Sunday, August 26, 2018

5 Essay Grading Tips for Grading Essays Faster and More Efficiently: Save time grading essays online or in print

Dragging 75 essays home to grade over the weekend should not be a badge of honor. It doesn’t prove that you are a good teacher, and there's evidence that it won’t give your students an adequate return on your time investment. Whether you are grading essays online or in print, I believe the educational magic happens in the classroom—not in your lonely living room on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Studies show that students need fast, focused, and frequent feedback, so if you can figure out how to provide effective feedback faster, then all will benefit. Below are five tips for marking essays faster while providing your students better feedback. 

 How to save time grading essays: 

1. Use Highlighters Strategically- Highlighters are cheap, fun, and effective tools for self-checking. Have students highlight their writing to show understanding and completion. For example, if you are working on embedding quotations, have students highlight the parts of their properly embedded quotation. This tip works with paper essays or 1:1. You can see in the image above my student highlighted his lead-in (green give context), evidence (pink proof), and citation (green give citation). When you use this strategy to self-check, students can easily see what they are missing and fix the issue before submitting their work. Fewer mistakes=less time marking. 

From another grading standpoint, 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.  If you only try one tip from this list, let this be the one.

2. Use Peer Review Stations Effectively- I've tried many methods of peer review in the past, and I have found that the following stations work best for me and my students. The goal is to orchestrate a time in which I can conference with every single student on his or her writing. Stations allow me to do this. While they aren't in my station, students are working with their group to revise their writing. Again, fewer mistakes = less marking. You can download the stations I use for free here: Peer Review Stations 

Peer Review Stations: 

 Self-grade with a Rubric- This allows students to look closely at the rubric and make adjustments as needed based on their self-assessment. 

 Three Stars and a Wish- I picked this up at a workshop and love how catchy it is. Three stars are for three parts of the peer-reviewed essay that deserve a "star sticker" and the wish is for adding one thing they wish was better. This gives students an easy way to word their peer review.

Read Aloud- It's amazing how reading your own writing aloud can help with revising for flow and finding errors! Students can also listen to each other's essay being read aloud to find even more parts to revise.

Use Tech to Check- I'm a big fan of the free version of Grammarly and The Hemmingway App (website) to help students find and correct grammar mistakes. If you only have time for one, Grammarly is best. The Hemmingway App is more about style issues.

Word Choice Work- This station is to help students improve their word choice. With help of partners, they make their word choice more varied and clear.

Teacher Conference- As mentioned above, this is possibly the most important station because it gives me a chance to speak directly with students and catch any glaring problems I see with their writing.

 Specific Skill Showoff- I believe the key to improving writing is to build on skills. To do this, think about focusing on one new skill with each essay. As students do peer review and revision, have them show their learning by highlighting mastery of that specific skill as I showcased in tip one. 

You can download the stations I use for free here: Peer Review Stations 

3. Use Digital or Print Fast Feedback Sheets- This method has changed my grading life because it's the number one thing I've done to shave hours off of my grading time. Not only has it benefited me, but it has also provided my students with more focused feedback so that they can improve upon their individualized weaknesses. This can be done digitally or in print. Here is an example of how to use a feedback sheet in print: 

You can find my editable feedback template here: Fast and Focused Feedback 

Though I use a version of the feedback sheet above for short, in-class assignments, I grade essays and digital assignments electronically. The program I use to grade is Turnitin. Not only does Turnitin check for plagiarism and provide a self-calculating rubric, it also finds grammar mistakes's the important stores your frequently used comments! This is where the time-saving factor comes into play. Most teachers use the same comments over and over, so finding a way to save those comments and use them over and again will help you to grade smarter not harder. 

To take this a step further, I'm going to copy and paste a comment I made back in 2015 when I first published this blog post (It's currently August of 2018 as I update this). 

 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!

Ask me how long it took me to actually make this idea happen? THREE YEARS. I knew that this would be a game changer, but every time sat down to grade essays, I just didn't have it in me to create the mini-lessons and quizzes that needed to accompany my feedback. This past summer I vowed to do the work and I made it happen. Behold an idea three years in the making: 

One MAJOR downside to Turnitin is that it is very expensive. I personally feel that it is worth it, but if your school dosn' t have the budget, then there are other ways to achieve the saved feedback feature in addition to the print version I shared above. 

