The overstuffed purple folder sits next to me on the couch, filled to the brim with 6th and 7th grade science assignments that are so illegible, they appear to have been produced by some variation on the stair method or perhaps by clenching the pencil between their posterior cheeks while they slide around on the paper like a dog on the living room rug. The depression stage looms on the horizon, when I realize that despite explaining lunar phases in a multitude of ways and having them model it in 2 different ways (you know – “discovery” learning), a full 45% of them still don’t get it. The “discovery” is mine – their lights are on, but nobody’s home.

      Posted by imax | October 20, 2010, 6:06 pm
    • I am in stage five, RIGHT NOW!!! This was a great read… thanks for the post!

      Posted by Khristi Edmonds | October 20, 2010, 8:17 pm
    • I just returned to teaching after my student teacher ended her placement with me. She had the job of grading all the science labs and homeworks. Now that I am back to lesson planning and test making and grading, I have decided that LESS IS MORE!! After 30 years, I learned that the students in my 8th grade sciecne class should be working HARDED than I do for their grade. If they get a 100% I reward them…because it is a LOT less grading I have to do! Good for all.

      Posted by donna | October 27, 2010, 6:23 pm
    • I’m grateful that I’m not alone, but a little embarrassed to have my grading psychosis revealed!

      Posted by Julia VE | November 5, 2010, 9:31 am
    • Why oh why do I assign research papers every year? It is some form of masochism.

      Posted by Merry McCreery | December 3, 2010, 9:41 pm
      • I collected 53 senior research papers yesterday…I make the kids do the math 15-30 minutes per paper, there is no way they do that much homework!

        Posted by christen | December 14, 2010, 5:41 pm
        • I always love how they ask the next day if I have graded the research papers yet — yeah, right — all night, straight through, no personal life…

          Posted by bc | March 23, 2011, 4:04 pm
          • I trained my AP English students. Every time they ask if the papers are done, I hold them another day. It’s amazing how quickly they learned to get off my case.

            Posted by Kelly | December 2, 2011, 2:37 pm
        • As a high school English teacher I tell my students to multiply however long it took them to complete the assignment by 120 and that’s when they should expect it back. It doesn’t usually take me that long to grade it, but at least they aren’t constantly asking if I’ve graded them yet.

          Posted by Candice | August 9, 2011, 2:49 pm
    • This is a great and honest list. In the past I found myself in the depression area the most. This effected the feedback that I provided to the students. I learned many years ago, the sooner I get the work done the better experience that the student and I will have. The student does not have to stress about when they will get their work back. The teacher does not have to stay up until midnight the day the assignment needs to be returned rushing through papers.

      Posted by Brian Robison | February 25, 2011, 2:07 pm
  2. Or one just throws the whole mess down a flight of stairs and assigns grades according to the step on which each paper lands…

    Posted by Rusty Shackleford | October 13, 2010, 9:01 am
    • lmfao

      Posted by asin | October 14, 2010, 12:33 pm
      • Does the highest grade get assigned to the paper on the lowest step or highest step? The lowest step would mean more work was done (the heavier paper will slide down more stairs), so should that be the ‘A’? Or ‘F’, because you had to walk farther to retrieve it?

        Posted by Ready... Aim... | October 14, 2010, 3:49 pm
        • The ones at the bottom receive a higher score, because they are longer and thusly weigh more.

          Posted by mamaxt | October 16, 2010, 8:08 am
          • I should elabourate on the Staircase Method. Regarding the scoring, the relative values assigned to each stair is arguable. There are a number of concerns. There is the Roulette Value Assignment Technique (RVAT). By RVAT the values of each stair are assigned values essentially at random much like a roulette wheel. Use of the RVAT sidesteps consideration os which end of the staircase should have be the higher grade – deciding of which necessitates coming to terms with ‘amount of work’ versus ‘quality of content’ and is bullshit heavier or lighter that real content dichotomies. A greater amount of work doesn’t necessarily equate to a heavier paper – serious work may result in a smaller but more succinct paper. Whether BS is heavier than quality will require experimentation. Further it is unclear whether a heavier paper automatically goes to the bottom. Perhaps a heavier paper tends to stop where it first lands or perhaps it tends to slide. This will require quantification of the ‘slip factor’ of the stair surface, for example whether the stairs are carpeted or not. Again experimentation is required and operational definitions are non-obvious. Was a fan used to help generate movement in the thrown stack? Should a fan be used? Should the stack of papers be thrown from the top or bottom of the staircase? Should the target of the throw be the top, middle or bottom of the staircase?

            However it is important to recognise that though the Staircase Method can potentially shorten the process it does not avoid the five stages of grading. There may be Guilt associated with using an unconventional grading system. Bargaining is involved in coming to terms with the parameters of the throw. Anger, Depression and Resignation are also involved but I will leave that discussion to the imagination of the reader.

            It is also important to note that in the Stages of Grading, as it is with the Stages of Grief, although the stages are traditionally numbered they do not necessarily appear in any particular order, or even singly for that matter. Stages manifest themselves sometimes singly, but IMHE can appear in groups. Sometimes they will jump on one all at once.


            Posted by Rusty Shackleford | October 17, 2010, 9:25 am
        • Nice !

