Are you looking for ways to grade essays faster? I get it. Grading essays can be a daunting task for ELA teachers. Following these essay grading tips and tricks can save you time and energy on grading without giving up quality feedback to your students.
Are you Googling “How to Grade Essays Faster” because that never-ending pile of essays is starting to haunt you? (Yup. I’ve been there.) Teachers of all disciplines understand the work-life struggle of the profession. Throw in 60, 80, 100, or more essays, and you’re likely giving up evenings and weekends until that pile is gone.
Truthfully, while there are many aspects of being an ELA teacher I love, grading essays doesn’t quite make the list. However, it’s a necessary aspect of the ELA classroom to hold students accountable and help them improve. But what if I told you there were some tips and tricks you could use to make grading much easier and faster? Because there are.
That means saying goodbye to spending your weekends lost in a sea of student essays. It means no more living at school the weeks following students turning in an essay. Instead, prepare to celebrate getting your time (and sanity) back.
Start By Reframing Your Definition of Grading an Essay
Before you can implement my time-saving grading tips and tricks, you need to be willing to shift your mindset regarding grading. Afterall, where does it say we have to give up hours upon hours of our time to get it done? It’s time to start redefining and reframing what it even means to grade an essay.
The key to reframing your definition (and, therefore, expectations) about grading student essays is thinking about helping your students, not correcting them. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with pointing out grammatical and structural errors. However, it’s essential to focus on leaving constructive feedback that can help students improve their craft.
Now, how can that be done without spending hours filling the margins with comments?
I’m glad you asked.
Grade Essays Faster with These Tips and Tricks
Since we can’t avoid grading altogether, I hope these tips and tricks can help you grade essays faster and increase student performance. And while I love rubrics, and they can certainly save time grading, they aren’t your only option. So here are eight other tips and tricks to try.
Tip 1: Get Focused.
This has been one of my biggest grading time-savers. And I’m not just talking about limiting your distractions while you grade (more on that in a minute), but I mean narrow your focus on what it is you’re grading. Often, we spend so much time correcting every single grammatical mistake that we miss opportunities to give feedback on the skills we’re currently teaching. Try to focus your feedback on the specific skills your students just learned, like writing a strong thesis, embedding quotations, providing supporting evidence, or transitioning from paragraph to paragraph.
Taking this approach to grading will lead to less overwhelm for both you and your students. In fact, your students will have a clearer understanding of what they need to continue working on. Just be sure to make the specific skill (or skills) that you’re looking for (and grading) clear at the start of the assignment.
Tip 2: Give Student Choice.
Let’s say you’ve been working on a particular skill for a few weeks and have had your students practice using various writing prompts. Instead of feeling forced to provide feedback on every written response, let your students choose their best work for you to grade. I find that this grading technique works best on shorter assignments.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t apply this to longer essays. If you’ve been working on a certain aspect of essay writing, you can let your students pick the paragraph from their essay they want you to grade. Either way, encourage your students to select the writing they believe best represents their skills and knowledge for the task at hand. Not only will this cut down on your grading time, but it will also encourage a sense of ownership over students’ grades.
Tip 3: Check Mark Revisions.
The checkmark revision approach is a great way to put more ownership and accountability on your students. Instead of grading a student essay by telling them exactly what to fix, turn it into a learning opportunity! As you review the student essay, simply use check marks to note areas that need to be corrected or could be improved. Then, give students time in class to work through their essays, identifying what the check mark indicates and making proper adjustments.
However, make sure your students have a clear list (or rubric) outlining the expectations for the essay. They can use this list to refer to when trying to figure out what revisions they need to make to improve their work. Alternatively, if you’re not ready to jump straight to checkmarks, you can create a comment code that provides a bit more guidance for students without taking up a lot of your time.
Tip 4: Use Conferences.
Have you ever thought about holding student-teacher conferences in lieu of providing written feedback? If not, you totally should! Students are so used to teachers doing the heavy lifting for them. Alternatively, turn the revision process into an active experience for them. Instead of going through the essay on your own, marking errors, and making suggestions, talk it through with each student.
When it comes to student-teacher conferences, make sure to set a reasonable time limit for each conference to ensure you’re not spending days conducting these meetings. Just make sure your time limit is enough to review their written work and provide verbal feedback. I require each student to mark their essay as we review it so they know exactly what to work on. While I’m more than willing to answer questions, I encourage students to make an appointment with me after school if they need extensive help.
