There is a special place in heaven for all teachers, but especially for those of you who teach writing. Not only do you spend five days a week in the classroom, you spend your days “off” grading stacks of student essays, a task that can not only eat up your entire weekend, but lead to a bad case of burnout. Grading papers is never going to be a holiday, but there are simple steps you can take to reduce the tedium and time you spend doing it.
5 Ways to Take the Grind Out of Grading Papers
Location, location, location
Choosing a pleasant, distraction-free working environment is one of the most effective ways to take the grind out of grading. If it’s a nice day, set up shop on the back porch or head to the park and find a quiet picnic bench to work at. If weather keeps you indoors, head to a coffee shop and reward yourself with your favorite drink while you work. If you have an iPod, create a paper-grading playlist full of instrumental music: A little Chopin, Brian Eno or Philip Glass can really take the edge off.
Mix and match
Instead of starting at the top of the stack, grab four random essays and then top off the pile with an essay from one of your strongest writers. Now put the rest of the essays away and forget about them for the time being. Continue this with each stack of five essays.
Grading a strong paper first will make delving into the next four essays much more pleasant.
Focus on two major things
You can easily spend twenty minutes (or more) responding to each paper, but if you are, chances are that you’re doing too much. If the introduction is disjointed and doesn’t contain a strong thesis statement, there’s no reason for you to address grammar in this paragraph. Why? Because it’s going to change in the next draft anyway. There’s no reason for students to add commas to a paragraph that needs to be rewritten.
Instead of addressing everything in the first draft, focus on two main issues in the paper. This will make the whole process a lot less overwhelming for both you and the students.
Grab the wind-up oven timer
Another way to manage your time is by setting a timer. Give yourself ten minutes for each paper and ten minutes only! When the timer goes off, stop and move on.
No more grading marathons
You’re neither doing yourself nor your students any favors when you spend all day Saturday and Sunday tethered to a stack of papers. Grading marathons may get the job done, but how do they make you feel on Monday? Not so good.
Taking time for yourself may mean that students have to wait a little longer for you to return their work, but you owe it to yourself (and them) to return fresh and optimistic on Monday morning.