          Posted by Laura | October 23, 2010, 3:30 pm
    • This literally made me laugh out loud. Too bad I don’t have stairs.

      Posted by JustCallMeMiss | October 15, 2010, 5:46 pm
    • Ten years ago, my husband suggested this was how I should be grading all along, either that or the eenie, meanie, miney, mo method by throwing them in random piles on the floor!

      Posted by Judith Van | October 15, 2010, 9:32 pm
      • Take the whole stack and toss them up into the air. the ones that land closest get the highest grade, the next closest earn the next highest. . . I suppose you should prearrange concentric circles on the floor so that the criteria are set and grading is fair. XD

        We used to have a prof we swore did this (and there were a few occasions with looming deadlines when I wanted to give it a try.)

        Posted by DRWU | October 16, 2010, 9:56 am
    • OMG Hilarious!!!

      Posted by Luci | October 16, 2010, 7:28 am
    • Priceless!
      For those with vertigo, the concentric circles method below is an alternative.

      Posted by DRWU | October 16, 2010, 9:58 am
    • The stairs method was first taught to me by my Biology teacher when I was in 10th grade. He said that was the way he graded all of our experiments. I never believed it until I turned in one where I wrote each part on a separate piece of paper and included a title page, table of contents, and index that totally unnecessary. It was only the only A+ I ever received.

      I retired in June, but never felt retired until last week, the first time that grades were due since retirement. I do not miss the strees of those five stages. Best wishes, power, and peace to those of you who press on.

      Posted by George | October 18, 2010, 10:37 pm
      • Since I am retiring this year, I have been wondering when one really feels retired — I think you have something with the end of the first grading period — won’t miss this a bit!

        Posted by bc | March 23, 2011, 4:10 pm
    • this is the one for me

      Posted by Em | October 23, 2010, 4:26 am
    • All my students submit their papers online, and I comment on them and on a grading rubric. So, I sort them by title and then either ascending or descending assign grades highest to lowest as I get to them between surfing and other entertainment.

      Posted by Bruce Krupnick | October 24, 2010, 3:05 pm
    • Love it!!!!
      I can’t stop crying laughing!!!

      Posted by Shelly | October 26, 2010, 6:03 am
      • I could not stop cry laughing…my husband, a retired roleplayer has often suggested rolling 2 10 sided dice and giving the grade based on the roll. and to be fair include modifiers

        Posted by nancy | January 30, 2011, 11:50 am
    • from etowah high school?

      Posted by Lauren Rausch | November 14, 2010, 5:09 pm
    • I like this method… I’m thinking of assigning grades in terms of how I feel about the students. It turns out pretty accurate in the end.

      Posted by ellen | December 14, 2010, 5:48 pm
    • LOL!!! and i love your extended description of the staircase method. i will keep this in mind for when i TA.

      Posted by Amanda | December 14, 2011, 4:28 pm
  3. I’m pretty much ALWAYS in denial.

    Actually, I have only two stages of grading: “deadline is far away” (denial) and “OMG, DEADLINE IS NOW!!!” (compromised standards with a shot of adrenaline).

    Thanks for this post!

    Posted by Kevin Maness | October 14, 2010, 12:26 pm
    • Toooo good. Yep, these are my two stages as well. Unfortunately I am far too honest and picky (don’t want to reward slackers) to do any staircase method, so my second stage (the OMG stage) means I get no sleep for about 36 hours. (Big classes.)

      Posted by Lou | October 22, 2010, 10:12 pm
    • Me too! I have been in denial for weeks; now grades are due on Tuesday — YIKES!

      Posted by Tara Zolenski | November 5, 2010, 3:30 am
  4. Har! Wonderful!

    Posted by K. A. Laity | October 14, 2010, 2:16 pm
  5. HILARIOUS!(in spite of its tragic truth)

    Posted by Darla Smallwood | October 14, 2010, 2:32 pm
  6. This article is fantastic! I’ll be going through four of these stages next week (test time).

    Posted by Nosferatu | October 14, 2010, 4:21 pm
  7. Great post!

    About two nights ago, I was actually watching “House” and grading essays. With the DVR, my form of bargaining/reward is that I have to pause at the commercials and grade 3 essays.

    It works pretty well until 3 essays turn into 2 … or I start telling myself I can grade on every other commercial break.

    Posted by M Lubbers | October 15, 2010, 5:31 am
  8. Awesome, I read this after checking facebook with a stack of papers next to me. Still in denial.

    Posted by Donna | October 15, 2010, 7:27 am
  9. I love, love, love this post. Thank you! (and get out of my head)

    Posted by Nicoleandmaggie | October 15, 2010, 9:18 am
  10. TRUTH!

    Posted by san | October 15, 2010, 9:45 am
  11. To me, the dread of grading papers can be close to that of soldiers living at a battle front and this feeling can be heightened by Kubler-Ross’s framework. Good to make light of it. It is not written in stone, parchment or papyrus.

    One instructor said she tells students their grade depends on whether the paper gives her pleasure or pain. It seems to me valuable to insist within this tragic struggle of writing a paper, that the work is the students’ responsibility foremost and
    throughout, and to give some solid behavioral guidelines and resources, stating the need for much self imposed discipline within the agonies, tempered with a humble humor ideally, and baring that, almost any kind will do until strength and stamina reappear when bogged down. To advocate humor without reference to its givens is a great mistake, yet the need for humor is unmistakable, even though it is often seen as subverting authority–and it definitely can distract from needed work focus, though it helps with the continuous body healing processes, but then too does some hard work.

    Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, whose 5 step approach seems not to have much redeeming humility-humor, built a retreat near my home area in Virginia. There were unfortunately few considerations of her assumptions at the time of my living there.

    Don Marotta

    Posted by don marotta | October 15, 2010, 10:56 am
  12. oh noes! I’ve been caught! -avoiding homework with a computer time ‘award’…after one page of notes-

    Posted by Alder | October 15, 2010, 12:24 pm
  13. you totally made my day. thank you for the validation and the laughter and the smile….

    Posted by cindy Holmes | October 15, 2010, 1:39 pm
  14. Writing this article was a brilliant use of time, Dr. B — and far, far more valuable than time spent grading. Sadly, I must now return to MY grading…sigh…

    Posted by Dr. G | October 15, 2010, 2:06 pm
  15. Not only do I love every part of this post, I’m currently in the Anger stage regarding the stack of papers on my desk.

    Love your blog, by the way. I’m totally in.

    P.S. I know it’s not cool etiquette to tout one’s own blog when commenting on someone else’s, but last Spring, I wrote about how the Kubler-Ross stages also apply to the process students go through when they’ve been caught plagiarizing (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, etc.). You might dig it:


    Posted by Didactic Pirate | October 15, 2010, 3:07 pm
  16. One stage that may have been left out, but one that I think could be lumped under “bargaining”, is the one where one simply decides to stop actually reading, and start skimming, assigning the grade quickly and based on first impressions and not allowing oneself to read each composition/essay/paper for more than three minutes. I find I assign a lot of A’s this way, dues to pure exhaustion.

    Posted by Julie | October 15, 2010, 5:58 pm
  17. It sounds a lot to me like the five stages of writing a paper. I’m pretty sure I went through all of those (a number of times) before each paper I wrote in college.

    Posted by Heather | October 15, 2010, 7:05 pm
  18. Perfect! I linked to it on FB, and old grad school buds now in their own grading hell immediately shared!

    Hit the right note, Dr B!

    Sincerely, a new reader, Prof B

    Posted by Prosehack65 | October 15, 2010, 7:48 pm
  19. Oh. My. God! hahahahahahaha!

    Posted by Alana | October 15, 2010, 10:28 pm
  20. Have you read P.F. Kluge’s *Alma Mater*? There’s a wonderful passage or two in the book that is reminiscent of what you say here. The book is worth a look.

    Posted by Anon | October 15, 2010, 10:56 pm
    • I have not, but I shall add it to my downtime list. Now I just need to purchase a jug of downtime somewhere…

      Posted by dr. b | October 16, 2010, 7:36 am
      • brew or vent your own. You will always have a ready supply…..

        Posted by steve | October 19, 2010, 12:23 pm
      • Here is the passage from Kluge. Enjoy!

        Marking papers is, without a doubt, the hardest thing we do. How compromised and imprisoned you feel when you see that stack of undergraduate papers on your desk, like a dozen unfiled income tax returns! They turn your life into one long April 15. Dozens, hundreds of pages, and I’m just teaching one little seminar; imagine what it’s like for someone with a full three-course load, 45 students in one class, 30 in another, a dozen more in a seminar, 87 students generating, let’s say, 25 pages per semester, that’s 3,480 pages per semester, 6,960 per year, excluding final exams and honors essays. It gets worse, because unless you’re very good or very bad, you’re going to have to go through them again, red marking pen in hand, filling the margins with enough ink for the students to know they’re getting their money’s worth, topping things off with a closing note that nicely balances encouragement and reproof.

        Say goodbye, then, to the idea of leisure reading. Your eyeballs belong to the college: that’s 6,960 pages per year, read twice: 13,920 pages. My Modern Library War and Peace, translated by Constance Garnett, runs 1,136 pages. But we’re not talking Leo Tolstoy, we’re not talking Constance Garnett. You can’t just curl up in that easy chair, pour a drink, and grade papers from eight till midnight. After three or four papers, terrible things happen to you, a wave of disabling reactions. Mistakes that were merely annoying in the first paper are maddening in the third. Judgments darken, comments get bitterly ad hominem. The first time you see conscience spelled with a “t” and ending in “ious” you merely circle it; before long, you’re forecasting death. And then you start dying a little yourself. Is it me, you wonder, is it something wrong with me? This thing about misspelings…is it my funny little hangup? What am I doing here? Reaching out and squeezing the pimples on someone else’s face? Hey, get wise, the spell-checker broke down. Okay?

        Eventually, you see some errors repeated so often you go back to the dictionary, checking harass, embarrass, weird, just to make sure you’re not going crazy, that they haven’t changed spellings lately. A Ph.D., literate, intellectual, you sit at your desk writing “awk” for “awkward,” you write it so often — awk, awk, awk — you feel like a bird shitting on a statue. You lean forward, late at night, mumbling grade school lessons, eternal truths like “i before e, except after c” and “there is a rat in separate.” This is what all your dreams have come to, and since you can’t whip through it, you divide hell into pieces, managable chunks. You try to accompany grading papers with useful labor — soaking beans or doing laundry. You interrupt yourself with small, pathetic rewards: one more paper and I’ll floss my teeth! One more paper and I’ll walk around the dormitory!

