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How to Grade Papers Without the Grind

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 13, 2014 10:09:00 AM

how to grade papersThere 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 papers, 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.

How to Grade Papers Without the Grind: 5 Tips for Teachers

Focus on two major things
If you’re spending forty minutes on each paper (believe me, I’ve done this a time or two), you’re doing way, way 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.

Grade one half of the stack; discuss the other half in person; then rotate
I started doing this after my first year of teaching and do I wish I’d thought of it sooner!

Here’s what you do: Divide your stack of essays in half. On the first half, provide written feedback, marginal comments, suggestions, questions, etc. When you’re done, issue a grade and return the essays to your students.

Now, instead of responding to the other half of the pile, simply read them. On the back of the essays, jot down a few bullet points. These will help you remember what you wish to discuss with the other half of your students when you meet with them one-on-one in your five to ten-minute meetings. Five or ten minutes isn’t much, I agree. But if you stick to your rule of only focusing on two major things in each draft, five minutes will be plenty of time.

On the next essay, switch it up. Those students you met with one-on-one will receive written feedback and vice versa.

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.

No more grading marathons
My mentors and professors always cautioned me against trying to do “too much” when responding to student work. “Focus on two main things in the first draft,” one mentor told me. I didn’t listen—and I certainly paid for it.

You’re not going to believe how much of your job is tied up in paperwork and grading, especially if you are a composition teacher. One of the best things you can do for yourself is create a realistic grading schedule, stick to it, and for goodness’ sake, stop working harder than your students! If you know you can only grade 10-15 papers in a night, don’t bring home a stack of 50; this will stress you out and lead to exhaustion. 

Start a student-run writing center
A couple of years ago, I attended a writing center conference at Oakland University. Out of all the presentations I sat in on, I only recall one of them. This particular presentation was led by five high school seniors who, with the help of their English instructor, created a student-run writing center. These five students were personally selected and trained by their teacher to become writing “consultants.”

With the support of their principal, a room was set aside; for a few hours every week, the “writing center” was open for anyone that needed help with their writing. Writing consultants were not trained to be “grammar geeks”—in fact, they were not even allowed to write on their peers’ essays. Instead, consultants read their peers’ work, asked questions, helped brainstorm for topics, helped with thesis statements, and taught their peers how to better develop their ideas.

Training students will take some time, and you’ll have to work with your administrator to find an appropriate space for your writing center, but I think the payoff could be huge—not only for your students, but for you as well.

Photo credit: E_TAVARES / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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