Category Archives: Spring 2023 Issue 1

Labor-Based Grading: More Process, Less Pressure

by Kristy Kelly, Director of Writing, School of Writing, Literature, & Film

Just the other day in my Writing 222 class on Argumentation, I asked students to freewrite on the question “What is the connection between grades and learning?” We use labor-based grading in my WR 222 classes, so I initiate conversations with my students early on about what grades do to their learning: where do grades focus their motivation? What emotions do they elicit? What beliefs do they prompt about their capacity to face new learning situations?

The class, like most others to whom I’ve posed this question, had a wide-ranging set of responses. Some reported that grades motivate them to work harder or give them a clearer sense of where they stand in a subject. Others discussed the “academic validation” that grades can provide when they get a high grade, and on the flip side, the sense of deflation and self-doubt that arises when they get a grade lower than expected. Still more referenced the experience of stress, pressure, and anxiety that grades induce, so that taking classes becomes more about protecting a GPA than about deeply engaging with course content. Overall, it was clear just how large grades loom over students’ perception of their own capability as learners, and how grades function as an extrinsic motivation that stimulate anxiety as much or more than engagement.

While the transition into labor-based grading was a little bumpy due partially to the pandemic, it did open up space for students to think more about improving their writing and less about the grade stamped on the work they were able to produce, particularly in the chaotic learning conditions of Covid. Like many composition scholars and teachers nationwide, I started experimenting with labor-based grading to amplify the most rewarding elements of writing classes—exploring difficult questions through research, collaboration in peer review, a deep commitment to revision and reflection—while dialing down the pressures attached to assigning and receiving grades.

The Limits and Benefits of Labor-Based Grading

There are many ways to deploy labor based grading, but the basic concept remains the same: students are guaranteed a particular grade (in the case of my classes, a B) for completing a particular amount of labor according to a shared set of specifications. Students complete more labor—additional assignment components, subsequent rounds peer review, further reflection, and so on—to earn a higher grade.

As Asao Inoue has theorized, this model isn’t simply about reducing stress about grades. It’s also intended to correct inequities steeped into the culture of higher education, which values the performance of academic standards designed to uphold whiteness and white supremacy. From this perspective, evaluating students’ work based on its alignment with “Standard Written English” is itself an act of racism. Attaching evaluation to students’ labor, rather than their performance of a prestige dialect that may not reflect their cultural or educational background, is one small step toward creating a more equitable learning environment.

Any evaluative model, no matter how equity-focused, prompts the question: “equitable for whom?” Our classes still demand letter grades to measure students’ performance, and other scholars of composition have expressed concern that labor-based grading simply trades one inequitable model for another. Perhaps most notably, Ellen Carillo has argued that evaluating students based on labor still privileges some learners over others, and can place multiply-marginalized students, disabled students, or any students who need more time to complete assignments at a distinct disadvantage.

Student Responses to a New Take on Grades

My own students have expressed a similar mix of enthusiasm coupled with healthy skepticism. Skeptics have shared their discomfort with the shift from rewarding the process over the product: some feel that labor-based grading required too much work relative to the amount of labor they’d have put in to get an A on a traditional model. (Those kinds of complaints only convinced me further of the promise of labor-based grading to break out of arbitrary and inequitable standards). Others felt that the model disadvantaged students with less time to devote to the class, or that the additional assignment components felt like “extra” labor, mirror Ellen Carillo’s concerns about accessibility.

But for those who resonated with the model, the consensus was clear: labor based grading gave them more space to test new ideas, reduced the stress of trying to predict what grade they would get, and increased their investment in meeting their writing goals. Students reported getting more enjoyment out of the writing process, feeling the freedom to embrace creativity, and feeling a deeper, intrinsic incentive to improve their writing and analytical thinking skills.