        It’s the hardest thing we do. It’s also the most important: a one-on-one transaction between teacher and student, writer and reader, performer and audience. There’s no ducking it: no student assistants to do the grunt work. There are moments when you miss the perquisites of stardom: walking out of a lecture hall while a gradute student collects undergraduate prose. But that’s not Kenyon: we owe them the hours we spend spreading ink around their papers. My only doubts are at the other end of the equation: whether the messages we send are received. Splattering comments on papers, you sense you are working harder on grading than they ever did on writing, that you are obliged to take seriously what they took casually.

        Watch a class, any class, when papers are returned. Watch how they approach the front of the room at the end of the period, grab their paper off the table, turn right to the last page, glance at the grade, then, like factory workers making sure that the right amount is on their weekly paycheck, no unexpected deductions, shove their things in their pockets and leave. Those painstaking comments are for later. Do they ever get to them? I wonder. Sometimes, near the end of the a semester, professors put out that last batch of corrected papers on a chair in front of their offices, so students can retrieve their final efforts. The pile goes down, granted, but it never goes away. There’s always a handful that stay there, on into summer, till someone throws them out. [92-94]

        Posted by anon | November 6, 2010, 1:48 pm
  21. Really, this fabulous, I am laughing my BLEEP off!~ The Five Stages can also be applied to writing evaluations for nursing staff. I am at resignation as I have 6 due on Monday.

    Posted by Luci | October 16, 2010, 7:32 am
  22. Ha! Lovely, but you missed the slide into alcohol that frequently accompanies grading…

    Posted by Derek | October 16, 2010, 1:31 pm
  23. Wonderful. It’s making the rounds of my grad school buds. Thing is, I never get to “resignation.” I thought that stage would be “resigns self to tell students one more time that papers will be returned by the NEXT class.” I guess I skip resigned and go straight back to “denial,” washing and repeating until …n’mind.

    Posted by a humphrey | October 16, 2010, 3:25 pm
  24. I very frequently find myself lamenting that low enrollment forced me to quit teaching, but reading this reminded me of all those arduous hours spent grading (or berating myself for procrastinating). Thank you, Dr. B, for refreshing my perspective!

    Posted by Marginalia | October 16, 2010, 3:40 pm
  25. hahaha!

    I thought I’d have their 1st papers done and returned before the pile of midterms showed up but not this time! Obviously a mistake during the syllabus development stage!

    Thanks for the laugh!

    Posted by gwendolyn alley aka art predator | October 16, 2010, 3:54 pm
  26. It’s like you are inside my head

    Posted by Lorin | October 16, 2010, 4:50 pm
  27. hehehe…I’m at stage 3 and 4 now…will reach stage 5 soon

    Posted by patungcendana | October 16, 2010, 5:43 pm
  28. Loved it!

    Funny that students are only making the mistakes they do as they too have been through the ’5 Stages of assignment writing’. Very similar to the above, however they also have to face the resulting feedback…

    Posted by Caitlin | October 17, 2010, 3:46 am
  29. I’m an English teacher in Minnesota and I love this. I’m currently soaking in that Egyptian river this moment.

    Below is an ode I wrote some years ago at an A.P. conference at Carleton College. I hope you like it.

    The Stack

    The due date dawns, the staples crunch
    And you pile ‘pon my desk.
    You stack of essays rising up
    Above the usual mess.

    You always seem much bigger there
    Than I had though you’d be.
    You’re like a growing tidal wave
    Fed by a fetid sea.

    At first I turn my back on you.
    More ‘portant tasks have I,
    For filing files and barring books
    Become my priority.

    A day goes by, or maybe three.
    You fester like a sore.
    To even put you in my bag
    Is like an odious chore.

    Day eight, the kids are badgering.
    Why do they want you back?
    Oh, what am I to do with you,
    You hideous, malevolent stack?

    Now just when desperation comes,
    I browse upon wise words
    About a boy bound round by books
    Who did it bird by bird.

    I now know how I had it wrong
    To see you as a whole,
    When you are but of bitty bits,
    And some are bits of gold.

    By Douglas Dart

    Posted by Douglas | October 17, 2010, 12:11 pm
  30. I am going to let my students read this, as an extra credit LOL

    Posted by praguewatermelon | October 17, 2010, 12:22 pm
  31. Could also be report card time for elementary and high school teachers. Thanks for the smiles!

    Posted by Jane | October 18, 2010, 5:48 am
  32. Makes perfect sense to me to apply Kubler-Ross to the many small deaths of grading. (And of course the little joys are in there too).

    One time (to avoid grading– of course) I created Grader 2.95 dream software: http://www.wku.edu/~sally.kuhlenschmidt/fantasygrader.htm

    Posted by Sally | October 18, 2010, 7:22 am
  33. This is so spot on! And a well needed uplift as I have spent my entire day wading through an impossible statistical analysis and was literally in tears before I took a Facebook break and found this link on a friend’s page. Wish I could use the staircase method to make statistics work (all the data that lands past the midway point is statistically significant)! I am also currently in the first stage of denial about two sets of homework assignments that need to graded by Thursday.

