Wondering how to save time grading? Read this post for time-saving grading tips that will give you the gift of a better work-life balance. Instead of dreading grading, these time-saving grading tips will help you grade more efficiently and effectively.
Trying to work on your work-life balance to avoid teacher burnout? Like many teachers, you’re probably wondering how to save time when grading student work—because any teacher knows it can be a total time suck.
I know way too many ELA teachers who spend their evenings—and, worse, weekends—catching up on grading. Between grading homework, classwork, essays, and other assessments—and don’t even get me started on late work—it’s easy to feel like you’re always behind.
While you might not be able to eliminate grading (sigh), I will share my favorite time-saving grading tips you can start implementing ASAP. So, if you’re sick of starting at the stacks of ungraded essays piling up on your desk, this post was made for you.
How to Save Time When Grading Student Work: Start with a Plan
Before implementing the time-saving grading tips below, I urge you to start with a plan. Start by planning intentional lessons, assignments, and assessments. Specifically, plan what and how you want to grade from that lesson or unit.
Before you dive into planning engaging lessons and effective assignments and assessments, get clear on your desired outcome. What skill(s) do you want your students to learn? How will they express their competency? Let the answers to these questions guide your planning and, later, grading.
9 Time-Saving Grading Tips for ELA Teachers
1. Grade Fewer Assignments
You don’t have to grade everything your students do. As for the ones you do choose to grade, you don’t have to spend hours leaving detailed feedback. Sometimes a quick completion check or verbal feedback will suffice.
As you plan your unit, determine which assignments are formative and summative. Then, break your formative assignments into three categories: ungraded practice and informal feedback. Select a few formative assessments to provide formal feedback on before giving and grading any summative assignment. A great place to start is to ensure you understand your school’s grading requirements. How often are you expected to post grades? If you’re only expected to post one grade a week, there’s no need to make your life harder by posting more. Besides, grading fewer assignments will allow you to provide more effective feedback overall.
Worried about a lack of student motivation on ungraded assignments? Read this post about increasing student participation and engagement.
2. Grade What Matters Most
The key to grading less is choosing what matters most for student learning. Contrary to popular practice, you shouldn’t spend hours (and all that red ink) leaving detailed feedback on essays and final assessments. I mean, isn’t that the whole point of formative assessments?
Focus your more detailed feedback on skill-based formative assessments leading to a summative assessment. However, that doesn’t mean you need to grade every single assignment. Instead, choose those that are most beneficial to student learning. This can include written feedback on assignments and essay drafts or hosting conferences with students when you provide verbal feedback. Then, when students turn in a final assessment, you can fill out a rubric or score sheet or leave overarching feedback to explain their grade.
3. Grade as You Go
There’s no need to wait until an entire assessment is completed to start your grading. Additionally, assessing a completed portion of a project or essay is far more time-friendly than grading it all at once. Consider scaffolding assessments, so students are turning in smaller chunks at once. That way, you can provide timely and effective feedback students can apply as they continue working on their assessments.
Take it a step further by breaking it down into specific skills and learning goals. For example, maybe you grade students’ research or thesis statements to start before moving on to supporting evidence, conclusions, or final presentations. Grading each of these components takes far less time; by the time students put it all together, their work should be much more polished and easier to grade. When grading students’ final product, you can use a simple rubric or provide overarching comments to justify the final grade.
Bonus tip: Learning is all about the journey, right? Giving students opportunities to apply your feedback throughout an assessment allows you to acknowledge student effort and progress as part of their final grade.
4. Use Symbols and Shorthand
Why waste time (and ink) leaving lengthy feedback when you can simplify the process with symbols and shorthand? This grading method puts more ownership on students as they determine what each check mark indicates before making proper adjustments. Use checkmarks for identifying errors your students know how to fix, like spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. On the other hand, use question marks to indicate areas that don’t make sense or need clarification while using arrows to indicate areas that need further development. Similarly, you can use simple faces to indicate a job well done.
You get the picture, right? Feedback that uses symbols and shorthand saves you from writing the same feedback repeatedly. It also turns receiving and implementing feedback into a true learning process for students. Just be sure students are clear on what each symbol means beforehand.
