I don’t know a single teacher who would rather grade than teach (and if you do, give me your address. I’ll send you a large package with a self-addressed stamped envelope with some essays. Thanks!) However, grading essays, tests, and homework is part of the responsibility of being a teacher. If students would simply learn everything that we taught them, we wouldn’t need to grade anything at all! But they don’t, so we have to grade assessments to make sure that they have learned what they need to know, and make adjustment if they don’t.
If you’re an English teacher like me, you can easily be bombarded with papers. It can seem like the stack will never get smaller and just when it does, a new set of papers comes in. What can you do? Here are some strategies that have helped me over the years. And no, assign less work is not one of the strategies.
Set a deadline.
My goal is to get papers back a week after they are handed in. I don’t always accomplish it, but setting this deadline for myself is one of the best ways I’ve found to help me stay on task and get them back quickly.
If you’re especially brave, tell your students your goal. It will help keep you accountable.
Find your most productive time.
I have 1st period and 7th period off, and I’m a much quicker grader in the morning than in the afternoon. My mind is fresh and I don’t get distracted easily. On the weekends if I have papers to grade I’m likely to do them first thing in the morning on Saturday and Sunday. Those are the times when I feel like I can crank out a bunch of papers. Make sone tea, turn on some classical music, sit in the early morning sun, and I’m ready to go.
Be aware of the times of day that seem to work best for you. Grade during those times and do other tasks during the other times. I don’t check my email first thing once I get to school, because that can easily rob me of fifteen minutes I could have spent grading. I save that for much later in the day.
Pair grading with something you like to do.
On the rare occasions where I’m grading something in the evening, I like to have a glass of wine. I know some teachers who love to grade in their pajamas – even in the afternoon! Pairing something you don’t want to do with something you like to do is a great way to make the task less of a chore. Put on some of your favorite chill out music and grab that pen and go.
Yoga teacher Erica Jago always lights a candle in her office when she writes. This signals to her mind that it’s time to get to work.
Similarly, we can create these cues in our own lives that signal to our brains when it’s grading time. Make a cup of tea, listen to a certain CD, go to a certain place in the building. I like to grade in the media center in our school with a cup of tea. Once we signal to our brains that grading is what we are supposed to be doing, it’s easier to get in the flow and crank out some papers.
Don’t grade for yourself.
I have been guilty of putting way too many comments on students’ papers. I put comments on the paper to justify the grade I give them rather than to teach them how to do better the next time.
Excessive comments take up time, and if the students don’t read them when you hand them back, it’s a waste of time. Don’t grade to prove that the students deserves the grade you give them. Only put meaningful, purposeful comments that will help students do better the next time. If the students have questions about how they can do better, or don’t understand the grade they received you can address it then. A good rubric will also help you to make less comments.
You can also make the argument that if your assignment is summative – like a test or an exam – you don’t need to add any comments at all. If you’re only trying to assess what students have learned, all you need to do is give a grade.
Timeliness beats thoroughness.
I could go through a stack of essays and add numerous comments and mark every mistake, but if I hand them back two months later, it would do much good. Feedback is best when it’s received as quickly as possible. It’s much better to only mark a few things and get papers back quickly rather than be meticulous and get them back long after the students have forgotten what they’ve written.