    Posted by Dr G | October 18, 2010, 7:53 pm
  34. All so true. But why– if we all hate grading so much–do we do it? I mean, it’s clearly pedagogically destructive, so whose interests does it serve?

    Posted by Lea | October 18, 2010, 8:11 pm
  35. I am a retired teacher and early on some of the veteran teachers said that once you know a student you could almost assign a grade based upon their class performance, prior work, etc. These were the days before scoring guides (rubrics). To my dismay, they were usually right. I always graded every paper, but often felt like it was a waste of time since I usually could predict the letter grade before I started.

    Posted by Marla Whiteman | October 19, 2010, 11:33 am
  36. As a former instructor of clinical neuropsychology, I believe that some of the neurological defects produced by marathon grading have been sadly neglected. “Bounce eyes” occurs when your eyes absolutely refuse to continue reading papers. Attempts to focus your eyes on a paper produce a bouncing effect where the gaze rebounds from the paper and focusses on other objects in the room. “Bubble brain” takes place after reading the same answer or small variations of it time after time. The grader’s brain feels as if it is effervescent, totally defeating any attempt to focus attention. “Weber’s Law run amuck” occurs when the grader repeatedly weighs the stack of papers yet to be graded in one hand against the already graded papers in the other hand, attempting to determine when the point is reached where more papers have been graded than not graded producing the illusion of hope.

    Posted by Gary Patton | October 19, 2010, 1:03 pm
  37. I’ve never had to grade essays, but I was a math TA in high school, and I graded a lot of math homework. Some days what I ended up doing was giving blanket 100s on all the busy work for just getting it done and in on time. (never did this for quizzes and such of course)

    Posted by Logan | October 19, 2010, 3:03 pm
  38. I am a fourth grade teacher and totally enjoyed reading the five stages of grading. I can relate to all of the stages!

    Posted by Sandy Schiffman | October 19, 2010, 6:12 pm
  39. Oh my goodness!!! I am at work and laughing about this article. “Idealistic Young Instructor”, i.e. me.I also cringe reading students using SMS shorthand in answers. Sigh!Thank you for this…

    Posted by Sinduja | October 20, 2010, 12:35 am
  40. This is so incredibly spot on. This reflects my evening moods from September to May.

    Posted by Michael | October 20, 2010, 10:03 am
  41. First, I pour some bourbon — it helps ease the pain!

    Posted by Bob Dymek | October 20, 2010, 12:49 pm
  42. This is just so true. I’m at about stage 4/5 now, but as I’m TAing two different papers, once this lot is finished, there are 80 more to do. Depression and despair are looming!

    Posted by Kerryn Olsen | October 20, 2010, 12:54 pm
  43. We’d like to include this in our monthly department newsletter because it is so hilarious and our teachers would love it. Please let me know if I have your permission to do so–and how to cite it accurately and honestly. Thank you!!!

    Posted by SMITH | October 21, 2010, 3:21 pm
  44. Absolutely awesome – thanks!

    Posted by CatieP | October 22, 2010, 7:46 am
  45. Wow, this is like someone is in my house watching me! Dead on!

    Posted by Marc | October 22, 2010, 12:41 pm
  46. Absolutely, undoubtedly, hillarious.

    I cycle through these stages too often for it to be healthy. I should be a master at grief.

    Posted by Georgia | October 22, 2010, 5:55 pm
  47. This is incredibly, hilariously accurate. (And makes me a little tiny bit glad I’m not teaching anymore, even though I mostly really loved it.)

    Posted by Jen | October 23, 2010, 11:02 am
  48. It would be interesting to ask what the loss actually is in any given grading session. To me, the loss is the death of my own reading of the student’s writing. When I grade, I have to read differently than I would if I were only thinking of what the student is trying to say and what my reaction to that actually is. When I have to grade the paper, then, I have to “kill” my own reading lens. That’s why I don’t grade drafts. The experience of reading stacks of papers, then, can become more joyful, since I’m not slaughtering my feeling for the student, my understanding of her growth, my interest in her ideas, my determination to “read through” her “mistakes” to look for the nuggets that deserve rescuing and development.

    Posted by Maja Wilson | October 27, 2010, 6:32 am
  49. So true! At one point I thought about giving credit without even reading the answers:) But then I had some chocolate and watched House and felt a little better.

    Posted by Katie Goode | November 4, 2010, 11:55 am
  50. And for those of us still in school wanting to become teachers, it’s the piles of research and looming essay’s that come with the stages…all while knowing that tomorrow you have to say goodbye to the kids.

    Posted by Annie | November 4, 2010, 8:57 pm
  51. The article is great!!!

    Posted by M | November 7, 2010, 1:14 pm
  52. Have to share this with my hubby…..maybe now he’ll see that I am NOT the only crazy one! I think a substage after bubble brain should be “sleep.read.sleep.read.sleep.read”as I often find myself doing and it’s an all night fest!!

    Posted by Janet | November 9, 2010, 10:05 am
  53. Ha! There’s the advantage of having teenage kids.

