I recently saw an Instagram image of a teacher’s stack of grading for the weekend — next to a ruler. She had three inches of grading to do (insert sobbing here!).
When you were getting certified to teach ELA, they didn’t tell you the unspoken secret: you will be doing a LOT of grading. A LOT of grading. Why?
- You can’t teach writing with a scantron.
- You want your students to think deeply about what they are reading, arguing, and thinking —
- hence, the dreaded “answers may vary,” which means
- YOU have to read and evaluate each response (insert lost weekend here!).
There ARE ways to simplify grading!
1. Begin with the end in mind: How will you grade this?
Take time to plan what you want to teach and how you will assess it.
At the start of each unit, plan out what you want students to do to show mastery. Do you want them to write an essay, create a project, give an oral presentation, take a test, perform a skit, create a map, etc. Then:
- create a project sheet (if project-based) or assignment sheet
- determine what elements of the project you will be grading
- determine if those items are summative or formative (see below)
- determine if ALL of the items in the project need to be graded or can they be reviewed?
- create a rubric
If you break up a unit into elements to be graded, you can control the “flow” of assessments that are coming to you. You don’t want to have big projects all due the week before the grading period ends! Stagger due dates.
2. Is it summative or formative?
Don’t skip this questions as you’re planning your units. How are you going to assess student progress as you work through a unit (formative) and how will you assess final progress (summative)?
You want to make sure you have plenty of formative assessments — that is where the learning takes place.”Use those formative assessments to plan:
- mini lessons
- individual conferences
- reteaching lessons
- lessons that are needed to “fill in” (for example, how to quote material or cite sources)
3. Grade as you go
When students are working in class, use a “walking grade book.” Use a checklist (or just print up a grade book page), clip it to a clipboard, and walk around the room. This is a great way to make formative assessments. If an item you want to assess is a graphic organizer, ask students to place it on the corner of their desks so they can continue working, and you can walk around the room and assess.
This works well for homework or any work where you are checking that students have completed an item. For example:
- thesis statement
- graphic organizer
- essay outline
- introductory paragraph
- fact collector
- mentor sentences
- journal entries
- reading notes
And best of all: you didn’t collect any papers!
4. What kind of grade does this need?
Be sure you know your school policies for grading. Do you weigh grades? Put them in categories? Do you need to have a certain number of grades each week or grading period?
Not all grades are equal. That means you should parse out your time accordingly. Consider establishing an E, G, S, U format. Each of those can equate to a percentage (100, 90, 80, 70 for example) — you can easily and quickly read and score work accordingly.
Additionally, if you “sort” students assessments this way, you’ve created conference groups — you’ve differentiated how you can meet the needs of each student!
5. What is going to benefit my students the most?
We’ve all been witness to this scenario: You return graded papers, students look at the grade, and then drop the paper in the trash on the way out of class (insert tearing hair out here!).
You’ve practically used an entire red pen on each paper, yet the students don’t even look at your comments and suggestions!!”
Why? The assessment is over. Those comments, even when read and considered, will not change the outcome — the final grade.
That’s why formative assessments are so helpful. If you want to provide students direction to improve their writing, read and comment on their drafts. I use writing workshop notes to communicate with students through the writing process. By having a pre-printed form, I can check what I want students to do, and they can respond by letting me know what they did in writer’s workshop and what they feel they need additional help with.
6. How much help should I be giving my students?
Do your 8th grader need you to grade spelling and grammar? I argue that we are doing our students a disservice by checking spelling and grammar for them! Yes, they are responsible for making sure it’s correct — and you should have conventions on your rubric, but you don’t need to mark each paper with those corrections.
Again, I ask myself, “Where does the learning take place?” It doesn’t happen when I revise, proofread, or edit their papers — it happens when they do it! Draw a line in the sand — decide what you will and won’t do to help your students become better writers and what they must do for themselves. That’s why I love the “check mark system” (see #7).
7. The check mark system
When I am reading drafts, I place a check mark in the margin anytime I find a convention error (grammar, spelling, sentence structure) that I know my students already (or should) know how to identify and fix. I don’t mark the error in the draft, just in the margin
What is wonderful about this?
- the burden of discovery goes back to the students (where does the learning take place??!)
- I am not using an entire red pen on each paper!
- I can provide feedback on BIG PICTURE issues: argument structure, textual evidence, details, etc.
- students don’t wonder what is important to do next — they can see my comments and address the check marks on their own
If students cannot figure out the reason for the check mark, I direct them to ask for help from a peer first (see #8 for more on that!). If they cannot find the error (and they usually can), I will help out.
8. Peer reviews – do they even work?
Peer reviews can help reduce your grading workload. Before setting your peer reviewers loose on reviews, be sure they have a specific task (or tasks) to complete. Peer reviewers can be tasked with:
- checking for run ons, comma splices, and fragments
- looking for spelling errors
- checking for using quotation marks correctly
- checking paragraph structure: is there a topic sentence?
When you ask peer reviewers to review specific items that they are already familiar with they will be successful reviewers.
9. Make a requirement checklist
Let’s say you’re assessing journals. Rather than spending ten minutes wondering why you thought this was a good idea in the first place, create a little checklist for yourself. What are you assessing? Are you looking for:
- depth of thought
- addressing the prompt
- using conventions
Don’t feel like you have to include every little thing in your checklist. Remember #2 & #4 above, what is the purpose of what you are grading and what will provide the greatest learning potential for your students?
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for eliminating grading. If you are going to be an effective writing teacher, your students must write and you must interact with them during that process. That’s how they are going to learn!
But, the good news is that you can streamline some of the grading processes — and reduce the volume of your grading. Take the time to thoughtfully determine what you need to grade and how much feedback your students need.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!
With gratitude (and a brand new red pen),