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mimi-thian-BYGLQ32Wjx8-unsplashWoowee, y’all! This online instructor did NOT plan her semester out well! Last Sunday three of my online classes turned in 5-10 pages essays. One of those classes has 50 students in it, one has 30, and the other 12. A grand total of 92 essays. And since my own policy (as well as the schools’) promises that I’ll return detailed feedback within 7 days I’ve been in front of the computer a lot this week. As of this writing, I have about 14 more to go and there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Wish me luck!

I really could have used this article out of Johns Hopkins University earlier this week. It’s called Quick Tips: Grading Essays and Papers More Efficiently. And I’ll add my own subtitle here – Without Compromising the Quality of Your Feedback. I’ll highlight and summarize some of the most handy points below and you can head on over to Johns Hopkins’ Innovative Instructor blog to read the rest.

1. Stagger Due Dates. No kidding! Ha! I typically do, but for some reason I missed something this semester. Late in the summer for example, while you are creating your Fall syllabi, look at all of your courses and lay them out on a calendar. When will which class be turning in essays? If you see an overlap capable of producing a paper-grading “Hell Week” then try to move things around so one class turns in papers the week before or the week after.

2. Be a Teacher Not an Editor. This is easier for non-English or Composition instructors to say, since it is precisely the job of the composition instructor to “stay in the weeds” with respect to grammar, mechanics, and overall paper organization. But for the rest of us, we can take a step back and assess students based on whether their essay demonstrated the high points of the assignment. Did they “get it?” And can you tell they got it from their writing even if there are some issues with the delivery? Assess and provide feedback at that level, not at the editorial level.

3. Limit Grading Time on Each Essay. I tried doing this this week and it sort of worked. I gave myself an hour and said “I’m going to review 10 in this hour.” That seemed to keep me focused and streamlined in my thinking. I say “sort of” worked because I found an hour to be a little long. Today, when I tackle the rest, I might say “I’m going to do 5 in this half hour” then take a break – clean the kitchen or do some knitting – and then do another 5 in another half hour. You’ll find the period of time that works best for you.

4. Limit Comments. Too much feedback can be overwhelming, especially for undergraduate students who are learning and grappling with the material for the first time. Decide what is most important for that student to know and then move on.

And, I’ll add my own tip to this list:

Provide Class-Wide Summary Feedback. If you see that a lot of students are struggling with the same thing, you can address this broadly in the weekly summary announcement. For instance, you might include this in your week-in-review post:

“I really enjoyed reading everyone’s essays this week! You all brought together some really great ideas. I know getting the hang of APA formatting is difficult. Here is a link to our school’s library page which has an excellent review of APA formatting for essays, citations, and references. You might review this and integrate what you learn into your next essay. It is handy to get practice with this now, since APA formatting is going to follow you throughout your entire academic career!”

And now you don’t have to mention this in all 30 essays! If students are all struggling with the same thing, it also means we haven’t taught it. So, this cues you to set your next cohort students up to succeed beforehand by giving this information before the essay is due.

Any other tips to share? I could really use them! Please leave a comment below!

2 Responses to “Tips for Grading Essays More Efficiently”

  1. Genifer Johnson

    I must respectfully disagree. Each course should be skill building and that includes writing skills. I have read papers from students that were so poorly executed they were nearly unreadable. If all the faculty does not give feedback that improves the students’ writing abilities, exactly when will it occur? Only in an English or composition courses? Numbers 2 and 4 are off the table. The students need the feedback to improve their skills. As the skills improve, the volume of feedback decreases.

    • Brooke Shriner

      Hey Genifer :) Thanks for writing! I do see what you are saying and in a way, if a class has so many students in it that detailed feedback on both content and writing is not feasible within a week’s turn around time, then the class simply has too many students in it. If one has to compromise, then something is wrong huh? One might say that in a class this large, writing assignments should be replaced by assessments that aren’t as “writing heavy” but that doesn’t seem like a good solution either as it denies students a good opportunity to practice their writing skills.

      In this Catch-22 situation (having no say about how many students are in a class and not wanting to compromise writing assessments), the online instructor can be creative and find ways to assess the content of a student’s work as well provide helpful, formative feedback on their writing ability. One of those ways may be to address the writing issues in broad strokes and then refer students to the writing resources that the school offers, like a writing or tutoring center and suggest “When you work with the folks a the writing center, have them help you with the following things: Passive voice, APA formatting, creating paragraphs vs. “walls of text” (< --that's one of my go-to bits of feedback) and ways to edit grammar/mechanics before submitting your paper." Or whatever it is the student needs. So, you are listing them (efficiently) vs. going line-by-line.

      Also, the instructor can have a handout or attached document of some kind that covers the “common writing mistakes” that students often make and not just give it to students after as a form of feedback, but give it to them beforehand so they are more set up to succeed. The instructor can say “I look for these things…” And then, in the feedback, the instructor can say “Please refer to the handout” vs. correcting, say, every individual incorrectly formatted in-text citation.

      These are some trick of the trade not mentioned above and I thank you for the opportunity to talk in more detail about them!


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