Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Time Saving Tips for Grading Assignments Part 1

At the beginning of every quarter, I make the same goal: cut down on grading time. Since I teach composition classes, this inherently involves hours of writing comments on rough drafts. That’s just part of the gig. I do utilize an error log and key (which you can read about here), which does save some time, and I do have other processes in place, but that is not what I’m talking about here; it’s the homework, quizzes, and in-class assignments where I can certainly save more time.

Following are a few strategies I’ve used through the years that work well. Next week’s blog will be about new ideas I’m implementing. Check it out here.

On-the-spot grading: For in-class assignments that can earn credit for simply being completed, have students bring it up to you as soon as they are finished. Check quickly for completion and major errors and immediately enter the points in your gradebook.  When everyone is finished, go over the answers with the class so they can check their own work. This works particularly well in my class for grammar exercises. The small amount extra time this takes in class is well worth not bringing home a stack of papers to grade. 

Selective grading: If students have done homework containing say, 10 questions, pick 3 or 4 and grade those. Don’t let the students know which questions you will be grading, but do tell them that you will be picking only a few to grade. A bonus to this method is that I find the overall quality of the work improves because students consider the quality of each answer.

Peer grading:  After simple quizzes, I used to have students switch papers with a classmate and then I would read the answers out loud and the classmate would mark the inccorect responses. I stopped when I found out there was cheating going on (duh!), so I started correcting them all myself.  Halfway through a huge stack, I realized what a waste of time this was, so I came up with a cheat-proof method that has worked ever since: Students must take the quiz using a black or blue pen. When the quizzes are completed, I collect them, shuffle, and redistribute instead of letting them pick their grading partner. All writing implements are put away and I distribute green pens, which students use for grading. With a big class, this saves me at least half an hour for each quiz.

Don’t grade everything: Not every assignment needs to be graded. This has been my biggest mental hurdle. If they put in the effort, shouldn’t they be rewarded with points? On the other hand, if they blew off an assignment, or did it poorly, shouldn’t there be a score that reflects the lack of effort?  I have put aside my urge to assign points for everything, and once in a while, I tell students not to turn in something at the end of class (never before they start). Not surprisingly, there are audible “Awwww” sounds from those who put in the effort and some high-fives among those who were slacking. This makes me feel guilty, but I make myself feel better knowing I will have an extra free hour that evening.

Verbal feedback: If I notice a mistake being repeated that requires me writing out a lengthy comment to explain, or is difficult to explain without an example, sometimes I just put an asterisk at the top of the paper. Then in class, I say “If there is an asterisk at the top of your paper, pay close attention, because this feedback is for you….”  Students know I am not calling them out individually because they know it’s something I saw on several papers.

Wishing you all the best for the new year! May your grading time be efficient and productive!

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