Remember that resolution to Stay on Top of the Grading Load this semester?

Remember that resolution to Stay on Top of the Grading Load this semester? This is often when it slips through our fingers.  No matter how many times we re-count the papers left in the stack, or rearrange them in tidy groups of 5, or calculate how many we’ll need to grade per hour to make the latest self-imposed deadline, there they remain.  And a new batch is coming in any minute.  And the “stacks” that come in online seem to proliferate at the same frustrating rate.

Do not despair!

Here are 4 things to try to make grading assignments more manageable (and maybe more effective).

  1. Put the pen down. You are not a copy editor. Correcting every error makes for very slow going, and a paper overwhelmed with corrections is actually less effective in improving student writing than targeted feedback, especially when followed by revision.  If your students are submitting drafts before the final paper, try the “minimal marking” technique with the first go-round:  Read about two paragraphs closely, marking errors with simple check marks or coded marks explained on a handout, along with a few specific comments about the whole draft. Then return the paper asking students to find and fix the errors in the next draft. This will make for cleaner (read: quicker to grade) final papers.  Even if you only see one draft, a few very specific corrections will have a better chance of making an impact than a bloodbath on the page or screen.  And by the way, if your students submit Word or PDF assignments in Blackboard, are you taking advantage of the very handy inline grading tool? Check out this TLP grading tutorial.
  2. Before the assignment is due, do an in-class review of an sample from a previous semester.  When students actually see and discuss the difference between a topic sentence and a thesis, or how to fix a comma splice, they are much more likely to get it right on their own. I often also do a micro-writing lesson (3 minutes tops) when I return a set of papers, based on common problems in that stack. This assuages my guilt about not explaining each error on every paper and has the benefit of coming at them visually and verbally, instead of just in a small, marginally legible note on page 3.
  3. Regulate the flow. When planning your courses for next semester, make sure you don’t have assignments coming in from every class in the same week.  You can also stagger the delivery of papers in a single class. If you want students to do 3 short papers, for instance, try assigning 4 and letting them choose which 3 they will do.  That way you get 4 slightly smaller stacks spaced over a longer time. Clever, right?
  4. Change coffee shops every 10 assignments. Best advice my department chair ever gave me.

*Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.


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