Tips For Grading and Writing Comments That Save Time And Increase Impact

TeacherVision Advisory Board Member, Jeanne, draws on her extensive teaching experience to share creative ideas for solving your grading challenges. Her post is full of resources, tips, and strategies that will make grading more meaningful and less time-consuming.

Updated: May 29, 2019

Teacher writing grades

After teaching Writing for five years with a student load of 130, I’ve learned some tricks to addressing some of the most common challenges in providing meaningful writing feedback. Hint: it doesn’t have to take up all your nights and weekends to be effective; nor do you have to be part of every step of the way. Let’s break down some challenges and jump into some of the most creative ideas to solve them.

Check out our grading and assessment workbook for strategies and tips that will save you time. 

Challenges with Writing Grades and Comments

There is no limit to the amount of time you can spend grading. Let’s do the math: if you have 120 students, every minute you spend on each paper will end up costing two hours of your life. I decided that every minute I spend on a student’s paper must be worth two hours of my time. We’ll talk about some strategies for maximizing your grading time below.

Students don’t always read what you write

Maddening, but true. One major, simple factor that determines the effectiveness of my feedback is if students actually read it--which unfortunately, as most writing teachers can attest, doesn’t always happen. In fact, Kristy Louden of Louden Clear in Education published an entire post on Cult of Pedagogy about what she did when she noticed that students were consistently ignoring her feedback. We’ll talk about some of her strategies below.

Whoever is doing the work is doing the learning

If you’re spending 20 hours grading and correcting something that only took students 20 minutes to do, guess who’s learning the most from that activity? You. This is something that always bothered me as I graded--that after the 10th hour of grading the same assignment, I could do the assignment in my sleep. But my students? Not so much.

You find yourself writing the same thing...over and over again

Not only can grading be time-consuming, but it can get extremely repetitive. And anytime something seems redundant...it probably is.

Ideas and Tips for Grading Writing

Have students annotate their papers as they self-grade. Like Kristy noticed with students ignoring comments on their papers, I noticed pretty quickly that students also tend to ignore the rubric. To solve this, I began requiring students to annotate their writing to show where they accomplished each part of the rubric.

This worked wonders. I knew I was on the right track when a student turned to me during class and complained that it was so time-consuming to find proof of their mastery of each part of the rubric. Ahhh, how the tables had turned so deliciously. I just turned to him and said, “Yes, yes it is.”

Having students grade themselves and annotate not just increases their understanding of the skills and their progress towards them, but saves you boat loads of time. Because that student was right, it is time-consuming to check for mastery, but this way, the onus is on the student.

Have students grade themselves throughout the unit

As you can imagine, as students graded and annotated their papers, they tended to have lightbulb moments of what they needed to revise. The most effective self-grading, therefore, is self-grading that happens throughout the unit so that students have time to digest the rubric and work towards it as they revise their papers.

You can do this in a variety of ways. I like to cut out just one skill of a rubric on the day we talk about that skill, and have students grade and annotate themselves on that day. You can also have students grade their pre-assessments with the rubric, or just have them check in periodically during the unit.

Model quality peer and self-evaluations

Providing quality peer-feedback or reflecting deeply on your own writing is a skill, though often we assume that students should just know how to do it. If you want self- and peer-evaluations to be fruitful (not to mention save you time grading), it pays off to do a bit of modeling and teaching before students begin. Hold a fishbowl session with another student, or simply demonstrate yourself. You can find an example of one of my own lessons for teaching peer feedback along with an organizer to help guide students here.

Instead of providing similar feedback on all papers individually, list the most common issues you found, re-teach them, and then have students revise their papers.

This was an idea I got from this Medium article by Arthur Chiaravalli and absolutely love: instead of providing feedback on all papers individually, list the most common issues you found, re-teach them, and then have students apply it to their papers on their own. This promotes student-ownership of their revisions, streamlines your feedback process, and provides opportunity for needed re-teaching. You could even expand this method by creating small group conferences according to individual student needs. Either way, it places the bulk of the time you’re providing feedback into the actual class period where you have the best chance of capturing student attention.

When providing individual, written feedback, copy and paste from a common-comment sheet

I learned this technique from Angela Watson, and she even has some pre-written lists of comments that you can use to copy and paste. This can save you tons of time in providing individualized feedback should you choose to provide it.

Provide audio or video comments

As student writing moves increasingly off paper and onto computers, the options for providing feedback increase significantly. Some teachers provide audio comments, like this teacher who provides a “podcast” recording for each of her students, or even video comments.

While still more time-consuming than providing whole-class feedback, many teachers find that recording themselves can significantly speed up the process of individualized feedback.

While traditional-style of grading 120 individual papers has robbed teachers of sleep and personal time for decades, it doesn’t have to continue to be that way. With some prioritizing, strategic teaching, use of technology, and involvement of students, teachers have the power to transform their grading practices to be meaningful educational tools (that take a fraction of the time). 

For additional resources on grading, check out How To Grade With A Growth Mindset and Make These Shifts For A More Student-Centered Classroom. 

What are your creative solutions for grading problems? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Jeanne Wolz taught middle school Writing and AVID in Illinois for four years in addition to serving as the English Department Chair. She holds a bachelor’s in English and Secondary Education and a master’s in Curriculum and Instruction. Currently, she teaches ESL, develops curriculum, and coaches new teachers. You can find more of her resources at www.teacheroffduty.com and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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