Tip 5: Skim and Review
I can’t be the only one who wants to shed a tear of frustration when I watch a student toss a comment-covered essay right into recycling. So, instead of spending hours leaving comments on each and every student’s essay, skim through their rough drafts while noting common errors. That way, instead of waiting until students turn in their final draft to address their mistakes, you can review common errors in class before they submit a final draft. Trust me. This will make grading those final drafts much easier– especially if you have a clear rubric or grading checklist to follow.
This is a great way to review common grammar mistakes that we don’t always take time to teach at the secondary level. It’s also a great way for you to address aspects of your target skills that students are still struggling with. Lastly, I find this shift in focus from the final product to the revision process helps students better understand (and, perhaps, appreciate) the writing process as more than a grade but a learning experience.
Tip 6: Leave a Comment at the End.
This is a huge time-saver, and it’s pretty simple. Although be warned, it might challenge you to go against all of your grading instincts! We’re so used to marking every single error or making all the suggestions with student essays. But, students are often overwhelmed by the mere look of ink-filled margins. What if, instead, you save your comments for the end and limit yourself to one or two celebrations and one or two areas for improvement? This is a simple yet clear way to provide feedback to your students on a final draft, especially if you’ve already gone through a more in-depth revision process from draft to draft.
Okay fine. If you must, you can fix the grammatical errors using a red pen, but save your energy by avoiding writing the same thing over and over again. If you’ve marked the same error three times, let that be it. If they don’t get it after three examples, they should probably make time to see you after school.
Tip 7: Grade Paragraph-by-Paragraph.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed by grading a tall stack of essays, consider breaking your grading– and writing– process down by paragraph. Assessing a single paragraph is far more time-friendly than an entire essay. So, have your students work on their essay paragraph by paragraph, turning each component in as they are completed. That way, you can provide quick and effective feedback they can apply when revising that paragraph and writing any future paragraphs for the final piece.
Take it a step further by breaking it down into specific skills and components of an essay. For example, maybe you grade students’ thesis statements and supporting evidence as two separate steps. Grading each of these components takes far less time and, by the time students put it all together for their final essay, their writing should be much more polished and easier to grade. Plus, since you gave immediate feedback throughout the process, you don’t have to worry about spending hours writing comments throughout their entire paper. Instead, give the students a “final” grade using a simple rubric. And since you gave them opportunities to apply your feedback throughout the writing process, you can even have an “improvement” section of the rubric. This is an easy way to acknowledge student effort and progress with their writing.
Tip 8: Mark-up a Model Paragraph.
Take some of the work off your plate by grading a paragraph and letting the students do the rest. (You read that right.) Here’s how it works: instead of grading an entire paper, rewriting the same comments paragraph after paragraph, just mark up a model paragraph. Alternatively, you can grade the intro and conclusion paragraphs, while marking up one body paragraph as a model for the remaining body paragraphs. Give them a score on a smaller scale, such as 1 to 10, as a phase one grade.
Then, set aside time in class to have your students review your model paragraph and use it to mark up the rest of their paper before fixing their errors. I like giving them time in class to do this so they can ask me any clarifying questions in real-time. Once they turn in their revised essay, you can give them a phase two grade without having to worry about diving too deep into feedback. A comment per paragraph or page would suffice.
More Teacher Tricks to Help You Grade Essays Faster
Tip 9: Set Realistic Goals.
Just like we set our students up for success, set yourself up for success too. If you know you can’t get through a class worth of essays during your prep period, don’t set it as your goal. You’ll only feel overwhelmed, disappointed, and discouraged when you only make it through half of your stack. Instead, only tackle your grading when you have the time to do so, and set realistic goals when you do. Grading more essays than you planned on? You feel on top of the world. Grading fewer? You feel like it’s neverending.
Tip 10: Avoid Distractions.
Instagram? Facebook? I know how easy it is to wander over to your phone and take a scroll break. But, we both know a few minutes can turn into an hour real fast. So, do yourself a favor, and when you know it’s time to grade a stack of essays, free your space of any distractions and set a timer. You’d be surprised by how much you can get done in an hour of uninterrupted essay grading.
The bottom line is that grading is an unavoidable aspect of being an ELA teacher. However, I hope one or more of these ideas can help you grade essays faster. The truth is, with these essay grading tips and tricks, you won’t only grade essays more efficiently, but you’ll provide better feedback for students as well. In fact, the longer we take to grade (or procrastinate grading) those essays, the less effective the feedback is for students, period.
So, here’s to more effective grading– faster!