Sherri Singer is a Professor and Department Head for Social & Behavioral Sciences at Alamance Community College in North Carolina.
I’ve never heard an instructor say, “I just love grading.” Every time I sit down to grade my students’ assignments, I think this time will be the best. I’ll provide personalized feedback, they’ll read it and improve. Now with online classes, grading has become even more daunting. Somehow, every week I’m supposed to read all my students’ online forums, grade them and provide meaningful written feedback. Over the years I’ve attended every workshop on the topic and tried every gimmick out there. I’ve videotaped my feedback, marked up papers online and emailed or called students individually. And after 30 years in education, I’ve learned that going back to the basics saves time. Here are some of my most useful tips for teachers on how to grade faster while continuing to provide effective feedback.
1. Keep to Your Deadlines
Have a set deadline for each assignment and grade only once. Even during the pandemic, I’ve held to my “all work due by Monday morning at 8 a.m.” rule. I’ve added additional assignments students can complete to make up work. But we as a class do not look backward and I do not grade late assignments. We keep moving forward and it’s the student’s responsibility to utilize these additional assignments. It saves me hours not having to keep up with late work.
2. Provide Students with a Clear Rubric
Design a clear assignment that forces students to follow a rubric or checklist, form and argue an opinion and work through problems in a logical order. I clearly list when and how points can be earned, as well as length and citation requirements. Then I hold students to the expectations I outlined. For example, forums without citations earn zero points. These things are easy to explain to students and they quickly learn to use the proper format, cite their sources and answer the prompt.
3. Set Aside Uninterrupted Grading Time
Monday has become my sacred grading day. Students are sleepy and attending class, my peers are quietly hiding in their offices drinking coffee and it’s not a popular meeting day for the administration. It’s usually a quiet day. The goal is to establish a routine that you and your students follow. In my courses, all work is due by 8 a.m. on Monday mornings, and then I begin grading. Students learn when to submit work and when they can anticipate feedback. My colleagues have learned that Monday for the most part is off limits, and I know that no matter what, I have to grade work.
4. Create a Comment Bank You Can Reuse
I teach History, which means I grade forums each week and multiple essays. I’ve created a comment bank in a word document that contains the basic grading comments. It saves time because I don’t have to rethink or rewrite basic suggestions or comments. I can just copy and paste the basics and then spend my time personalizing the feedback.
5. Use a Dual-Monitor Setup
If you are grading all your assignments online, dual monitors will save you hours. If you don’t have a second monitor, visit your local Goodwill or Salvation Army store, and purchase a $30 smart TV. They are larger and brighter than a monitor. If you just want one screen buy a large TV. The larger screen size allows you to increase the font size to help with eye strain and gives you a second area to work on your feedback. My favorite method of grading forums is to have a roster of my students in a Word document on one screen and the online forums on another. As I grade, I type out or copy-paste my comments into the Word document. When I go to input my comments into the LMS, it’s simple copy and pasting.
6. Just Do It!
Nike has the right idea when it comes to grading. Many instructors overthink grading and the grades they assign. If you have a clear rubric and can clearly explain why a student earned a C, then they earned a C. We all want to work with students and help them as much as possible. But grading them fairly and explaining why they earned their grade has value. Treating everyone the same and following your own guidelines saves you time. Don’t overthink grading, just do it.
Want to make grading even easier? Check out these assignment rubrics designed by fellow instructors that you can use in your course.