Considering the Switch to Labor Based Grading

As a teacher, you might be wondering: “how can I ensure that my students are actually meeting a shared set of standards if they’re guaranteed a certain grade for submitting an assignment? Couldn’t they turn in anything and still get a B?” I wondered that myself when I first started using this model, and to ensure that students do meet core learning outcomes and benchmarks, we’ve started using a “C- Threshold” that the essay must crest in order to get a B (following the assignment prompt to its specifications, including appropriate citations, responding meaningfully to the assignment topic, and so on).

The need for such a threshold reveals one of the imperfections of labor-based grading: while this model can loosen the pressure to adhere to an arbitrary set of standards, it still results in a grade. And in an educational system where students must retain vigilance about their GPA, course points remain a core incentive for their performance in the class.

But by conceiving of grading as a contract, you and your students can create a shared set of standards that you want to uphold. Some of the strongest writing I’ve seen in my classes has come from collaborating with my students to determine what ingredients lead to an A, B, C, and beyond. While labor-based grading certainly doesn’t cure all inequities, it can increase students’ ownership over their process, create transparency around standards, and give them just a little more space to take creative leaps of faith.

I’ll leave you with a few tips and mindset shifts if you’re considering labor-based grading in your own course:

Tips and Mindset Shifts for Teachers

  • Commenting on student writing becomes less about grade justification and more about student improvement.
  • You can use additional labor components to emphasize the parts of the writing process you and your students find most valuable: rather than tacking on more assignments, it can be about inviting students to engage more deeply with the writing process, or letting students choose their own path through a project.
  • There is a logistical learning curve: what happens when a student completes a portion of an additional labor-based option, for example? Setting up a concrete system and asking students for feedback can help with consistency.
  • It can be hard to let go of what grade you think an assignment “should” get—and that’s part of the point.

Tips and Mindset Shifts for Students

  • Labor-based grading places more of the onus on the student to decide what aspects of a project they want to opt into or out of. They may need more lead time or direct guidance as they make those decisions.
  • Many students are acclimated to the traditional grading system and can feel uncomfortable engaging with grades in a different way. Talking with them about their relationship with grades is a good way to address that!
  • Students often view the additional labor components as “extra credit” or may not have an innate sense of how project components fit together. They may need extra clarity about what exactly is required and what the expectations are to earn the additional points.
  • While more flexibility can lead to greater growth, it sometimes leads to anxiety at first! Take time early in the term to help students set their own goals, and use plenty of reflection so they can track their progress.

Here’s a list of resources to consult if you’re considering the move to labor-based grading

Taking (& Being Taken By) Time

by Sarah Norek

Last fall, I attended Time Isn’t Neutral, a workshop put on by the folks from Whiteness @ Work. I honestly don’t remember my expectations/curiosities going into it. I coordinate workshops at the ASC, and we facilitate a lot of content that connects to time and how to manage it, plan, schedule, etc. Heading into their workshop I was excited to see other people deliver content on time and looked forward to new perspectives we might be able to bring into our ASC content too.

I learned a lot. My concept of time kind of melted. And now I’m in this gooey space of trying to make sense of my approach to and experience of time, and how that aligns (or doesn’t) to my values.

One concept that Desiree Adaway and Jessica Fish (of Whiteness @ Work) introduced in the workshop was “time famine”: not having enough time to do the things we want to do, because we’re doing the things we need to do. We hear about this experience from students (and colleagues, friends, peers, etc. a lot). In my experience, often my wants are activities that replenish, fill, and ground me, which kind of makes them feel like needs, whether or not I prioritize them as such. How to reconcile that?

Something else Adaway and Fish brought into the conversation was a comparison between monochronic (more linear) and polychronic (more fluid, more attentive to relationships) time. If you haven’t explored these and what makes them distinct from each other, I totally recommend it! As a workshop participant, as drawn as I felt to polychronic time, the fact that I very much operate within a more monochronic, linear system was quite clear. Adaway and Fish also present clock time (monochronic time) as a construct of colonialism and white supremacy, providing a rich set of thought-provoking details and research that I’m still deeply processing and reflecting on.