    Give the papers to the kids to mark!! Wonderful. THEY learn what to avoid so that their own assignments don’t comne back with horrible comments like “This is not clear!” :-)

    Posted by Jenny Haskins | November 9, 2010, 5:43 pm
  54. I love this piece and all of the contribution. Don’t we all love the way the English language is corrupted by invented grammars by students who have forgotten that proofing is an art that needs to be practiced before submitting the “final” version that somehow is an exact replication of the piece that was returned for revision.

    Currently I am plowing through all of the online submissions but still there are students who state in matter of fact, batting of the eyes manner, “The reason my assignment could not be submitted on time is because my boy friend, finance, brother, cousin, nephew, or father couldn’t show me how to attach a document to my email.” Notice it is always a random male’s responsibility to make sure the required document is sent.

    All of the foregoing is one more reason why I am not in the mood to grade at the moment I think I will go get a doughnut and a cup of coffee or something stronger to fortify me for the avoided task ahead.

    Posted by Wm George Hess | November 11, 2010, 6:27 am
    • How very sexist of you. Perhaps if you hadn’t given the impression batting eyelashes would work, the girls wouldn’t try. I have two boys and a girl…they are required (by me) to scrawl out their rough draft, which I then correct, then they neatly rewrite their paper before typing it, saving to a flash drive & printing it out. That way should anything happen to their final draft, they not only have hard copy, but digital backups…twice now their teachers have lost their work, they have yet to.

      Posted by Stephanie | December 13, 2010, 8:57 pm
  55. So . . . .I came in to school today to mark for report cards and very skillfully used the avoidance technique of checking e-mails first – - and what do I find but a link to this blog – - – - sigh!! my inner thought processes have been revealed – - I am about to step into the bargaining stage . . . . wish me luck!! Oops, but first I think I need to text my son . . . .

    Posted by Bonnie | November 11, 2010, 1:34 pm
  56. I am reading this instead of marking … I also broke the 155 reports into small stacks so it doesn’t seem as traumatic, lol. I didn’t realize it was just me, thank you!

    Posted by Brooke | November 21, 2010, 8:26 am
  57. This is great. In all seriousness, I feel better knowing there are others in the world feeling the same way I am. Neeeeed sleep…h8 grading (esp when my students use txting language in their papers).

    Posted by Karl | December 9, 2010, 9:07 am
  58. As an English teacher of many years, when I finally get to Stage 5, and always do, sometimes there are “highlights” that make me laugh aloud. A couple of my favorites: “A crapload of teenage girls are getting thereselfs pregnant,” in a formal research paper. Also a “highlight”: “In U.S. prisons, there are lots of drug attics.” That would, of course, be the opposite of drug basements. Sigh

    Posted by Carol Roehrich | December 10, 2010, 3:10 pm
    • Today I learned that 40 years ago, people didn’t have cars or washing machines.

      Posted by dr. b | December 12, 2010, 8:24 pm
      • My husband says his favourite line will always be “Vatican
        II was a very great man.”

        Posted by mjrm | December 17, 2010, 8:53 pm
      • LOL!!! I’m currently in denial over the impending return of
        Freshman research paper final drafts…round two of reading the
        same words sans revision in most cases. They are often
        enlightening, teaching me scads of things I never knew. For
        example, I learned while grading rough drafts over Thanksgiving
        that, “WWII lasted until the 1990s” and that, ” The Cold War was a
        war of words since both sides were too chicken to face off like in
        a real war.” Glad I’m the English department and not

        Posted by MrsP | December 18, 2010, 6:42 am
  59. A friend posted this link to my FB account as we have been struggling to finish grading Final Exams. PHEW! I was bouncing all around this list in the 3 days it took me to grade 26 College Algebra finals. My personal favorite was the answer of “Really?” Took me right back to Anger stage, where I’ve been wallowing ever since.

    So glad to see that I’m not the only one. Perhaps a support group is in order? :)

    Posted by Sarah | December 12, 2010, 6:37 am
  60. This article is so good! It actually REMINDED me that I have exams to grade, I had kind of forgotten about them I am so in denial…guess I’ll get started.hmphf.

    Posted by jlang | December 12, 2010, 8:55 am
  61. Brilliant. Yes, that’s exactly it!

    Posted by Janet Ott | December 12, 2010, 6:54 pm
  62. I am not familiar with this blog or author. I get that this is intended as entertainment. I only wonder if the statement “Kübler-Ross actually developed her theory as a graduate student, basing her conception of the process of loss on the experiences one goes through over a grading weekend” was factual or just fun.

    Posted by Mr. Harris | December 13, 2010, 10:13 am
  63. My father’s suggestion to my mother for grading papers? Give them all a B- and throw the papers into the fireplace.

