"Assign More Writing but Grade Less." Too Good to Be True?

"Assign More Writing but Grade Less." Too Good to Be True?

Teaching writing is a challenging task for many reasons, but grading enormous stacks of student papers just might top the list.

Reading and evaluating over 100 essays takes hours, and this is time that must be spent outside of school (and off the clock). And if you want to give students personalized feedback? You might find yourself spending days writing comments on student work.

Fortunately, there are some brilliant strategies you can use to not only reduce your grading time but also increase student writing.

Sound too good to be true? Read on!

Have Students Write More

The best way for students to build writing skills is simple: Write more.

Starting in first grade, experts recommend a minimum of one hour of writing per day. It might feel like you don’t have any more time to devote to writing, but writing doesn’t have to replace instruction or content.

In fact, students absorb information better when they’re able to write about it. So if students are learning about sonnets, ask them to write one of their own. Or if you’re studying character development, have students write one diary entry from a character’s perspective at the beginning of the story and one from the same character’s perspective at the story’s end.

Before a lesson, you can even introduce or preview content by having students briefly write a response to an engaging question. There are all kinds of ways to integrate more writing into any content area.

But you’re probably wondering:

How exactly is more writing going to reduce my grading?

Good question! This brings us to our next point.

Grading Smarter (and Faster)

Assigning your students more writing doesn’t necessarily mean assigning yourself more grading. For some types of writing, it’s actually best if you don’t assign grades or offer feedback.

Provisional writing, for instance, refers to students practicing new or challenging concepts. In this situation, it’s best if students can practice without fear of judgment or a grade penalty. Writing assignments such as the preview questions mentioned above, exit tickets, and even first drafts don’t need to be graded.

Reserve lengthy feedback and evaluation for polished pieces. The point of these practice opportunities is for students to improve their writing, whether they receive a grade for it or not.

Provide Focused Feedback

Another way to increase writing while decreasing grading is to provide focused feedback. This means giving high-quality feedback on only one or two writing traits.

The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors outlines a 2+1 approach. The idea is to provide feedback on two aspects of student writing, such as clarity and organization, and one frequently occurring mechanical error.

Receiving a paper covered in hastily scrawled comments can be discouraging and overwhelming for students, and your feedback may ultimately have little impact. These hasty comments can also confuse students with unclear messages like, “Elaborate,” or, “Be specific.” It’s better if you can take the time to provide deeper feedback on a few key concepts.

When students are able to focus on just one or two lessons, they learn more effectively. So in the end, this strategy is a win-win: less grading for you, and more learning for students.

Teach the Writing Process

Research shows that the teaching strategy resulting in the largest student learning gains is teaching the writing process.

The most effective way to teach the writing process is using Self-Regulated Strategy Development. This involves teaching students the rationale behind each step in the writing process, along with providing clear models, scaffolded support, and plentiful practice opportunities.

This may be time-consuming, but it’s a wise investment that will dramatically improve your students’ writing and save you time later.

Assign Rubrics

Create a rubric that sets out specific criteria and describes what “mastery” would look like for each criterion.

Allowing students to help you develop the rubric is an effective teaching strategy, and using rubrics will save you time when grading papers. If your rubric is thorough, you won’t need to provide much feedback. You can simply circle or highlight the level your student has achieved for each criterion, writing a few comments as needed.

As your students begin to recognize what makes a “proficient” paper, they’ll turn in higher quality work. This will save you some grading time as well!

Incorporate Peer Feedback

Another time-saving strategy is to have students peer edit before submitting their work. Provide students with a rubric or checklist and have them evaluate one another’s writing.

After students receive feedback from their peers, they’ll revise their work accordingly. As a result, you’ll receive more polished drafts that require less feedback.

Final Thoughts

Teaching and grading writing will always require time and effort, but these strategies will help you improve your teaching practice while also saving you time.

Want to grade your students' writing faster? Give your students effective feedback and transparent scores in less time.

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