As a high school writing teacher, I’m especially susceptible to the paper pile. My book chapter, Grading Work Without Hating Work, offers tips for balancing speed with specificity, but I’ve also developed a tool I call “The Holistic Grading Half-Sheet,” which you can download here.
How to use it: Customize the form as needed to match what you want from your students. Make a couple hundred copies and cut them in half so you have a big stack of the form on hand at all times. Then, arrange the section of your board or teacher website where you write assignments to match the format of the form. When you give a writing assignment, have students fill in the blanks with the directions you have written, which should focus their attention on following the directions. (The only thing more frustrating than writing the same comment on twenty different papers is reexplaining the directions in your comments on twenty different papers.) Then, when you grade papers, expand or contract your level of feedback as needed. When you want to give students additional guidance, you can write comments on the sheet or directly on the paper. Other times, if an assignment is mostly for review purposes or report card day is right around the corner, you can check off the categories and give a grade that is largely holistic. Either way, the format should stay the same with every assignment so students can get used to it.
Here are some tips on expanding or contracting your level of feedback as needed:
When you want to give detailed feedback on each paper: First of all, go right ahead. There is nothing about using this cover sheet that in any way keeps you from doing what you usually do as you grade papers. You can also use the blank space on the cover sheet to write your more general comments about the assignment. Just make sure to check off each box on the cover sheet before giving the final grade. Giving detailed feedback early in the year can be especially, so students understand the connection between what you check off on the cover sheet and what you’re seeing on the assignment. You can also discuss common issues and how to read the cover sheets after you pass back assignments early in the year.
When you want to balance speed and specificity: Quickly skim papers, checking off as many boxes as possible and assigning grades as early into each paper as possible. Then, as you read, note common mistakes to discuss with the whole class. Give additional comments only for students who need additional feedback on this particular assignment.
When you really need to get these papers off your desk: Skim papers, check off boxes, write letter grades. Grade in sharpie or highlighter so you won’t be tempted to make comments. If you see common mistake patterns emerging, you can always discuss them with the class later, but for now, go, go, go! Report card grades have to be in by tomorrow!
(c) 2015 Roxanna Elden
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