Quick Tips: Grading Essays and Papers More Efficiently

If you are among those who don’t teach during the summers, grading papers may be the furthest thing from your mind at the moment. Before we know it, however, a new semester will be starting. And now is a good time to be thinking about new directions in your assessment and evaluation of student work, especially if your syllabus will need changing as a result.

Male instructor 's head between two stacks of papers.Earlier this week (June 22, 2015) and article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Rob Jenkins, an associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College, Conquering Mountains of Essays: How to effectively and fairly grade a lot of papers without making yourself miserable, caught my attention. Even the most dedicated instructors find grading to be a chore.

Jenkins, who teaches several writing-intensive courses every semester, notes that it is easy to take on the pose of a martyr when faced with stacks and stacks of multiple-paged papers, especially when the process is repeated a few times for each class. He offers eight guidelines for keeping grading in balance with the aspects of teaching that are more enjoyable. Jenkins proposes that you:

  1. Change your bad attitude about grading. Grading is an integral part of teaching. View grading student work as an opportunity to reinforce class concepts and use misconception that arise in their papers as a basis for class discussion.
  2. Stagger due dates. Plan in advance and have students in different sections turn in essays on different dates.
  3. Break it down. Determine an optimum number of papers to grade at one sitting. Take a break for an hour before starting another session.
  4. Schedule grading time. Literally. Put it on your calendar.
  5. Have a realistic return policy. Jenkins says, “I’ve chosen to define ‘a reasonable amount of time’ as one week, or two class sessions. Occasionally, if I get four stacks of papers in the same week, it might take me three class meetings to finish grading.”
  6. Be a teacher, not an editor. Stay out of the weeds and focus on the major problems with the essay. Jenkins limits editing “to situations where a simple change of wording or construction might have broader application than to that one essay.”
  7. Limit your comments. For undergraduates, a few observations will be more useful as a teaching strategy than pages of commentary. Jenkins tries to offer one positive comment and three suggestions for improvement.
  8. Limit grading time on each essay. Following the suggestions above will help you reduce the time you need to spend on each paper.

One thing Jenkins doesn’t mention is using a rubric for grading. Rubrics can be a powerful tool for consistent grading across the class or sections, as well as a means for students to understand how the assignment is being evaluated. See previous Innovative Instructor posts on rubrics: Creating Rubrics and Sharing Assignment Rubrics with Your Students.

You might also be interested in some of The Innovative Instructor’s past posts on grading: Feedback codes: Giving Student Feedback While Maintaining Sanity and Quick Tips: Paperless Grading.


Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art

A New Face in the MOOC World – An Online Art School Called Kadenze

New in the Higher Ed world was the announcement this week of Kadenze, a new company offering MOOCs in the arts disciplines. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Art Schools Go MOOC, With a New Online Platform (June 16, 2015 – Meg Bernhard), and Inside Higher Ed, Taking the Arts Online (June 16, 2015 – Carl Straumsheim), both ran articles on Kadenze.

Screen shot of Kadenze websiteThe Innovative Instructor has run a number of posts on MOOCs with a range of viewpoints – you can use the search box (above right) and enter MOOC to see them all. The three biggest players in terms of MOOC offerings are Udacity, Coursera, and edX. Udacity specializes in courses on tech and related skills, such as programming, app development, and how to build a startup. Coursera has a broad range of offerings, including courses in data science, public health, education, science, business, and more. edX also offers an extensive list of courses from many disciplines. All three offer their courses for free, but for added fees, certificates are available in many of the courses.

None of the big three however, offer much in the way of art, beyond a history of art course here and there. Kadenze was founded to fill that gap. From The Chronicle article: “The new virtual art school, called Kadenze, has already teamed up with programs at 18 institutions, including Stanford and Princeton Universities, to create a digital platform designed for arts courses. According to a company co-founder, Perry R. Cook, an emeritus professor at Princeton, the platform will be “multimedia rich” and allow students to create online portfolios, upload music files and scanned art, watch videos, and participate in discussion forums.”

Kadenze is offering courses for free, but has a fee basis for those who wish to receive grades and credit. Again, from The Chronicle, “Kadenze will initially offer about 20 courses on subjects including music, art history, and technology and art. Students will be able to enroll in courses and watch videos free, but they will have to pay $7 a month if they want to submit assignments and receive grades and feedback. Fees of $300, $600, or $900 will be charged for courses that are offered for credit.”

The initial set of offerings includes titles such as Careers in Media Technology, Introduction to Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists, Major Mind-Blowing Moments in the History of Western Art, Culture and Art Making, and The Nature of Code. Teaching art to large numbers of students in an online environment will certainly present challenges, so it will be interesting to keep an eye on this experiment. Personally, I am thinking about signing up (for the free version, of course) for the course titled, Comics: Art in Relationship. Maybe Kadenze will have an offering that fits your summer personal development goals as well.


Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Screen shot of Kadenze website: https://www.kadenze.com/