A. Google Classroom or Google Docs paired with Google Keep 

B. Use Docopus and Goobric (Detailed lesson here: Doctopus and Goobric: The Ultimate Digital Assessment Tools

C.  Create your own grading sheets using my template 

You can find my editable grading sheets here: Fast and Focused Feedback 

4.  Use class time to 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 the final outcome, and the results have been tremendous. The best part: My students are doing the work, not me. To achieve this, I have students write in class as I walk around the room to give direct instruction. Since I can't devote enough time to explain every single issue I find, I created this interactive bulletin board so that I direct students to the board and have them take the mini-lesson that they need that day. 

To make this board, I put three staples around each square to form an envelope on the wall. I then matched the mini-lesson with the envelope so that students can easily find and then replace the mini-lesson that they need. 

I include this interactive bulletin board with my Fast and Focused Feedback 

5. Use Group Essays for Collaborate Learning-  The demand on writing is so high and our time is so short that there is simply no way to get in as many full, individual essays as 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. Each student writes a hook and thesis statement then these lines are put to a vote. The best lines win a spot on the combined essay. All group members must be in agreement on the thesis statement before work on individual body paragraphs begins. 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 understand that it is the piece that holds the entire essay together (otherwise their collaborate essay wouldn't prove a single point). Once the thesis is set, they work on their individual paragraphs and paste the essay together. I repeat the voting process for the conclusion after the group has combined their intro and body paragraphs. 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. This works like a charm. These 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!!!!

***Note*** This strategy has the potential to cause concern amongst parents and students if they feel that it isn't fair to give every group member the same grade. I combat this by providing extra one-on-one guidance for the struggling member of the group. The struggling writer gets the direct instruction that he or she needs and this also ensures that this person won't bring down the whole group. 

As you can see in the collaborative essays above, students did their highlighting before combining their essays (see tip one). Of course, this works even better when you can use a collaborative doc and students can still do their highlighting digitally. Above is the highlighting method I use which is also included in the Fast and Focused Feedback Pack. 

Bonus tip: Use Movie or Test Days Productively- I realize that movie days are frowned upon in some districts, but as ELA teachers, we do have media standards to teach.  Therefore,  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 so that you can use some of that viewing time to grade. I used to show the movie of whatever book we were reading, but now I opt to show a similarly themed movie and have students discuss the common theme. When I do show the film version of a text we have read, I put scenes into EdPuzzle and have students use their 1:1 device to analyze certain scenes as they go. 

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 Forms, 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!

You can follow me on Instagram for more teaching tips @BuildingBookLove
 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.   

Ashley Bible
Building Book Love 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Keeping the Wonder Workshop: A Workshop for Secondary ELA Teachers

Some people plan an event then find the perfect venue for it; I found the perfect venue then planned an event. From the moment I saw The Story Shop on a home design blog of all places, I knew that I wanted to host something in this magical bookstore. Though I've never planned anything like this in my life, the idea of hosting a workshop for English teachers grabbed onto me and just wouldn't let go. At one point it looked like it wasn't going to work out, but in the end it did, and now I know why it was meant to be.

Here was my goal for the workshop: 

Keeping the Wonder Workshop: A Secondary ELA Workshop at the Most Magical Children’s Bookstore Ever!

Elementary teachers spend their entire careers building a love of reading, but as secondary English teachers, we run the risk of tearing down this foundation with rigidity disguised as rigor. Magic, whimsy, and play don't have to end in elementary school. Join us for a hands-on workshop where you will learn alongside four high school English teachers who strive to create engaging classrooms full of wonder! Topics include: Incorporating picture books, using stations, transforming classrooms, infusing real-world scenarios, improving classroom environment, and lots more!

From the feedback we received and the feeling we left with, I feel certain that I met and even exceeded this goal! 

This bookstore is even more magical than the pictures suggest and the sixty teachers who showed up to learn with us made our time at The Story Shop an unforgettable experience. We were surrounded by passionate English teachers from all around the U.S. who took a day away from their summer break to learn strategies for keeping the wonder in secondary ELA. Their energy and hearts filled this beautiful space, and I think we all left with feelings that we want to bottle up and keep all school year long.

Because of the crazy world known as Instagram, I was able to sweet talk some incredible presenters to travel half a day to Monroe, Georgia. Here they are in their elements: 

(Ok, this first one is me, but I did drive four hours to get here. This place is totally worth a road trip by the way). 