    Posted by Ryan Daugherty | December 13, 2010, 11:06 pm
    • It is winter break here, but I, like the custodians, am up
      here at school grading my AP Spanish Literature finals because I
      can’t make myself do them at home. If you think the essays are bad
      in English, try having them write essays in Spanish. How hard is it
      to remember feminine v. masculine gender of nouns after five years
      of middle and high school Spanish!!!!!! I also mutter a lot like
      the person above who cited “i before e except after c.” For me it
      is more like “you learned this in Spanish I, reviewed it in Spanish
      II, and again in III and AP Spanish Language!!!!” or maybe “the tu
      form does not have an s at the end in the preterite, you dufus!”
      And sometimes “I’m living with idiots!” My way of dealing with the
      essay problem is to go over the first paragraph’s errors with every
      one of them and help them plan ahead by answering questions about
      vocabulary they will need to write the rest. That shortens the
      grading time. It only works with an AP high school class, though. I
      taught at Texas Tech years ago, so I know what you who grade
      college papers go through. And as you see, I am avoiding grading
      right now by posting a comment. And here I thought I was out of the
      denial stage and had gone on to the acceptance stage. HAH!!(By the
      way, I know some of the above are fragments–don’t try to correct
      the grammar.)

      Posted by sra j | December 21, 2010, 8:52 am
  64. I want to know why every single one of my psychology
    students remembers the story I told about ice cream, drownings, and
    confounding variables, but no one in my class can spell psychology

    Posted by martha clizbe | December 18, 2010, 7:24 am
  65. This is the funniest thing I’ve ever read! -unnecessarily
    large reaction. It’s them or me. Them or me!

    Posted by gg | December 20, 2010, 3:42 pm
  66. I’m not a teacher/professor (yet!). I’m an undergraduate senior and I feel like this can also be applied to writing papers. I go through all of these and I’m current on the anger stage (ranting to the wall about not being able to do any more research after going through my fourth pack of flag notes).

    I think when students actually work hard on their papers, we all have a similar set of stages. This would correspond to those few “gems” that you have in your piles.

    …back to the grind I guess (and by grind I mean coffee pot) ((and by coffee pot I mean I need to get to the bar soon))…maybe that accounts for the illegible writing you spoke of!

    Posted by Jess | March 16, 2011, 2:22 pm
  67. Perfect timing. Interim grades are due next week, and there is very little in my gradebook…but there are piles of papers to be graded!

    Posted by Katherine Nobles | May 12, 2011, 6:39 pm
  68. Hello all,

    I am a middle school English teacher, and stumbled onto this site when I googled “I hate grading essays.” I was instantly agog at the sheer number of sites devoted to the topic (and somewhat cheered, as well.)

    I feel EXACTLY the same way. . . but since many of you here are college profs, I do want to tell you this: I have a file folder of essays I’ve written during my education. I’ve saved these essays not because I thought they were great writing on my part, but because I cherish the comments that were put there by poor, beleaguered professors JUST LIKE YOU. So please know, in the darkest recesses of anger, in the gray plateau of resignation. . . somewhere out there, people do appreciate you!

    And now back to the little darlings’ essays . . . oh wait, I think I need to organize my socks!

    Posted by kteach | November 19, 2011, 9:09 pm
  69. The staircase method has antiquity on its side – originates, so I was told in the 1950s, on the fine 3 level staircase of St John’s College, Cambridge.

    Posted by Tony Green | November 30, 2011, 11:02 am
  70. Thank you for this enlightening read, I am floating on the wake of submitting my grades for an online class, and would like to chime in about potentially two more stages, after the grading is done. Bracing oneself, that your students will receive the grades as fair even the ones that may be unexpected, and then Brooding. Brooding is best accompanied by beverages. And that is what I will go do now, more bracing and brooding. Adios!

    Posted by Mrs. Aj | December 1, 2011, 11:12 pm
  71. This is all so very true. I especially relate to the bargaining phase – which is what I do from day one, when I divide the essays by how many days I have left and say “five per day.” Of course then I skip a day and it becomes “six per day…with one day when I do seven.” And so it continues until I reach the depression phase. Thanks for the laugh!

    Posted by Naps Happen | December 4, 2011, 8:47 am
  72. I’m not an instructor, but have many in my life… and one of them posted this on FaceBook! Hence my extra chuckle on the FB reference. Have now forwarded it to the rest. Great write & read. Thanks.

    Posted by Cheryl Ferrara | December 5, 2011, 9:03 am
  73. Love it. But what’s wrong with “they” as a singular pronoun? It’s a way to avoid giving a gender (he or she) without saying “it” (rarely used when referring to humans), “he/she”, “the subject”, “the person”, etc.

    Posted by Stephen | December 6, 2011, 7:04 am
  74. This is so true. I just finished grading thirty student essays in freshman comp. What should take me 4 hours spans longer because of all these stages. Only, I catch up on Words with Friends on the iPhone as a reward for every two papers.

    Posted by RT | December 6, 2011, 11:34 am
  75. Brilliant piece on “the five stages of grading.” Had I read this a year ago, I might still be in academia today! The experience of reading this was almost therapeutic. Thank you!

    Posted by D. S. Buchalter | December 6, 2011, 5:08 pm
  76. This blog was sent to me during my planning period at school. I thought I was being responsible, checking my email before I got started on planning, or worse grading.. That was about 45 miuets ago, and now as my planning period draws to a close I would like to wish everyone on here a happy procrastionation period. Thanks for a good laugh or two.

    Posted by lwhs | December 6, 2011, 5:58 pm
  77. You could make your students and self a lot happier by NOT assigning these ridiculous assignments.

    A Considerate Student.

    Posted by Considerate Student | December 6, 2011, 7:30 pm
  78. Note: this method works in professional editing/writing, too.

