Grading Made Easy: How to Make Assessing Writing More Manageable
We all dread it. Students have finished their essays. Revised, edited, polished, put a cherry on top and turned it in. Now, we have to grade. When you do the math, that could be hundreds upon hundreds of pages YOU have to read-- the equivalent of a book!
When I started out teaching 15 years ago, grading on the computer wasn't a thing. I had to read pages of handwritten stories and essays. I'd whip out my red pen and have at it. I'd be home, for hours, reading each detail.
Well, I've learned a lot since then and technology has made life a lot easier. Read about what I do!
Where Teachers Go Wrong
Forcing students to write an entire piece in one sitting. Think about how long it takes to write a writing piece. On state tests, students are given almost an hour to write a response. Middle schoolers can't focus on a task that long.
Waiting until the due date to read the piece. If the first time you read their piece is when their entire draft is due, you're setting yourself up for a miserable day of grading. You will lose focus, you won't want to read, and you won't be invested.
Marking up and correcting ALL the grammatical and spelling errors. Do kids even look at this anymore? I personally think it's a waste of time. They see all those corrections and automatically feel defeated. They really don't actually learn from seeing those markups if there is no follow-up.
Adding tons of suggestions as comments on Google Docs. Similar to #3. Going comment crazy is overwhelming. I used to do it this way and I just found it to be more work for myself. I'd have to dig through their writing to see if they took my suggestions and 90% of the time, most of it wouldn't change much or they didn't understand my suggestions.
My Grading Process
Break up the writing process into parts:
When drafting, I have students take a day per section. So, for essays, each body paragraph is a day. For narratives, each part of the story structure mountain is a day (exposition, rising action, etc.).
Each day looks very similar and it pretty much adds up to a 5 day school week. I will share MY draft of the section they're focusing on. (Click here to read why it's so important to write what they are writing.) They spend a few minutes analyzing with partners and we discuss key things they should be focusing on in those sections.
They go off to draft and I conference while they write.
Assess DURING the entire writing process:
So, while they are writing their sections, I am at my computer, at my desk. (Note, having a standing desk is so essential, in my opinion for this. I have one similar to this.) I open up their digital notebooks that are set up into the different sections. With Google Classroom, I can easily click through each Notebook while they are in the process of using the Slides.
I read each section AS they are writing. It is actually pretty manageable because they are really only writing a few paragraphs. This way, I can see their writing as they go and I won't have any surprises later. I am not grading...I am simply assessing. This then opens up to conferencing.
Conference giving specific suggestions to fix IMMEDIATELY:
During the process above, while I am reading each section individually, I do super short conferences to address what students need to fix right then and there. Honestly, sometimes these conferences are me just sending a chat on GoGuardian. Or, I will show them something directly in the writing, how to fix something, then check in to see if they understood what I was fixing.
For example, if I see a student is punctuating dialogue incorrectly, I will go right into their Slide on my computer and fix it while they have their Slide open on their computer. I will say "Sebastian, take a look at what I am doing on Slide #2 with your dialogue. Do you see what I did? Just remember to capitalize after the quotation mark."
Sometimes, I will add a digital sticky note with the comment to just have a reference later, but honestly, I usually remember what I suggest since I am drawing attention to it out loud.
In other cases, I will pull a student individually to show them writing strategies.
I do this every single day of the writing process. On a good day, I address every student at some point. I am telling you, these conferences are not even really official. They can be 30 seconds long.
You have to utilize this time to really help the students zero in on what to fix. Actually speaking to them is so so so much more beneficial than marking up a paper with no follow-up.
I have students do this right before final drafting. It's not dramatically different than peer-editing, but I base it on how adult aspiring authors often share their writing in groups to gain perspective on how to improve.
Students get in groups of 3 and share their stories with each other via Google Drive. Each student takes a turn to read their stories out loud in their group. While they are reading, the other students follow along, physically commenting (not editing) on the Doc.
This allows them to not only practice reading out loud but to get another pair of eyes on their writing.
Final draft...focusing only on revisions
At this point, you should've really read their entire piece already. So, when it comes time to final drafting, you should be focusing on their revisions. When I grade their final drafts, I usually give them specific things to revise such as adding vocabulary words, using a specific grammar skill we were working on, showing not telling, etc.
I click into their revision histories to see if they actually did the revisions. If using Google Docs, click in the upper middle of their Doc. It'll say "last edit was made on...". From there, you can see all the revisions they made!
Use a fair rubric that is not heavily focused on grammar:
One of the things I think is so discouraging is when students get back their papers and TONS of markups are on there that focus on grammar and punctuation. Yes, this is important, but I feel that it's much more important that they completed the actual writing piece properly.
In a fair rubric, grammar is a portion of the grade. The content of the writing piece is the most heavily weighted. Meet with the student individually if grammar is the issue...they won't learn from looking at all the red circles on their papers.
Class size: This is ever so challenging if you have large classes. I am very grateful to have about 20 students in each of my classes. Honestly, if this is the case, perhaps try just grading PARTS of the writing piece instead of the entire thing. You can only do so much. Or you may have to give them more time in general to work on a piece to make this all happen.
Not enough time: I have classes for an hour each day and I still feel like I struggle with time (I used to have 80 minutes). I know many of you only have students for 40 minutes. Again, no easy solution to this besides begging your admin for more time.
Very needy writers: If you have a large group of students who are very needy, this becomes more difficult. I've had classes like this...where I spend so much time conferencing with one student and I hardly get to the rest. I try to tell myself they will never make their writing exactly to my standard; I just have to accept what they can do with their abilities. So, I pick and choose what to focus on.
I no longer grade at home. Refuse to. (Lesson planning is a whole different concern). Using these strategies have really alleviated my grading burden. Sometimes I get hard on myself and feel like I don't do enough, but I just can't anymore. There is too much pressure on us to do all the things, so this method gets the job done.
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