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.

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Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art

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