Behind the scenes with the Grading For Growth book
A live look at how we are putting the book form of this blog together
The month of August is going to be a big one for David and me, and not just because our semester starts in (checks calendar) four weeks. It's because after a year and a half of research and writing, we'll be submitting the manuscript for the Grading For Growth book to our publisher. We've been using this blog to try out our ideas with you, experiment with different styles and approaches, and see what resonates with readers1. This process, especially your responses to it, have made the book much better than it would have been if we had kept it to ourselves.
Over the summer, David and I have been meeting on Zoom 2-3 times a week for a couple of hours at a time to hammer out the details. Those meetings have been some of the most productive work sessions I've ever experienced — hard work, but fun work. We thought it would be interesting and appropriate to share a taste of that experience with you. So this week, instead of writing an article, we decided just to hit the "Record" button in one of our meetings and share the raw, unedited process with you. Here it is:
This thing is almost an hour long, so feel free to just watch a randomly-selected 5 minutes of it if you have other things to do.
Here’s how these meetings usually go:
We meet on Zoom and then pull up a Google Doc containing one of the chapters-in-progress.
The drafts of the chapters are written by us individually without collaboration at first. (For example, I drafted Chapter 11; David drafted Chapter 6.) When we meet, whoever didn’t write the chapter-in-progress reads it aloud while the person who did write it makes edits on the fly. We’ve found that once you’ve written something, it really helps to hear it read aloud by someone else. That sentence that you thought sounded awesome, actually seems like nonsense when you hear someone else speak it. It forces you as a writer to look at your stuff with a fresh set of eyes when you hear it processed through someone else’s brain2.
We’ll wrangle or sometimes politely argue over the phrasing and structure of what we’re reading, sometimes editing or composing live in the document until we like what we have, then check in with each other to see if we’re OK, then move on.
The meeting in the video is a little different because Chapter 11 is long and crucial to the book, so we’ve been working on it over several meetings. But you’ll still get a good look at how we collaborate to write a book. It’s a mix of hammering out phrasing (sometimes down to the level of punctuation3), big-picture discussions about what alternative grading is all about, our personal experiences with these issues, and of course plenty of off-topic Easter eggs about cats, water bottles, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and more.
One thing I hope resonates from this video is the enormous amount of respect we have for the many instructors who have contributed to our understanding of grading. David interviewed dozens of instructors to drill down into their grading practices, and we’ll be including around 10-15 of those case studies as the heart of the book. Many more have influenced us through interactions in real life (especially The Grading Conference), on this blog, and on social media. Your thoughts, struggles, and successes are embedded in the DNA of this book.
My first book was a solo project and so I didn’t experience anything like this, and I don’t know if this is how you’re “supposed” to write a co-authored book. But I’m a fan of the process, not least because it mirrors the entire idea of alternative grading: Try something, get feedback from a trusted source, then incorporate the feedback to try again (without penalty) until it meets the standard.
For us, the standard is high. We want to provide the world with a book that not only tells the story of grading and gives strong arguments for why we should change it, but also provides maps and blueprints to everyday instructors for how to make that change happen. We can’t wait to get this into your hands.
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For my part, this approach is inspired by Chris Rock's practice of showing up, unannounced, at small comedy venues to experiment with jokes, armed with a legal pad to take notes on what worked and what didn't.
At first, David and I tried having Google Docs read the text back and we’d edit the document simultaneously. But when a human reads something aloud, the tone of voice and the cadence can communicate all kinds of information that computers (currently) don’t. For example, when I have written a paragraph that’s doesn’t make logical sense (this happens a lot), then David has a way of slowing down and changing his tone when he reads it that tells me, “Uh oh, here comes some extremely valid criticism”.