Discovering an A+ Grading Style

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I teach for free, but I’m paid to grade, I often joke to colleagues and friends when talking about my job.  10 out of 10 teachers agree that grading is the absolute worst part of the job*: it’s time-consuming, focus-intensive, and just straight up boring a lot of the time.  If feedback didn’t help promote student growth so much, I’d be tempted to outlaw grading altogether.

Here are some tips that I and my teacher friends have come up with to minimize the pain of grading.

You Can’t Take It With You (Or you can… it’s your choice)

I have a friend who teaches AP European History who refuses to leave campus until all of her grading is done.  She says that being at school helps her get into “the grading zone,” that there are less distractions in her classroom, and that she is able to enjoy her home and focus on her family much more when she leaves school with everything completed.  I, on the other hand, like nothing better that leaving school immediately with my satchel of essays and assignments, going home, putting on my jammies, making some chamomile tea, and taking out my purple pen to start grading (I even manage not to get any tea on my students’ papers most of the time).  You can decide to take brain breaks as needed (which I tend to do every 45 minutes or so), or just power through until everything is graded.  See what works better for you, and consider where and how you’ll be more focused, productive, and comfortable.

Create A Grading Oasis

Segueing off the last point, what environment is most conducive for you to focus on grading?  Sterile and efficient, or warm and comfy?  How much sound do you like, and is music helpful to your process?  Look at the space where you typically grade: is it comfy and free of temptations and distractions?  Is working with a partner who is also grading nearby motivating or distracting?  Examine your grading spot feng shui, and redesign if needed.

Use a Rubric

What are the specific elements that you are hoping for students to improve upon for the specific assignment?  Pick no more than 5 key aspects, and write a rubric.  That way you can highlight and circle the areas on the rubric where the student falls, saving ample time.  If you share the rubric with your students in advance, they are clear on what they need to do to find success on the assignment, and are more likely to do well.  This website has plenty of pre-created rubrics wby teachers, and you can also create your own: http://rubistar.4teachers.org/  

Be sure to write one additional, personal line of feedback on every rubric as well to make the feedback seem less generic.

Remember, if you over-mark up a paper, students will absorb little of the feedback, so it is wiser to pick on the parts that you think are the most important for growth for that particular student.

You Don’t Have to Grade Everything

Shhhhhh.  Don’t tell your students, but you don’t have to grade everything.  I tried to grade every scrap of paper that students turned my first year I taught 8th grade English to about 200 students, and felt my free time and sanity quickly slipping away.  When a teacher in the classroom next door showed me her criteria for how she chooses what to grade, I learned how to prioritize my grading workload.  Final unit projects and initial diagnostics must always be assessed, but when you are in the middle of a unit, consider which assignments are most crucial to give feedback to to promote student growth.  Also, think with your parent hat (even if you don’t have children): how much feedback would you like your own child to get from their teacher?

Create a Schedule

When you are unit and lesson planning, think about which assignments will be graded, and build that into your schedule.  If you know that you will have family conflicts or external commitments within the time frame of your unit, also factor that in so you don’t increase your stress level down the line.  Remember, that if you wait too long between collecting an assignment and returning feedback, the efficacy of your comments loses power, so keep in mind what is manageable and feasible based on your own pace of grading.

Have Students Self-Assess Prior to Teacher Grading

While some teacher have students do peer evaluation, I tend to avoid it.  The few times I’ve tried it, I found that student-to-student feedback was either overly-complimentary or overly-antagonistic, and just not specific in terms of providing strong suggestions.  This is not to say that students can’t be trained to provide excellent peer feedback; I didn’t want to take the instructional time for the training process.  Instead, I have found that asking students to reflect on what they feel that did well on on a particular assignment, and where they want feedback for improvement is helpful to both me and them.  By attaching this reflection to the assignment, I can hone in on a specific growth area in addition to the rubric categories that I use to provide praise and suggestions.  

Use Positive Reinforcement and Rewards For Yourself

As much as we can use savvy time management, create comfortable work environments, and utilize work-smarter-not-harder tips, there is no avoiding the drudgery of grading.  There are a million other teacher-related activities I’d rather be doing like teaching, designing lessons, or collaborating with a peer.  In order to motivate myself, I use small rewards.  For instance, I’ll tell myself, “When you get through this next stack of papers, you can (do whatever activity you really enjoy).”  What motivates you to finish something you don’t enjoy? Time with a friend?  Flowers?

Find What works for You!

At the end of the day, grading is definitely not the most riveting part of the teaching job.  Keeping student growth and your own limits in mind should help you come up with a grading style that is manageable and works for you.

Teachers, what other grading hacks do you have?

*Made up statistic… but it sounds plausible!
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