6. Use Rubrics
Another time-saving grading technique is to use rubrics. Much like using symbols and shorthand, rubrics save you from having to justify your grading with detailed notes in the margins of an essay or assignment. Instead, determine which skills are essential to assess and break them down on a rubric. Rubrics can be as simple or complex as you wish. Use ranges to give you more flexibility or a simple number scale to indicate a student’s level of mastery. If you’re new to rubrics or simply don’t want to take the time to create them from scratch, there are plenty of online resources to help. Free tools like Rubistar are a great starting point.
Personally, I think coving symbols and shorthand with rubrics is an epic (and highly effective) combo. While the rubric gives students a holistic view and understanding of their grades, symbols throughout provide specific instances of skills that need improvement.
6. Find Your Focus
Instead of trying to mark every single error or assess all the skills, consider narrowing your focus on what it is you’re grading. How do you know what that should be? The easy answer is whatever skill you are teaching. What is the skill, standard, or competency your students are currently working on? Let that be what you focus your grading on, rather than correcting every single spelling or grammar mistake.
When you target a couple of skills when grading, you can provide more focused feedback that helps students learn more effectively and efficiently. Maybe you’ve been teaching your students how to analyze a character, conduct strong research, find strong supporting evidence, write a clear thesis, or embed quotations properly. Whatever the specific skill is, let that be the thing your focus on when grading. Just be sure to make the specific skill that you’re assessing clear at the start of the assignment.
7. Give Student Choice
This time-saving grading tip is perfect for emphasizing the overall learning process. Rather than grading every single assignment, have students complete several similar tasks in a row, all focusing on the same skill(s). Have students keep track of their work. Then, when it’s time to assess their ability, allow them to select their best work for you to grade. This doesn’t mean that you won’t provide feedback throughout the learning process. However, you can stick to more informal feedback, like quick check-ins and conferences. If you want to enter more grades, consider grading all work based on completion. Simply assign a heavier weight to the assignment you grade in detail.
Another approach would be to assign students a portfolio-based assessment. By allowing students to choose a few pieces of their best work, you can get a more holistic understanding of their abilities. Not only does this save you from grading every single assignment, but it also gives students a sense of autonomy and ownership over their grades.
More Time-Saving Grading Tips for ELA Teachers
- Utilize peer reviews. Structured peer reviews are a great way to save you from finding all the errors or areas of improvement in student work. Instead, they can learn from one another before turning an assignment in.
- Grade as a class. This time-saving grading tip is a spin on having students grade their work before completing a summative assessment. Instead of simply setting them free with a rubric, guide students through each aspect you are grading, allowing them to assess their work and ask questions along the way. If severalstudents are struggling with the same concept, you can briefly pause for a quick mini-lesson to review.
- Have students color code their work. Before students turn in a piece of writing, have them color code their work. Provide them with a key to indicate which color coordinates which skills or components. Have students do this a day or two before an assignment is due, allowing them time to add anything they realize they are missing.
- Use a frequent comments bank. This time-saving grading tip is especially useful if your students turn in digital copies of their work. Instead of writing the same comments over and over again, keep a document of your most frequent comments. Instead of typing them out each time, simply copy, paste, and personalize! Alternatively, you can assign each comment a number and write the appropriate numbers on student work to correlate with your intended feedback. Give students a comment decoding sheet, and voila!
- Pay attention to your timing. Avoid scheduling assessments that require detailed feedback during busy times of the year. Additionally, if you teach multiple sections of the same class, consider staggering due dates, so you’re not facing a hundred papers all at once.
Is grading important for student learning? Yes. However, it’s time we work smarter, not harder when it comes to grading student work. Remember, not every single thing needs to be graded. Nor are all “traditional” feedback methods effective for student learning.
Regardless of the role grading plays in student learning, it doesn’t need to be the burden of your teacher existence—nor does it need to take up all of your free time. Instead, I invite you to implement some of the tips mentioned above to take back your time—and sanity!
And during those times when the ungraded assignments are piling up, and you feel like you can’t catch a break, take a time-out and give yourself some TLC.