In my experience, time feels linear, and its linearity feels absolute. This is how I perceive time, and how my work and, well, time, gets allotted. I work within a grid of days and hours and seconds, with tasks and deadlines and commitments that need to fit within the 24-hour day for seven days a week and 365 days a year. I’m not unique in this, I know. My work – my days – tend to begin and end at appointed times, and much of what takes place within those times is informed by the 24/7/365 of it all. But that’s not necessarily how my thinking, my processing, my energy (etc.) works.

As a timely (haha!) example, I’ve been starting and stopping on the draft of this blog post for the last two weeks/three months: work time gets blocked on my calendar but, when I start to draft, I inevitably have to physically move, or put distance between the writing and thinking. These are steps (haha again!) to my process when working through challenging things. And, the approach doesn’t fit neatly within the rectangle the work has been allotted in my day. More planning! I might say. Better awareness of my time and myself! And yes, those both will support the work, sure. But also, the work is inherently impacted by the time structure I operate within, and I would argue that it’s not as simple as those moves. Which is a helpful reminder for myself as I think about my own planning and also as we talk about time with folks in workshops: we encourage tapping into self-awareness, trying different tools for scheduling, and I still think these entry-points work. I also think this recent experience of work and energy and thinking not necessarily puzzling neatly into a linear structure helps too. It’s a process. It might be messy. And there’s nothing wrong with it being messy, or not fitting exactly. Challenging, yes. But not wrong.

I once reflected to a friend that I was a messy thinker, and they generously offered back that it wasn’t messy, it was just non-linear. Kindest game changer ever. And I wonder about this non-linear thinking piece and the more-linear time piece and how they intersect – for me and for others, too. I also wonder about how we support students to thrive and succeed in a more linear system, while also honoring their lived experiences, wisdom, culture and approaches to time. The two don’t necessarily align – system and life – but they’re still unfolding simultaneously. So what?

Since the Time Isn’t Neutral workshop, I’ve made what feel like small shifts in the way I think and talk and write about time; while not monumental, they feel like movement. I find myself leaning away from the “management” wording and more towards planning, scheduling, thinking about what the work is that’s being done, what values are being … valued … in my choices. In workshops and conversations, we try to offer several different options for tools to choose from, and to invite choice. I think, too, I want to be more intentional about asking questions to learn more about how someone conceptualizes time, how they approach planning their days, how they think about their wants and needs and responsibilities and commitments. What do they prioritize? What’s their time narrative? What do they need to do and what do they want to do and how is their whole self being represented in their planning?

This all feels sort of parallel to Marie Kondo saying she’s not as focused on decluttering space anymore – that she’s “sparking joy” in other ways, more interested now in putting her time towards her family, her young children in particular, which also means living in a little more clutter, perhaps a little less linearity – tapping into the polychronic piece of things is my new connection to it. And I love that she’s made her shift in thinking transparent, that she’s sharing about how she thinks about the time she has and the activities she chooses now to fill it with. We’re allowed to change. Time is simultaneously pervasive and unique, which allows for a lot of habits and a lot of opportunities for adjustment and transformation.

Staff Picks – Supporting Student Employee Holistic Well-Being

by Woodrós Wolford

Student staff provide valuable services for their peers while also moving towards balance with their personal, academic, and professional goals and needs. Here, ASC & Writing Center staff share some of the moves we make as supervisors to support holistic well-being for student employees. The moves shared includes ones to smooth out processes for taking time off or intentional choices in how one personally engages with student employees.

This is by no means an exhaustive list! There are so many ways staff can, and do, support students in thinking ahead realistically to take care of their needs.

As you check out these picks, consider your own experiences. What choices do you make with folks you supervise or work with? What has worked for you as an employee?

Anna Bentley – Modeling

Modeling work-life balance (or whatever you like to call it) is the most effective move I make with student staff. Supervisors can talk all day long about self-care and work-life balance, but if they don’t model it, those words feel empty and can lead to confusion and resentment. I take time off work or work from home fairly regularly, and I tell my team of student staff why I’m out to normalize taking off. Sometimes I’m sick, sometimes my kid is sick, sometimes I’m having a bad mental health day, sometimes I take off for planned vacation, or sometimes I take some time off for no particular reason at all because it’s good to do that sometimes!

