The age old dilemma. Grading writing.  We know writing is important and critical for our students.  However, we also know that by assigning writing, we have to grade it.  This has traditionally taken up hours upon hours of time of marking up papers, referring to rubrics, writing feedback.  The end result is giving students their work back with all our laborious thoughts and comments only to have them superficially skim them and move on. Students may correct their papers but only by following our comments and written demands with little understanding of “why?”  It does not have to be this way.  Grading and giving feedback on writing does not have to consume our lives.  In fact, it should do the opposite.  It should enhance it.  Below are four core actions that can not only improve student writing but also save hours of time grading it.

Write to your prompt

Many times overlooked, teachers can learn to anticipate misconceptions students may have by writing to their own assignments.  This can clear up any confusion that the prompt may cause, and be certain that it is not the prompt getting in the way.  By writing to your own assignments, you can anticipate areas that will need improvement, attention, and misconceptions.  You will get a feel for how long it will take and clear up any language that may be confusing.

Simplify your scoring

Rubrics can sometimes be very dense and have so much information making it is impossible to wade through. When  numerically based, we spend our time trying to determine what number we give the writing and the equated grade for our records.  Numbers and grades have as much impact as overcorrecting our students papers. Very little.  Instead, try limiting what you are looking for in the paper and replace your numbers with Exceeds, Meets, and  Approaching.  It is a fairly simple process to determine whether a paper meets the expectations in Organization or Purpose and when it does not.  Have simple criteria for each that will guide you in determining your rating.   Decide where a paper resides in your criteria and move on.  This is not the most important part of the process.  It is the beginning.

Simplify your Comments and Marks on the paper: Focus on Goals

By circling, correcting, and commenting on every mistake in the paper, you are doing all the work.  It takes up time, energy, and your students are not learning, they are simply correcting.  Instead, circle and underline trends that you are seeing in the paper minimally. This may be frequency of verb tense or starting each transition with the same word.  Do not correct or identify every mistake or trend.  This is the students role and responsibility.  Your job is to help identify the mistake trends and set goals with students on correcting those trends. Write these goals in bullet form on the rubric.  This will save you hours of time and make the student work just as hard if not harder than the you to improve their writing.

Conferring with Students about Writing

This is the most important part of the feedback loop and the one that is many times overlooked.  Marking up every mistake on the paper or simply identifying mistakes or trends in the paper without conversation on why they are making these mistakes simply does not have a significant impact on the improvement of writing.  Conferring on papers is personal and builds relationships.  It is differentiated, and it tells the students that their paper is unique and deserves your time and conversation.  It also provides time to clear up confusion, provide direction, and to set goals.  This is where you should spend the majority of time giving feedback and rating papers.

By following these four actions, not only do you save time grading and giving feedback to writing, you are spending more time instructionally on improving student writing.  Students do not learn through red marks, numbers, grades, or the endless identification of mistakes.  They learn through understanding the criteria  and through  conversations with their teachers and others on what they can do to become better writers.