Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Grading Tips for English Teachers Who Still Want a Life

First and foremost, let me say that dragging 75 papers home to grade over the weekend is not a badge of honor. It doesn’t prove that you are a good teacher. And it certainly won’t get you an adequate return on your time investment. The educational magic happens in the classroom—not in your lonely living room on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

 Here are some essay grading tips to help you take back your weekends:

1. Embrace group essays. The demand on writing is so high and my time so short that there is simply no way to get in as many full, individual essays that are needed. Group essays are a remedy to this problem. For example, when we do an essay on color symbolism found in The Great Gatsby ,  I divide my students into groups of three or four. Each student is responsible for one body paragraph, but they work as a team on the introduction and conclusion. All group members must be in agreement on the thesis statement before work on individual body paragraphs begin. The discussions I hear from this step are fantastic. Students must think about the thesis statement in ways they never had to before since they can finally understand that it is the piece that holds the entire essay together. Once the thesis is set, they work on their individual paragraphs and paste the essay together. Then, during peer review, I announce that every person in the group will receive the exact same essay grade, so they better take their peer review seriously. Oh man, this works like a charm. This will be the best writing discussions you will hear all year! Trust me! Not only are group essays a fantastic learning tool, but they also cut way down on my grading. Instead of 25 essays per class, this strategy cuts my grading down 8 per class. Winning!!!!

 2. Let the real learning take place during the writing process, not after. Much to an English teacher’s dismay, most students quit caring about an essay the minute they submit the final. Therefore, I started focusing my time on the revising aspect of the writing process rather than final outcome, and the results have been tremendous. The best part: My students are doing the work, not me. It’s called color-coding people, and it changed my life. There are many color-coding strategies out there, but after trying lots, this is the one that worked best for me: FLASH Writing and Revising. The key is to find a strategy that will allow students to highlight the aspects of writing you are focusing on. For example, if students are forgetting to embed quotes, teach that lesson then have the students color-code parts of sentence needed for a proper embedded quotation. This strategy can apply to EVERYTHING. If they don’t have the proper coloring, they revise then color-code their proof of learning and submit the coded essay. From a grading point of view, this saves me time by allowing my eyes to zoom in on the key elements of writing I want them to learn. Rather than needing to carefully read each word, color-coding makes it easier to scan for content mistakes such as missing evidence. Plus, this method makes it easier for me to give students one-on-one help as I walk around the classroom because I can quickly see by a glance at their screen who needs help with what. I could go on and on. If you only try one tip from this list, let this be the one.

3.  Beg and plead for your school to buy a subscription to Turnitin. Seriously. This alone shaves hours off of my essay grading time. The reason being is that it has this nifty feature called “quick marks” where you can program comments that you have to write/type repeatedly such as “Use better transitions.” Once you have these programed, you can simply drag the comments over to the associated area on the essay. The best part is that you can add an example or link in the comment section to give students practice on specific , tailored skills. Personally, I’m working on creating a Google Doc quiz for common grammar mistakes so that when students are reviewing their graded essays, they will be linked to the  grammar rule they need to learn and will then take a short quiz to practice the rule. If you are going to put time into grading, at least make sure students benefit from your hard work! Other great features Turnitin has include its grammar mistake detector, automatic rubric, voice comment options, and of course the thing they are most known for which is the plagiarism detector.  I use the grammar checker as a rough draft tool so that students can correct their essays before turning in the final; it’s not perfect, but it catches most mistakes. The automatic rubric is handy because it does the math for you, and I use the voice comment function when I want to “conference” with my students without taking class time to do so.

        No luck at getting Turnitin?  Try these other options:

      *Explain Everything App for voice comments and annotations
      *Make your own quick marks to copy and paste them into the comment section of Word or Google Docs.

 4. Protect your planning time. I’m a sweet person, I truly am, but mess with my planning time, and I get grouchy real quick like. My first job straight out of college was in a K-8 elementary school. All of the other teachers in my hall were super nice and wanted to make me feel welcome. This was so kind, but it led to a huge problem. A couple of these teachers got into the habit of checking in on me every day during my planning. Again, this was nice, but when small talk turned into 30 minute conversations, I barely had enough time left to set my room up for the day, never mind grade papers. So, when I moved to the school I teach at now, I made it a point to protect my planning time, and my productivity has improved tenfold. I socialize at lunch and after school, but during my planning, my door is locked, and I’m working so hard that when someone does stop by, they ALWAYS say, “Sorry to bother you but…” . They sense that I’m busy and know that I can’t talk for long. I’m a teaching superwoman on my planning because I stay focused, don’t socialize, make lists, and give myself goals for the day. Give me a gold star already! I want a sticker!

5. Strategically place movie days and test days. I realized that movie days are frowned upon. I get it. That doesn't stop me from showing them though because there are some films out there that simply MUST be viewed and studied.  Plus, Common Core gives us standards that we have to meet such as Speaking and Listening SL.9-10.2, “Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats…” So, if you are going to show a movie, don’t waste it. Instead, strategically plan your movie day for the day after an essay is due. That way, while your students are engaged with the movie, you can use your time wisely by grading essays.

You can find hundreds of other movie guides by searching “______ movie guide” on Teachers Pay Teachers as well! Also, check out this fantastic post: Affective Activities to Use with Digital Media in Any Class

Test days are also great days to work on grading essays, but you have to go about it the smart way. If you use your test day time to grade essays, but then have to spend the next day grading tests, then you really didn’t come out to the good. Instead, use an online grading tool such as Google Docs, Canvas, Socrative or my favorite Zipgrade. When I bought the Zipgrade app, it was around $6.99. TAKE MY MONEY! This app is amazing. I can grade 75 tests in 2 minutes and within another minute I can know exactly which questions students struggled with because it has this awesome data function that gives me the percentage of how many students missed question x, y or z. I love it! Such a time saver!

 I sincerely hope that you try out some of these tips because it makes me extremely sad to see passionate, creative English educators turn into exhausted, overwhelmed, overworked,  ready-to-quit individuals. The demands that are being placed upon us are arduous, but not impossible. Don’t be afraid of spending the weekends exploring your others passions or relaxing. Teacher burnout is real and English teachers are especially susceptible to this depressing outcome. You won’t be able to be your awesome self in the classroom if you are having to use up all of your teaching energy at home on the weekends. Truth.   

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  2. Good article. Teachers may also use the essay topic lists to save their time . I've noticed that many use such helpful resources to ease their life. The other thing is that they don't use to share these lists with students :)