Adam Lenz – Hiring & Training

We recently added a question during our hiring process that asked students to describe a situation when their time was stretched too thin. We wanted to know how they realized they had pushed themselves too hard, what they needed to get through the experience, and what the outcomes were based on their choices. Doing so has helped us better identify how we can adapt our upcoming trainings to match what our new student employees are doing, not what we want them to be doing. In this way, we better meet them where they are and improve the onboarding process to meet their personal needs and growth points.

Chris Ervin – Automatic Approval

My strategy is pretty boring and very administrative in nature. Our time-off request system is this: If there’s a shift someone needs off within a week from the current date, they can put the shift on the trade board and another consultant can pick it up. When we have capacity, I’ll remove them from the shift even if another consultant doesn’t pick it up. However, if the time-off request is more than a week away, it’s approved automatically. I combine this process with reminders to consultants to look ahead to their needs over the course of the term and submit time-off requests as early as possible. I think this strategy encourages student staff to approach their work with professionalism (looking ahead to their time-off needs) and shows that I know they are students and humans first.

Clare Creighton – Clear & Generous Deadlines

When I am responsible for requests or asks, I try to be generous with and clear about deadlines (and sometimes the rationale behind them), and when possible, I ask about folks’ capacity and when they might be able to get something done. I also have changed my mentality around reminders and nudges. We’re busy folks – I miss things (ahem, this submission); sometimes others miss things. Rather than think “I shouldn’t have to remind someone,” I accept the busyness of our lives and occasionally help folks track and prioritize when things get complex. 

Marjorie Coffey – Tech with Intention

We use a variety of technology for scheduling and communication that writing consultants often choose to access through their phones or laptops. During training, I show consultants how to update notification settings and encourage them to plan for when and how they engage with technology. I share how I think about and decide what apps to use or not outside of work and share approaches that differ from my own. I hope this encourages consultants to make intentional decisions around technology and boundaries between work and other areas of their lives.

Sarah Norek – Consistent Check-Ins

I try to check in regularly with the person I supervise to see how they’re doing. Not earth shattering, I know, but I ask each time we meet how it’s going with all they’re juggling, how they’re feeling, and what they’re thinking/noticing about work (employment) and the time they have available to do everything (school, self, etc.). A lot of our work together can be done remotely too, so I offer this/remind on this as an option for any periods of high stress or to support taking time when not feeling well but also having the option to still get those hours if wanted/desired (whether remotely then or later when feeling better).

Woodrós Wolford – Overcorrect for Neutrality

Student employees often care deeply about their work and can feel guilty taking time off to care for their own needs. So, when a student employee reaches out to me in an emergent situation to say they might need to take time off tomorrow if there’s enough coverage, I am explicit in my support of them taking care of themselves. That’s the top priority. We can solve it. This helps remove guilt about taking time off. Then, that freed energy allows folks to be more proactive in planning ahead for their needs, both for the term as a whole and in finding coverage if something comes up suddenly.

On Cheese and Gratitude

by Chris Gasser

When I graduated with my Bachelor’s, I celebrated by going on a cruise with my now wife, Lauren. After a few days at sea, Lauren wasn’t feeling well, and she ordered a grilled cheese at the formal dining room. The waiter gave a quizzical look, then confirmed that the order would be possible. When the waiter removed the shiny silver lid for Lauren’s dinner, there it sat: the most glorious hunk of cheddar cheese I’ve ever seen. Fresh grill marks and all.

Without melting to that level of cheesiness, I want to offer a sincere thank you to all of you who have read my posts over the years, who have asked thoughtful questions, and who have shared back your enthusiasm around all things student success. I also want to offer a thank you for those of you who have shared excitement for my transition into my new role as OSU’s University Innovation Alliance Fellow. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to serve the OSU community in new and innovative ways.

