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 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 with 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 get a free, editable download of the stations I use by signing up for my newsletter below: 

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 , Pro Writing Aid, and The Hemmingway App (website) to help students find and correct grammar mistakes. If you only have time for two, Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid are 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: 

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