How to Grade Steadily Throughout the Semester
Have you ever thought about how to pace yourself when you are grading? Like athletes or musicians who have to be in top form, instructors also need to be keep themselves in good shape so that they are ready to handle anything that happens in (or out of) the classroom.
Whether it’s daily in-class writings or once-a-week reading logs, or even the once-a-month writing assignment, grading has to be done, and done promptly. So, how do you keep up without feeling wrung out? Pacing is key. Here are some tips to getting the job done without burning the 5 a.m. oil the day before things are to be handed back.
Set Up Your Schedule
It is important to plan your schedule in advance, so that you – and the students – can have some down time. If you are teaching a typical 16-week course, for example, you will have space to arrange for some weekends when the students won’t have to work on papers. This also means you won’t need to grade said papers, either.
In my experience, it’s a good idea to plan due dates to come right before a break, or for the Friday before a weekend.
If you entered the school year without a set list of firm due dates, it is a good idea to sketch out at least a few deadlines for significant milestones. Students like to know what is coming, and when it is coming due. And if you have freshmen, they won’t have much experience in planning for college-level courses. So, you want to help them understand how to manage their time. Set up a few dates, at least, so that they can gauge how to progress through the course instead of waiting until finals week, when 20 pages are due.
In my experience, it’s a good idea to plan due dates to come right before a break, or for the Friday before a weekend. That gives me more time to grade, and it allows students to enjoy their break without having to cram in a writing assignment. It also gives me more time to grade, which means I can space out how much to do on each day.
Get It Done
When a due date comes, you receive a number of assignments to grade. The temptation is to let the pile of work wait. You put in a long week, and you just need to rest. Well, yes, you do. So take a nap. Have a meal. Splurge on a manicure. But don’t wait until Sunday night to start grading 60 papers. That’s a recipe for exhaustion.
If it is at all possible, organize your grading on the day you accept the papers. Alphabetize them, respond to e-mailed pieces to let students know that their work came through, and get your grading rubric set. If you had peer critiques, then figure out who read whose paper, record it, and alphabetize that info so you can give credit to those who did the work.
If you accept paper copies of assignments, separate each class into a different stack, and store each stack in its own book bag (like the free ones you can get at the library as reading program prizes). Use post-it notes to label folders with students’ names, and to mark which ones were early or late.
Pacing Yourself is Related to Planning
Grading and pacing yourself all depend on when you planned for the grading period to happen. Say you have conferences coming up, when you discuss drafts one-on-one with students. In this case, you can divide the assignments by the days when students are scheduled to come in to talk with you. The benefit of grading only 15 papers at a time is that you can remember what each student wrote. If you grade 100 folders in a weekend, and then try to conference for the next two weeks, everything will run together. Which paper had run-on sentences and which one skipped mentioning any of the sources? Solve this dilemma by reading the assignment close to the time when the student arrives.
Grading is also something you want to do in moderation. Sitting still for too long is unhealthy – and you start to lose focus.
So set yourself a grading schedule. Maybe you can fit in a couple of hours in the morning, or after class. Then, you will need to deliberately quite grading for a while to rest your back, and your eyes. Get up and fold laundry, or walk the dog. Getting the blood flowing through your system makes you better prepared for handling the rest of the assignments that still have to be graded.
Steady work done early in the grading period gives you a calmer approach to the work you are reviewing.
Another thing to keep in mind is that grading is a steady job. Unless you have an exceptionally short assignment, it will take several hours to make it through one class load of papers. So come back to your work after lunch. Take a nap, then get back to the pile of papers.
Steady work done early in the grading period gives you a calmer approach to the work you are reviewing. You know that you’ll be able to get all the papers graded before the day is out.
What about the unexpected? Ah yes, the unexpected. Well, you deal with it as it comes. If you have pre-set lesson plans, then you can ask a substitute to carry on with the class. The papers will be returned as soon as you get out of the hospital and as soon as you’ve had a chance to read through everything.
There are times when you won’t be able to get it all done. If it’s a decision between staying up all night with your baby and grading papers, you’d better stick with the baby. Papers can be graded later, but babies don’t wait.
Incidents happen that are unexpected. Just like you probably allow for students to turn in some papers late, without penalty, they can accommodate your emergencies, too. In the world of American academia, there is a certain amount of give and take.
The Goal: Give Feedback to Help
The purpose of grading papers is not to see how many mistakes are on each page. Your goal is to see how students are processing information and producing their thoughts in written form. When something is done well, it deserves recognition. If something is not clear, that should be dealt with quickly, so that the student has a chance to correct his or her work.
Prompt grading is a practice that helps students learn. But paced grading practices are what help you stay on track, too, so that you are ready to help students do their best.