When it comes to grading papers, the number one complaint I hear from teachers is that it takes time.
Too much time.
And where is that time supposed to come from? The magic genie time fairy of all good English teacher things?
Maybe I can find the time fairy right next to the large bottle of save-my-sanity grading wish-away I stash in my desk drawer.
The hard reality is that too many English teachers find themselves getting math-y and then depressed. Hmm.
120+ students x 5 minutes per paper
If I ignore my planning periods and grade like a robot, maybe I can get it all done (and start over again) in around two weeks.
Is it any wonder that teachers find themselves Googling how to save time grading papers?
Or reading my ultimate guide to grading in high school?
How to Keep Up with Grading Papers
Let’s get one thing straight. We have one life to live, people. If you’re tired of keeping up with the papers, it’s time to flip the script.
Because the papers aren’t in control.
So let’s hit the pause button and think about our goal for student learning. Ready. 1. 2. 3.
What did you think about?
Is student learning about YOU sitting there spending half of your life grading?
Or is it about independence, critical thinking, and application of knowledge?
I want my classroom to be student-led, not teacher-led.
So it makes sense to apply this to grading papers.
Now, this strategy I’m about to clue you in on depends on you making the mindset shift I’ve described in my previous blog posts. You have to put in the time to give formative feedback, teach students through modeling, and guide them as they revise. If you’ve done alllll of that, grading papers should be a final formality, and one that does not take so much precious time.
So if you’re skimming along, my strategy for keeping up with grading papers is simple: Don’t.
Do spend more time with what matters for student learning – getting them writing more frequently and with formative feedback.
Then, you’re ready for grading papers 2.0.
Grading Papers for Teachers 2.0
I’m happy to say that most of the time grading and I are on speaking terms. That’s because I’ve worked so hard over the past few years to find ways to cut down on my grading time.
But this year, life got busy. And I had less time than ever. And I found myself resenting the time I had to spend grading papers.
This strategy sort of fell into my lap during a PLC meeting.
We were talking about…ahem, dreading the grading of a student blogging project we had assigned. We were super excited about it. The students were super excited about it. But there was a lot of clicking on our part to get to all the blogs, lots of pieces to assess, and that meant time.
So I spitballed and threw out the idea that students could create screencasts to guide us through their blogs. The screencast could be no longer than five minutes and had to prove that the student had demonstrated the skills on the rubric. Everyone thought this was a great idea. Student reflection. Metacognition. Responsibility. Yay!
Then we collected the project, along with the screencasts.
And I was sort of kicking myself. Just one more thing to grade, I said.
Boy, was I wrong!
This method of grading saved me a ton of time. In fact, I made it through my first class of 27 students in around 1.5 hours. This is with some interruptions and email-answering thrown in, too. Oh, and there’s a beautiful 2x speed button that speeds up slow talkers.
What’s more, it made grading student-led!
Why this Worked
In reflection, there are reasons why this method of grading papers worked so well.
- Students have to buy-in. Our students had enjoyed the blogging project and were proud to showcase their work. They had a ton of choice and wrote as social critics about relevant topics.
- Students knew the rubric criteria. We took the time to model in class, look at examples, and engage in peer review.
- The rubric was written in student-friendly language.
- The rubric was streamlined. It wasn’t one of these “let’s assess everything” kitchen sink sorts of rubrics.
- Our students had familiarity with screencasting, so it didn’t take a lot of extra time.
Before you start thinking about why this won’t work, let me ask you whether gaining 10+ hours of your life back is worth a try. I also hope that you do take the time to read my previous posts that offer even more useful tips for feedback and grading. Here’s the link again: The Ultimate Guide to Grading in High School.
Skeptical? You might be asking if I had to go back and re-look at student work if the student didn’t accurately assess in the screencast. Yes, for some students. But I had spent time conferencing with these students and providing formative feedback, so I already was familiar with their work.
What holds students accountable for doing a good job on the screencast? Well, we had a strand on the rubric for the quality and accuracy of the screencast. We also set students up for success by providing them with a planning sheet for the screencast and an example. Finally, we made it very clear that we were assessing their work through the screencast, so it was up to the students to showcase their work well.
Example Student Screencasts
These three students can be heard talking through the skills on the rubric for their blog writing, including use of purposeful diction, analysis of an author’s writing moves, and adding something new to the conversation. These are just average students doing what they’ve been asked to do. And, as you can see, it’s easy, as a teacher, to read, listen, and grade.
Free Guide to Streamlined Grading
Hey, if you loved this post, I want to be sure you’ve had the chance to grab a FREE copy of my guide to streamlined grading. I know how hard it is to do all the things as an English teacher, so I’m over the moon to be able to share with you some of my best strategies for reducing the grading overwhelm.