Grading Hacks for High School English Teachers

Is grading your Voldemort?  Have you tried devising your own grading hacks to no avail?   

It never ends.  It is intimidating.  It seems impossible to “defeat” in one fell swoop because it comes in different forms and sometimes all at once. 

I’ve been interested in solving my grading woes for what seems like forever. 

And while there is no magic wand, I have found grading hacks to help me save time and calm the grading overwhelm. 

After all, I don’t think that I’m making a hasty generalization when I say that most teachers don’t enter this profession because they love grading. Most teachers I know love being in the classroom, being with the students.  They love teaching content they love in ways that are engaging and fun.

Let’s consider the following quote for a moment:

“Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility.  Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

It’s easy, as a teacher, to justify what we do and why we do it.  It’s harder to take time to think about what we do and why we do it. 

We teachers pride ourselves on what we do, but is it all necessary? Probably not. 

Grading Hacks Tip #1: Identify the Non-EssentialsGrading Hacks: Eliminate Non-Essentials

Cue the first grading hack, which seems simple…buuuut requires some self-reflection.  If it’s not necessary, eliminate or reduce it!  

Cutting back on non-essentials (or even reducing them) can leave more room for the essentials, sort of like the big rocks, small rocks concept. And, before we go any further, don’t think that you’re a bad teacher if you stop doing (or change) things you’ve always done.  Self-reflection and change actually means that you’re a good teacher who wants t
o continually improve his or her practice.  

So….what’s an essential?  

I suggest thinking about your grading habits and assessment practices in terms of the following three criteria:  

  1.  It results in more student learning.
  2.  It is narrow in its scope and not broad, i.e. it is manageable
  3.  It promotes student independence.

Teachers Who Could Benefit from Grading Hacks Tip #1

Maybe you can relate to one of the following teachers when it comes to grading student work:

Teacher A:  She has a lot to grade and feels it weighing her down. As if her number of preps wasn’t overwhelming enough, grading tips her over the edge. Now that she has a family and leaves to pick up her kids instead of putting in the extra hours at school, she needs a new plan. 

If you found yourself identifying with this teacher, you most likely rely on rolling up your sleeves and putting in the extra hours where you can. The only problem is that over time you’ll find yourself begrudging having to give up time with family and friends in order to get through yet another stack of papers. 

Teacher B:  She often feels like she has so much on her plate as a new teacher, with planning and content creation and classroom management, that grading often takes a backseat. Sometimes, just to give herself time to “catch up,” she finds herself giving her students work which only adds to her grading pile.

If you found yourself identifying with this teacher, you feel like teaching responsibilities and grading control your life. It doens’t have to be this way!  Be the man or woman with a plan, know the essential skills you are assessing, and create a path for students to follow.  If you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re assessing, then you’ll find yourself creating assessments willy nilly and sometimes for no reason other than it seemed like a good idea at the time. 

Teacher C: She wants to be able to track student progress with skills, so she finds herself grading everything, from journal entries to homework to book notes to group work…and every skill must be assessed in every unit of study, so she creates multiple assessments, for writing, reading, speaking, listening, grammar, etc. She takes pride in the fact that her grade book is so detailed and that she “holds students accountable” while creating a comprehensive picture of their learning. The only problem is that she’s working waaaay too hard and her students are probably over-assessed. 

If you found yourself identifying with this teacher, you may think that assessment = learning and more = rigor.  And we may have to agree to disagree here.  In my view, you don’t have to assess everything to be a “good” teacher, and you don’t have to give students more work to make sure they are learning.  How about stepping out of that assessment cycle and letting students take more responsibility…or giving them the chance to dig deep with a skill vs. trying to “cover” everything and keep them busy? 

Teacher D: This is the way things have always been done, so this is the way they must be done. He remembers his own teachers fondly, and enjoyed reading their feedback on his papers.  And he wrote a lot of papers in his day, so why should it be any different for his students?  As he reaches for his pen, he feels good that he leaves such thoughtful and detailed feedback for his students. The only problem is that he spends over 20 minutes on each essay and that time quickly adds up. He feels trapped, and don’t even mention the number of rubrics he saw crumpled up in the garbage bin.

If you found yourself agreeing with this teacher, you probably value tradition and believe student learning requires a huge time investment from you outside of class. You might find yourself going through a lot of ink (or maybe going cross-eyed from too much screen time) and spending a lot of time crafting “just the right” comments to leave each student.  

Grading Practices Self-Assessment

CLICK HERE to download my 

FREE grading reflection workbook.

I want you to think about the following questions and a recent unit of study: 

  1. What do you grade and why? Do you look at everything a student writes or does in your class? 
  2. How do you grade student work? How much of it do you grade?  What steps are involved?  Why do you grade the way you do? 
  3. What are the essential skills in your course?
  4. What types of assessments do you use in your classroom and why? Are they varied? Do they promote independent learning and student self-reflection? Are these assessments best for student learning?
  5. Do you assess proactively or reactively?
  6. Are all of your assessments necessary?
  7. If you had to save only two grading practices and/or assessments as absolute essentials, which ones would you keep and why?
  8. What makes grading so overwhelming for you?

Now, take a look at your answers and ask “Is this necessary?” This is a hard step, and you have to be objective about it. Now, choose at least one non-essential to cut, eliminate, omit entirely.  Yay!  You’re one step closer to more time and more tranquility. 

In the meantime, don’t be shy.  Leave a comment to share something you will be changing or eliminating from your grading and assessment routine in the spirit of Marcus Aurelius so that we can cheer you on!

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