Ashley Bible @BuildingBookLove
Ashley Bible is a high school English teacher who strives to build a creative learning environment for her secondary students. She holds a Master of Arts Degree in English from East Tennessee State University. After gaining ten years of teaching experience, Ashley recently took a year off from the classroom to teach online British Literature while traveling around the U.K. She looks forward to returning to the classroom this year!

I presented in the young reader's room (swoon), and we had a great time learning all about Storybird and how I use it in my high school classroom. I also gave a fun and crafty get-to-know-you idea that later became extra decorations in the party room. You can catch a glimpse of them in Jenna's picture below. 

Jenna Copper @DocCopTeaching
Jenna Copper is a full-time high school English teacher and a part-time college professor specializing in perspective-taking learning to build critical reading and writing. She earned her Ph.D. in Education in 2013. In addition, she is a curriculum writer and researcher, and she designs resources to inspire creative thinking.
You can read more about what she presented on and her takeaways here: 

Staci Lamb @TheEngagingStation
Staci Lamb is a high school English teacher committed to engaging students, sparking creativity, and empowering other educators. She is currently serving as the 2018 Cecil County Public Schools Teacher of the Year, and she is pursuing her master’s degree in School Leadership. She is passionate about transforming classrooms and schools through collaboration between all stakeholders of education.
You can read more about what she presented on and her takeaways here: 

Abby Gross @WriteOnWithMissG
Abby Gross is a high school American Literature, journalism, and newspaper teacher who is dedicated to engaging and empowering her students. She is committed to designing authentic learning experiences and loves finding creative ways to “trick students into learning.” Abby firmly believes that you can have FUN and keep the magic in secondary without sacrificing rigor.

You can read more about what she presented on and her takeaways here: 

Here's some of the feedback we received from attendees:

From the Google Form Exit Ticket: 

"I walked away with so many wonderful ideas that I can practically and easily implement. Thank you for hosting this incredible event!"

"The enthusiasm of the presenters was infectious and all materials presented are useful in any ELA setting!"

"This was extremely practical and the activities can be used with all types of learners. The presenters were organized and positive. They truly love being teachers."

"The information was current, relevant, and gave me fresh new ideas from people who are currently in the classroom. Everyone exceeded my expectations. Great job ladies!"

"Teachers learn the most from other teachers. Sharing your passions in the classroom just may ignite a passion in someone else!"

"This was an absolutely magical experience. I learned a great deal, and I will definitely attend again if it’s ever done again. It was great to be surrounded by teachers who love what they do."

"The fresh new ideas were presented with passion! Can't wait to use the various resources presented. Great job, ladies!"

"Not one minute was wasted at this workshop. I was able to get something from each station and lesson, and it was clear the presenters had spent time in developing the material presented. The handouts were especially helpful. This workshop was about collaboration and creativity— the presenters were so generous in the information shared and material provided to help the participants shape the lessons learned into the best fit for their classrooms."

"This workshop truly was magical. Between the energy of the presenters and the great ideas I can bring to my own classroom, I would give this workshop an A+!"

"The energy and enthusiasm of each the presenter was amazing!! My two co-workers and I spent the entire 7 hour drive home brainstorming ways to implement and expand on all of the ideas that we saw and heard. I also loved the number of participants being small so we could get to know one another and share ideas."

"Amazing workshop! I thought the presenters were very prepared, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. It was well worth the 5 1/2 hour drive!"

"I totally loved spending the day with you all. It was great PD in a one-of-a-kind, whimsical venue! I loved every minute!! Thank you for dreaming big!"

"This workshop was very organized and well thought out. I felt like every presentation's content and delivery was excellent, and I walked away feeling like I could teach every single item that was presented. I could easily visualize how I would use each strategy/lesson/technology/activity in my classroom."

"It was absolutely fantastic, positive, and unbelievably inspiring, especially for a first-year teacher. I want to start my career on the right foot, and with the resources and lessons I learned from everyone at the workshop, this is a definite step in the right direction."

Ok, now I'm crying again. Wow. What an incredible day! One of my non-teacher friends who joined me summed it up better than I ever could. She told me on the drive home that she wished she had just a small fraction of the passion for her job that she felt at this workshop. I told her that when you get a group of like-minded teachers together, this is the norm.  English teachers are WONDERFUL. 

