10 Easy Ways to Reduce your Grading Time
As a writing teacher, the grading load can be pretty overwhelming. We’ve all carried that tattered folder stuffed with papers to and fro, to and fro, dragging it along to family vacations, coffee shops, and anywhere else where we think we might actually find the time to sit down and give feedback. But ack. Somehow the time never seems to come. And the folder just keeps getting more battered.
But here’s the thing. It is possible to implement some systems and choose to change up the dynamics of your grading. If it’s haunting you, I hope you’ll take a look at this list and choose at least three of these to try this year. Because you really shouldn’t let grading drive you out of teaching.
The 1:4 Fix
Grade about one writing assignment for every four you don't. Let those four build up to the major one that will be graded. Mark the others for completion or call them practice. Stickers are always good! Seriously, big kids like stickers too.
The Stations Fix
To help students improve their work before they turn it in, set up stations around the room that focus on specific challenges you've noticed. Perhaps one station will ask them to look at the citations in their paper and compare their work to a guide and make corrections. Another might ask them to check their introduction for the four required elements you want them to have in it. Etc. Stations are another way to help you spend your precious commenting time giving them one or two in-depth pieces of writing advice instead of wasting it on the same problems.
The Timer Fix
Sounds crazy, right? But humans have a way of making tasks take however long we have to do them. If you're thinking you're going to spend the whole evening grading off and on, then it's going to spread into every nook and cranny of your life, following you from dinner to the couch, through a little Netflix, upstairs to your room and into bed with you. Ew.
Try committing to one hour of power grading and then do whatever you want for the rest of the evening. Or stay at school for thirty extra minutes and promise yourself you are going to use your rubric and other strategies to work quickly and efficiently. Of course you can't just take a stack of 200 essays, set the timer for 20 minutes, and voila! But choose what's reasonable (and on the fast side) for your day and the work you have to grade, and move quickly. You may feel you are not grading every paper with as much depth as you wish. On the other hand, you will have more time for your family and yourself and probably be a happier teacher with more patience and creativity to offer your students the next day.
The Effective Peer Editing Fix
Similarly, peer editors CAN make a huge difference if guided carefully. You can save a lot of your energy for commenting on what really matters when students go through a high quality peer feedback process with writing. You shouldn't need to be circling spelling, grammar, and citation errors any more by the time important writing gets to your desk. Try the free peer editing workshop guidelines you can get here if you don't have your own system you love.
The Partial Grading Fix
You can reduce your commenting time and still give students a big boost of help when you grade just a key part of an assignment. This can mean having them choose a strong portion of their writing for you to look at and give feedback on, or it can mean you comment only on a certain skill you’ve been working on in class.
The Techie Fix
Do you know about Checkmark? It’s a Google Chrome extension that allows you to insert common comments into a paper by highlighting text and then selecting the comment you want to insert. Rather than typing "This thesis needs to be more arguable, make sure that someone could disagree with your thesis and you could try to convince them that you're right" one hundred times, you can simply add this comment to your comment bank and insert it at will.
The Audio Fix (still a bit techie)
For many people, it’s easier to chat quickly than write quickly. Kaizena is a voice comment tool which allows you to record audio comments and stick them right into a Google doc. You could record a few comments along the way, or just give a short narrative about a paper in general and insert it at the end. This just might save you a lot of time, as well as allow you to give more in-depth and personalized feedback.
The Conferencing Fix
Lots of teachers swear by taking a few class days to do conferencing after major writing assignments. You sit down with students, each reading a copy of the paper at the same time, and talk through what you notice. Then you put a grade on it as they walk back to their seat and you call the next person. (Having a really cool conference table in your classroom like the Apple "Genius Bar" makes this extra fun). While you conference, other students can be working on independent reading, launching into literature circles, listening to podcasts through QR codes, etc. It's important that they have something interesting to do with clear expectations for their behavior, or you'll never get through your conferences! This type of conferencing will probably take chunks of time in several class periods.
The Highly Specific Rubric Fix
If you’re careful to include both the language of what students are doing well and what they need to work on in your rubric, then you can shortcut through a lot of commenting. You can even include a list of common errors and their fixes at the bottom of the rubric, and star the ones the student needs to work on, rather than writing those fixes over and over.
The Portfolio Partner Fix
If you want your students to have a more authentic audience, consider having them keep their best work in an online portfolio, and matching them with another student to get feedback. This won't be an editing partner, just someone who can read and respond to their work. You could have your seniors respond to your ninth graders, or your tenth graders have partners in another class taught by another teacher. It's just another chance for them to share their writing and hear someone else's thoughts without you necessarily grading it. This can either save you entirely from grading an assignment, or just allow you to have a higher level draft by the time you get it.
Ready to dive in and mix it up? When you start getting creative with how you give feedback, you’ll make the process more interesting for you and your students, and soon discover you’ve got more time for all the things you love about teaching.
Featured Resource: Self-Editing Stations
If you’d like to guide your students in making their own corrections on some of the most common errors in analytical essays, check out this self-editing stations curriculum set. Says one teacher, “"If you have students who write an essay and assume they are done...or students who think editing is the same as revising - these stations will help! The stations walk students through both editing and revising processes. I especially like the part that guides them to address a counterclaim - Betsy's method makes it really easy."
About the Author: Betsy Potash from Spark Creativity
Betsy loves to travel the world (she'll be back, Morocco!), play playdoh with her little ones, and cook a range of desserts that would make the Hogwarts house elves proud. If you're interested in creative teaching strategies, check out her podcast "The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast" on iTunes and hop into her Facebook group "Creative High School English." Prefer Pinterest? Instagram? She'd love to meet up with you there too!