I’ve been grading research papers lately. A lot of research papers.
I happen to have only about 160 students this year, but I have English teacher friends who have over 200 high school students at any one time.
Just think about that for a few seconds. 200 students. That means that every time the teacher assigns a 1,000 word essay, she has at least 600 pages to read.
And that is just one essay.
So, here’s the thing: I love my job. I really do. I love helping students become better readers and writers. I don’t, however, routinely say to myself, “Wow, I just love grading papers.”
But assessment is part of the writing teacher’s job, and as much as I’d love to just move on and deliver amazing lessons all day, I have to give students feedback on their writing. I’m always on the lookout for ways to make my grading more efficient for me but still meaningful for students.
The part that takes the most time in grading the paper is not the actual determining of the grade. I can read an essay and know, even as I finish the last sentence, what score it should receive.
What takes the most time is the feedback.
Now, I am a firm believer that students do want to see evidence that I actually read their essays; I know that I want to know that my teachers actually read my work.
This year in particular, I found that I was writing the same comments on many essays. The progression through the year is pretty predictable; even as I teach particular writing lessons, I know that a large number of students will struggle with certain concepts at certain points in the course. The first semester focuses mostly on idea development and organization, and the second semester adds a focus on style. In the fall, I’m writing mostly comments about thesis statements and paragraph structure. In the spring, if all goes according to plan, I’m moving on to a lot of comments about connections and sentence fluency.
Because the commenting takes a lot of my time, this spring I sat down and typed up a list of all of those frequently occurring comments.
Then, instead of rewriting these on student papers, I checked off the comments that were relevant to that particular paper.
Now, I have to admit that I have a little bit of guilt about this. There is this part of me that feels like I should handwrite all comments.
But here is what I do handwrite: positive feedback.
As this checklist is for constructive criticism, I use my handwritten commenting for writing two or three things that I really liked about the essay, aspects of the essay that I noticed were really well done. I hope that this keeps the personal touch that I know is important to students and channels that personal touch into a positive direction. I want them to know that I’m noticing their growth, not just their deficiencies. In a way, I suppose I want them to associate my handwritten notes with encouragement.
What are your ideas for making essay grading more efficient? Do any of you do something similar to a checklist for commenting or feedback?