When the The Success Kitchen was first thought of, Marjorie proclaimed, “What a boon!,” now the tagline, and a boon it has been! Writing for, and collaborating with, you all has made me a better student success professional, and I am forever grateful. Luckily for me, this isn’t really goodbye. I’ll still brie around— now just in Kerr. As always, I would love to hear about the gouda things you are doing, the new and cheddar ways you are hoping to support students, and just generally the things stop you from feeling bleu. Let’s grab a coffee?



What Are OSU Colleagues Reading?

Back by popular demand! We asked colleagues, “What have you read that has informed your work or resonated for you, and why? This can be reading in any form (e.g., books, articles, videos, podcasts, audiobooks, etc.).” Perhaps you’ll find your first summer read or potential book club option in what OSU colleagues have shared here.

Stephanie Ramos, Associate Director of Undergraduate Research

“Life is like a good cup of coffee, full of flavor and meant to savor” -Bonnie Milletto, Portland, Oregon, Motivational Speaker

Book cover for Dedicated to the Cup: Nine Ways to Reinvent a Life! by Bonnie Milleto,

In Dedicated to the Cup: Nine Ways to Reinvent a Life, Bonnie Milletto explores the power of reinvention and personal transformation drawing on the journey of self-discovery and growth. Milletto offers practical advice and inspirational stories to help readers unlock their full potential and pursue their dreams. Whether you’re looking to make a career change, start a new project, or simply live more intentionally, “Dedicated to the Cup” provides a roadmap for embracing change and creating a fulfilling life on your own terms. With its engaging storytelling and practical wisdom, this book is a must-read for anyone seeking inspiration and guidance on their journey of personal growth and transformation.

Brenna Gomez, Director of Career Integration, Career Development Center

Book cover of Identity-Conscious Supervision in Student Affairs: Building Relationships and Transforming Systems by Robert Brown, Shruti Desai, and Craig Elliot.

This academic year I’ve been leading a community read in the Career Development Center on Identity-conscious Supervision in Student Affairs: Building Relationships and Transforming Systems (Valley Library Print, Ebook). We’re 2/3 of the way through the book and have been engaging in rich and vulnerable conversations. The authors encourage readers to understand their own dominant and marginalized identities before bringing identity conversations to supervisees, while paying special attention to power dynamics and conflict. Our office did note that the authors have not yet mentioned consent—always be sure to ask your supervisee before proceeding with a conversation on identity.

Kevin A. Dougherty, Dean of Students

Book cover of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison’s book, Invisible Man (Valley Library Print), has and will always be a reminder of how I move throughout my personal and professional life. In the beginning of his novel, he says “I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” Later in his book on page 577, he says “Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.” Each of us represents something bigger than ourselves. We should all take the time to understand and see people beyond their exterior or preconceived notions. Ellison’s quote of certain defeat reminds me of what Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.”

Emily Bowling, Director of Community Engagement & Leadership, Student Experience & Engagement

Book cover of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

I’ve been inspired by Cal Newport’s Deep Work and Deep Questions. Deep work is being able to focus on cognitively intense projects. Most people (including me!) need to (re)train their brains for this type of work as a result of constant digital distractions. Practicing deep work allows people to produce better results and experience higher levels of fulfillment. I’ve been working on time blocking to practice greater concentration and deep work. Committing to space outside of the frantic blur of email and DMs. has been rewarding and I’ve noticed how many colleagues are also hungry for this, too!

Nadia Jaramillo Cherrez, Senior Instructional Designer, Ecampus Course Development and Training

Book cover of The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Writing Classroom by Felicia Rose Chavez

Felicia Rose Chavez’s book The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom(Valley Library Print)comprises elements of a memoir and pedagogical guide that critique the traditional writing workshop model. Chavez’s experiential narrative weaves intentionality and wit to recount her struggles as a workshop participant where control over the process, outcomes, resources, and students reflected white dominance through silence. In response, she created the anti-racist writing workshop model that “imparts a pedagogy of deep listening” (17). This model seeks to foster a sense of community and give Writers of Color a space to exercise their voice. Inspired by her work, I explore how to adapt this model to online learning.