Grading writing is one of those parts of teaching writing that makes it feel so heavy. I’m not talking about giving feedback, but the nitty-gritty of actually grading student writing.
I’ve got 4 tips to make grading feel easier and lighter for you because you’ve got more important things to do than spend your weekend grading writing.
1️⃣ Make it enjoyable! ☕️
I always like to tell my students that I can’t wait to sit down with a cup of coffee and read their essays. And I truly mean that! Create a ritual to relax and actually enjoy the process of grading your students’ writing. Set the mood. Whether it’s at home or after school, during your planning period, or first thing in the morning, find some quiet time and space to give your full attention and brainpower to grading writing. When you are completely focused, this helps you get a big task done efficiently and more timely. So grab a cup of coffee, tea, Diet Coke, hot chocolate, or water with lemon- get comfortable and enjoy all of your amazing teaching skills show up in your students’ writing.
This brings me to the second part of this tip. As you sit down to grade your students’ writing, go in with the mindset of looking for what they did well vs. what they didn’t do. If you get frustrated with what they aren’t doing as writers, then it can send you down a path of overwhelm. If you look for what they are already doing and doing well, then you have a sense of pride in your students. And then, without emotional attachment, note what they need to work on to let it guide your instruction.
Know that the best thing we can do as educators is meet our students where they are. 💛
2️⃣ Sort it out!
If you are grading full essays and expected to use a specific rubric such as those used in a state standard assessment, then I highly suggest sorting out your students first into 3 major piles. You can do this based on what you already know about your students, but also take a skim at the essay to sort. For lack of better words, think High, Medium, Low.
This can be easily done by just a brief look at the organization (although that can be deceiving at times because some students may copy a text directly), introduction or major parts of the writing. Once you’ve got 3 big sorts, it helps you gauge your rubric and grading.
Begin with your higher-achieving writers. First, it boosts your confidence as a teacher because you are first focusing on the growth that is happening in your classroom. Rather than focusing on what your students can’t do, you are naturally focusing on what they can do. Second, you are able to see what you have taught or the capabilities of your students. This will help give you a sense of direction for other writers on where to go next with your small group or whole group instruction.
Next, grade your struggling writers. By going from one range of the spectrum to the other, this helps you come back to the middle. The middle is typically the hardest, but since you’ve graded the other two ends of the scale you’ve created some boundaries.
3️⃣ Grade for just a few specific things. Less is more!
Create places to grade along the way in your writing unit. Some easy places to do this are:
- Introduction (4 Points → Each of these are worth 1 point: Grab the reader’s attention, Thesis Statement, TAG the Text (Title, Author, Genre), Grammar)
- Conclusion (5 points → Each of these are worth 1 point: Wrap up your main points, gives the reader a sense of closure, 3-5 sentences, Grammar, restates your main idea)
- Transition Quiz (Have students list 10 transitions for a total of 10 points.)
- Transitions Give students a minimum number of transitions to use in their writing and use these as points. EX: 4 points, 1 at the beginning of each middle paragraph and two internal transitions.)
Of course, these can be adjusted as needed throughout your unit. By getting really specific throughout your unit, you are also giving students timely feedback, which is often the hard part. You are also setting your students up for success and opportunities for revision before they turn in their final draft. (SO IMPORTANT, but often the hardest part!)
The goal of this system is to also create quick + easy ways to grade along the way rather than a mountain of essays that students can’t really improve upon.
In an Essay:
If you are grading an essay, think about what you’ve been teaching for this specific unit. Just focus on the most important things that should be non-negotiable in each students’ writing. This will vary throughout the school year.
For example, at the beginning of the year you may focus on the basics of an essay: 4-5 paragraphs, introduction, conclusion, and a main idea. This helps create a foundation in which you can dig into each of these parts as you go and then grade for more specific things based on what you taught or made a really big deal in the unit or specific piece of writing.
Rather than grading #allthethings an informative or narrative essay should have, only grade a few specific things you have taught. As your teaching changes, then your rubric can reflect what you’ve taught.
4️⃣ Simplify your rubric.
This one goes right along with #2. Keep your rubric simple! I am so guilty of creating and using big rubrics with every. little. thing. listed on the rubric. Part of the reason I did that was because I wanted to set the expectation for the writing and because I wanted to see where I was going with the unit.
However, when it comes to the practicality of sitting down and grading the essays with a convoluted rubric – you don’t always have time for that.
So one of two things will happen: the essays don’t get graded, or you’re passing back papers two months later. The latter is probably accompanied by student responses such as, “I remember writing that!” as they proceed to laugh at what their writing used to look like. I mean this has never happened to ME before, but I’ve heard about it from a friend…😉
So save yourself the time and embarrassment. Simplify your rubric.
Grading can be one of the biggest challenges ELA teachers face. I want to help this process for you.
I’ve got examples of simplified rubrics for you in the free download. These rubrics are in a PowerPoint and are editable so that you can adjust for your writing units and standards throughout the year.
If you have any other questions or topics about writing you’d like me to cover, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
And if you’d like more support in teaching writing in the new year, the TLL Membership is full of writing resources to help you build a community of confident and skilled writers. Click here to learn more.
💛 – Jessica
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