A special thanks to The Story Shop for hosting us! I know they thought I was crazy when I started messaging them on Instagram, but they made us feel welcome and kept insisting that their bookstore is for children of all ages! 

I would also like that thank Coffee Camper Co. for catering our event. They did a spectacular job and the coffee bar was a hit!

Until next time.... 

If you have any venue suggestions in your city, we would love to learn more! Leave a comment!

Middle School World History Classroom: Inspiration for a small and windowless classroom

My husband is one of the best teachers I know. I can verify this because I hear, “MR. BIBLE IS MY FAVORITE TEACHER !!!” every time my own students figure out we are married. I could get jealous, but mostly I just get proud. That’s why I set out to surprise him with a world history classroom that’s just a small fraction of what he deserves.

However,  this surprise classroom makeover didn't go as planned due to family issues and a flash flood that brought him home early from a conference. So while it wasn’t the sweet surprise I had envisioned, we ended up having fun creating something beautiful together. 

(You can see a video tour of his room on my Instagram story highlights @buildingbooklove)

Here's a tour of my husband's world history classroom: 

Please note that his classroom is very small and doesn't have any windows. You can still create a welcoming space even if you don't have much to work with!

Watercolor map tapestry ($13), inflatable globes hung with low-gauge craft wire ($18), clocks with time zones of cities in his world history curriculum (the cheapest clocks I found were $4 from Dollar General), and repurposed old maps (free). ***Note*** He hasn't put the batteries in the clocks yet because he's waiting until school starts. (<affiliate links)

This is a focal wall made out of two cheap sets of sheets from Big Lots (I think they were $15 each) and a $3 roll of fabric I picked up from Goodwill. All of the patterns on the fabric are different, but they create a unified design because they are all navy, gray, and white. We were going for a Persian design here to emphasize some of the world cultures his students will be learning about.  

I'm sorry that I didn't take more pictures of this process, but it was relatively easy to do. First, I cut the fabric into strips (I cut the elastic out of the fitting sheets and those pieces were used for the two end top pieces). I didn't sew the edges or anything. It's fine if they fray some. Next, you can see that he stuffed one end of the fabric into the ceiling tile edges. Then, he created a swag and stapled the fabric to the wall in the back. If you have cinder block walls, you will have to attach it to the very back ceiling track instead of stapling it to the wall.

As for the fabric on the sides, we just put the fabric on curtain rods and attached it to the wall. Again, if you have cinder block walls, you will need to use something like strong command hooks that are large enough to hold a small curtain rod. (I have no idea if this will work, but I'm just giving you an idea of what I would try). I don't have a picture, but if you can envision a set of sheets then you know that top sheet has a thick band at the top. When you cut that fabric on both ends, you have a perfect tab to slide a curtain rod through. 

*** Please check your fire marshal codes before attempting this. His room doesn't have sprinklers to block and this doesn't take up more than 25% of a wall, so he should be good. 

One of my favorite walls in the room is the "Be the light in the world" wall display I made for him. I designed it so that different style lights, lamps, and lanterns from around the world would be represented (obviously I could find them all, but I think the idea is there). The pieces of paper you see represent where student work will be displayed. In the last picture, you can see our little helper who came to school with us to escape the storms and flash flooding I spoke of earlier. 

Another reason I like this wall is that it connects our two rooms together ever so slightly. 😍

Mine says, "Lumos Be the Light" and you can see more of my classroom here: High School Engish Classroom 

Beyond the message of  "Be the light in the world," I wanted to promote world kindness and unity. The posters are blueprints or sometimes called engineering prints that I got from Staples. I simply hot glued the thin pieces of wood to the paper and hung them with the same low gauge wire I used for the inflatable globes above. If you are interested in creating this look yourself, you can check out my Watercolor World Classroom Decor Kit 

Lastly, I will leave you with something Aaron made that he's really proud of. Back when he taught American history, he used these American history growth mindset posters and activity to promote growth mindset with a historical lens. Now that he's teaching world history, he decided to bring in world historical figures to do the same. You can find these growth mindset posters and the world history growth mindset activity in his store here: World History Growth Mindset 

If you would like help designing your own classroom, I would love to have you join my FREE and FUN classroom design challenge! You can sign up here: Classroom Design Challenge 

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