One of the tasks I disliked the most as an English teacher (and that didn't really get better over time, even as I found better strategies) was grading papers. As a high school English teacher, we are all well aware of the importance of writing and reading in developing students' language skills. But with a large workload and limited time, grading assignments becomes a tedious and time-consuming task.
While I'd love to change the system to focus more on portfolios and feedback, I know as a veteran teacher, that our systems change very slowly. But I've also learned a thing or two about saving time while grading. That's why we've compiled a list of time-saving grading strategies that can help you grade more efficiently and effectively. Whether you're a seasoned teacher or just starting out, these tips will help you streamline your grading process and give you more time to focus on what's truly important – teaching and helping your students grow as readers and writers.
- 1Rubrics: Using a pre-defined grading criteria saves time and reduces subjectivity in grading. I've created a few time-saving grading rubrics that you can download for free when you join the reThink ELA newsletter here. My favorite way to use these essay or project rubrics is to have students evaluate themselves first, particularly on their ideas, organization, and voice in a first draft of an essay or project. This not only saves me time, but also helps me to identify those students who need help with their writing mindsets.
- 2Quick grading: Grading a small number of assignments in a short time period helps to maintain focus and reduces the amount of time spent on each individual assignment. This is easier if you stagger due dates -- sophomores turn their essay drafts in on week two while freshmen turn theirs in on week three. Instead of having two grade levels of essays to grade, I only have one.
- 3Grade in bulk: Batch grading similar assignments together to reduce time spent switching between tasks. This may seem to be the complete opposite of number two, but both strategies can work well together. If I have several assignments to grade, I'll choose one assignment and grade it across all hours and grade levels. This way I can focus on what I'm assessing in this assignment and not waste time trying to remember what I was looking for and my strategies for maintaining consistency across hours and grade levels.
- 4Automated Feedback: Utilize tools like online grading software or scripts to provide automatic feedback on grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. For grammar mistakes, I recommend assigning the usage of feedback software like Grammarly to students. Have them show that they've used the software and turn in assignments that have already been corrected. At my college writing center, we recommend students use this or similar software to suggest grammatical and spelling corrections, which help improve student writing. This will save you time being their editor and make reading their work more enjoyable, too. Plus, you won't have to worry that a student will they they aren't a good writer because they don't remember to capitalize or punctuate and don't know how to use a semicolon. You can also make sure you're having grammar conversations with your students in class so they understand the purpose of the grammatical constructions you're teaching them.
- 5Grade by exceptions: Focus on grading the most critical elements of assignments, rather than spending time grading every detail. Don't waste time correcting student papers or trying to grade everything all at once. One of my favorite strategies is to choose just one element to look at and provide a grade for it. Then grade the same assignment on a different standard. This way, students have fewer assignments and I meet my "quota" of grades for the week.
- 6Student self-assessment: Encourage students to assess their own work and provide them with guidelines to do so, this reduces the time spent grading. Most students are harder on themselves than we are as teachers. Ask them what grade they deserve and then as them to write a short justification for that grade. This reflective assignment can also be a process grade itself. (Check out our email course for more information about process verses product grades.)
- 7Streamline comments: Use shorthand and symbols to quickly provide feedback on specific areas for improvement. This is a key concept in a classroom where you're going gradeless as a way to improve student learning while still working within a system that requires grades. Google Classroom and Canvas both enable you to provide feedback within their learning management systems.
- 8Make use of technology: Utilize tools such as speech-to-text software, which can speed up the grading process. Canvas has this option built in and while Google Classroom doesn't have this option, you can store a bank of comments for use across assignments.
- 9Set clear expectations: Clearly define the expectations for assignments and grading criteria to minimize confusion and save time. Rubrics and class discussions can help you make sure students understand your expectations and have the opportunity to impact what those expectations are. If students help develop the criteria, they will have more buy in and more students will take the necessary steps to meet the goals.
- 10Collaborate with peers: Share grading responsibilities with other teachers and collaborate on grading criteria, which can reduce workload and save time. At a previous school, the English department wanted to assess student writing throughout the building. So we took a day (this was a district initiative) to holistically evaluate student essays on a 1 to 4 scale, similar to the rubric I developed. Our groups graded a few sample essays to compare our evaluations and ensure we had interrater reliability. Once we agreed upon the criteria for each level, we quickly worked our way through the stacks of essays.
While none of these options are perfect, they can not only help you reduce your workload, but also make the grading process produce more meaningful, actionable feedback that can contribute positively to your students' learning processes. For more information about how to rethink grading in your classroom, check out my email series.
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