Grading is the English teacher’s special crucible. Sunday nights are especially arduous. You’ll bring those papers in on Friday afternoon, promising yourself to grade them first thing Saturday morning. But Saturday morning rolls around, and you run some errands, go to the grocery. Then you promise yourself that you’ll get to them Saturday afternoon. You know what happens. Finally, it’s 3:00 pm on Sunday, and there’s a pile of ungraded essays on your coffee table that you keep circling.
My late father-in-law always said to me, “You know how to avoid those essays? Don’t assign them!”
Of course, it’s not that simple with English teachers. Writing is a skill that requires nuanced and individualized feedback. Last year, a meme was making its way around the interweaves that showed how many hours it takes teachers to grade essays. At the low end (a teacher who had 100 students and only spent 5 minutes on each essays) the teacher spent 8 hours grading papers. At the high end (a teacher who had 150 students and spent 20 minutes per paper) the teacher spent 50 hours grading papers. That’s just insanity. So how does a high school teacher, with a relentless daily schedule, do it? Here are a few tips:
- Don’t make everything due at the same time. I know this might be impossible if you are teaching several sections of the same class, and you want to keep them at the same pace, but one class of 25 essays isn’t as daunting as five classes of 25 essays. Even if you break them up by a few days, the wiggle room will keep the grading stress to a minimum.
- Don’t grade everything all the time. There are numerous activities that are both important and beneficial that don’t need to be assessed. Carol Jago’s book Papers, Papers, Papers gives many examples of strategies for assessments that are non-graded, but still provides students with skill practice.
- Google Forms is your friend. Any online grading system, such as a clicker system, which collates student answers in a spreadsheet and provides graphs and individualized data for you is excellent for quick assessments. Use these online data gathering tools to streamline your grading flow.
- Grade essays with an analytical rubric, preferably one designed with your students. Rubrics make grading essays easier as the descriptions and feedback concentrates on 3-5 categories in a range of performance levels. Creating a rubric with your students is an instructional gold mine that allows them to understand how they are being assessed and what the expectations of the assignment are before they start.
- Formative assessment comes in many forms. You don’t have to have a paper and pencil test to assess all student learning. A quick conference or a thumbs up/thumbs down survey can yield the information you need to know.