    Sadly, I have yet to find the editorial version of the Staircase Rubric. (Which, I should note, I actually did use once on a pile of already-graded papers, just to see. The grades matched up almost perfectly with where they landed.)

    Posted by Kelly | December 7, 2011, 8:37 am
  79. I love this!

    I’ve been putting myself through an additional stage of suffering this semester. I suppose you could call it the “Campaign Promises” stage, in which I set ridiculously unattainable promises to complete grading by declaring guaranteed return dates to entire classes at a time. At first, this seems like exactly the thing to do because I need a deadline to complete anything. But then, it typically ends in self-loathing and all-nighters that sail me right into the depression stage.

    Posted by Lori | December 7, 2011, 5:40 pm
  80. I love this post and the commentary. Too funny! However, I would like to observe that the rubric is the Prozac of pedagogy. Sure it makes things easier; you can get the grading done again. But what’s left after the feelings of empowerment and vitality have worn off? A serious dependency problem. :)

    Posted by Mad Jack | December 9, 2011, 11:06 am
  81. You. Are. Awesome. (And so spot on.)

    Posted by A-Dubs | December 10, 2011, 7:53 am
  82. As a student I find this ridiculous. Stop giving papers if you can’t grade them. This is why grading comments are so sparse and not thought out. I actually had an instructor use a formula- they would pick sentences from a sheet and add as needed. Get a few TA’s if you can’t handle it, or find another job. What you assign is what you are expected to grade. Deal with it! I deal with having to write 4 20 page papers and read 500 pages in the same week.
    Whine whine whine!

    Posted by Jill | December 10, 2011, 12:10 pm
    • Dear Jill – you see it as whining – profs also write research articles/books/etc as well as supervise and teach other courses – assigning writing tasks is often seen as the fairest way to grade (rather than high pressure exams) and universities put massive pressure on us to teach beyond what is reasonable.

      Posted by Michael | June 2, 2014, 3:16 am
  83. I’m in all the five stages of writing finals all weekend. Finally, I came to acceptance to write it since it had to be done. Still, between my Facebook checking and tea drinking, I managed to read this post and even made a comment. Dead on!

    Posted by haiyun lu | December 11, 2011, 2:31 pm
  84. I JUST finished grading 40 independent reading projects that I have carried back and forth to school for two weeks – I am typing this with my eyes closed because I am so bleary eyed. I think some students gained points because of my complete and total boredom. At least I’m done…for now.

    Posted by Suzanne | December 11, 2011, 6:41 pm
  85. Thank you, kteach. Maybe I will continue providing feedback even though my brother-in-law, the English prof says research shows most students do not read it.

    I did not take the time to read all the responses because I am in the depression stage and all I want to do is eat chocolate and drink wine. Perhaps someone has said this, but I believe the model needs some revision. Where is the stage AFTER Acceptance/Resignation during which we receive angry e-mails (I do not answer my phone) when students cannot accept that they have failed an assignment because they did not follow the directions? I am talking about students who plan to become teachers! What now????

    Posted by BC | December 13, 2011, 1:08 pm
  86. Or I could just assign a grade in the neighborhood of their current class average, since very few go up a lot or down a lot.

    But I do like the stairs method. The more stairs, the more varied the grades can be.

    Posted by Jack | December 16, 2011, 4:46 am
  87. I am a retired public school science teacher ( 36 years ), so I guess my advice does not so much apply to the privateers out there . Make a serious graduate research type effort into the real requirements of the job ; spend a year doing so . Dig deep , ask questions , get real answers . From this you have a baseline to which you can apply personal values and conscience . I find that teachers who do not have such a baseline do not do so well .

    Posted by jim | December 18, 2011, 5:56 am
  88. This was great! Completely experienced every stage last weekend in grading and currently in denial about course prep for next semester

    Posted by Dannemart | December 20, 2011, 8:06 pm
  89. I’m so glad this isn’t just me, although I am sad to think they might not improve by next time:

    “For the idealistic young instructor, this is also usually the moment he or she realizes that the assignments themselves are not particularly strong. These realizations can lead to feelings of failure, spiralling into reality TV watchathons”

    Posted by Angela | January 4, 2012, 8:01 am
  90. I am at the stage of changing my mind about commenting on every assignment!! Surely the marks under each criteria tell it all!

    Posted by Jennifer Phillips | May 9, 2012, 3:22 pm
  91. This is so true!!! I’m on stage 1, flirting anger and bargaining… This weekend is going to be a long and frustrating one…

    Posted by Annied | December 15, 2012, 10:47 am
  92. At least you get paid to grade….I’m an adjunct, and with my papers to grade, I make a whopping $7 an hour.

    Posted by dave donnely | October 14, 2014, 5:15 pm
    • $7? That’s outrageous. How did you manage to get paid that much? :(

      I might make pennies and all the frustration I have to put up with as a result of horrible, terrible grammar & sheer laziness creates bouts of sublimating my frustration on the family and the dog. Poor dog! Wicked, wicked students. :)

      Posted by GG | May 5, 2015, 2:42 pm
  93. In between gales of laughter, I am having flashbacks to my adjunct days. I’m a grad student again and forwarded this to all my professors. Brilliant!

    Posted by Lee | December 15, 2014, 2:02 pm


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