Grading students’ work, whether it be homework, projects, or tests, is time-consuming — and, let’s be honest, pretty tedious. But like many things, it must be done. It’s an essential way to assess how a class is doing in general, provide parents with a snapshot of their child’s progress, and give the students invaluable feedback from which to improve.
However, as important as grading is, if you don’t find strategies for staying on top of it, your grading work will soon pile up — literally! On the other hand, if you employ a few tactics for tackling it more efficiently, you can prevent grading from creeping into your free time and upsetting your work-life balance.
With that goal in mind, let’s look at 12 helpful tips for making your grading as quick and efficient as possible.
How to make grading easier
1. Pick the optimal time
Identify the time of the day when you tend to get the most grading done and stick to it. This could be the first thing in the morning when your mind is clear, after a workout, or when you’re home from work and have had a moment to regroup. It might take a bit of trial and error to find when you’re most productive, but it’ll make things far easier in the long run if you devote a single time to getting this work done.
2. Choose the best place
As well as the right time, you need to find the best place possible to get your grading done. You want somewhere with as few distractions as possible so you can get into a state of flow, enabling you to get through the work swiftly. This might be in your classroom, your home office, or even tucked away in a corner at your favorite cafe — anywhere you can be alone and focus.
3. Reduce cellphone distractions
As indispensable as your cellphone may be, it’s still a dastardly distraction device, if there ever was one — and never is this more true than when you’re grading students’ work. There’s no escaping the fact that grading is repetitive. And with games, social media, news sites, and other apps, your cellphone provides the perfect tonic to get away from the boredom.
However, you can’t let yourself become sidetracked, as you have to regain your focus each time that you do. That saps your mental energy and ultimately makes grading take much longer than it should.
Messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Slack are among the worst offenders, as every message you send can generate a response, which you always feel compelled to respond or react to, and the cycle ends up consuming a lot of time. Next thing you know, you’ve had your phone in your hands for 10 minutes straight — and, sadly, your grading pile hasn’t gotten any smaller!
To combat this, you could use an app designed to block such sites at particular times, such as Anti-Social or Cold Turkey. There’s also the nuclear option of turning off your data, while instructing anyone who might need to get a hold of you urgently to do so via call or text.
4. Break it down into manageable chunks
The mere sight of a huge stack of papers or exercise books can be exhausting, so make it easier on yourself by separating them into smaller piles. As simple as this may sound, doing this will protect your mind from grading overload. It’s a simple psychological trick for making the task at hand seem less overwhelming.
When separating papers into smaller stacks, it’s a good idea to prioritize and initially grade what’s due first; that will relieve a little pressure. Alternatively, you could arrange them by complexity, starting with something easy to get you going. On the other hand, you could, as prolific productivity author Brian Tracy says, “eat that frog” by starting with the task you want to do least. It’s tough, but it’s also an excellent habit to develop.
5. Frequent breaks
Instead of grading for prolonged periods in an attempt to power through, take short, frequent breaks. These give your brain and eyes a rest, replenish your concentration, and allow you to work more efficiently for longer periods. An example of this is the Pomodoro Method, which advocates 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break. It’s effective because focusing for 25 minutes at a time is achievable, and then you can regroup for five minutes before getting back to it. Best of all, those breaks allow you to get up, walk around, stretch, make a coffee, etc. All these get blood pumping through your body and make you more productive.
6. Grade one task at a time
Instead of grading a whole assignment or test at a time, focus on the questions themselves. This keeps the answer or metrics fresh in your mind and helps you grade everything more quickly overall. This is just another useful trick to make your work seem more manageable.
7. Reward yourself
After completing a certain amount of grading — an entire class’s work, for instance — reward yourself with a treat. This could be something simple like a cup of coffee, a smoothie, or a slice of your favorite cake. Conversely, if you’ve got a ton of grading to get through, it could be a meal at your favorite cafe or ordering takeout that evening for dinner.
8. Focus your feedback
Instead of grading everything, hone in on particular aspects of an assignment. This could be the same for the whole class or tailored to each student, depending on what they need to work on. Not only is it easier on you, but it’s also less demoralizing for students as they’re not confronted with all their areas of improvement at once.
This is especially true for writing assignments, for which there’s always plenty of room for improvement and scope for mistakes.
9. Create grading codes
On the subject of writing assignments, you can save yourself tons of time by developing a system of shorthand grading codes. Instead of explicitly mentioning that a comma is missing or reminding your students to use proper verb agreement, for example, write down a code, such as ‘2’ or ‘H’. This works in tandem with a key, which you should create and distribute to students to explain what each code means. When you return an assignment, each student can pull out their key and quickly decipher your feedback.
Now, granted, you’ll have to spend some time upfront both developing the key and explaining it to your students, but the benefits are huge: You won’t have to constantly repeat yourself or wear out your hands by writing full sentences. And in turn, your students will have way less info to digest — it’s a win-win!
10. Type, where possible
Speaking of wearing out your hands, you can spare yourself quite a few painful cramps by typing out your feedback when possible. Though there’s a lot of feedback that’s best written on the page itself, you can type out your summarizing comments about a piece of work, print it out, and simply attach it. Alternatively, you could have your students turn in their written pieces in a Word or Google Doc and use suggestions and comments to identify mistakes. This can make you significantly more productive.
11. Buy custom stamps
Buying a pair of stamps may seem like a minor investment, but it can pay off well if you grade lots of papers or find yourself signing and dating frequently. Order these at any good stationery store and rescue your hand from cramp city.
12. Grade as a class
If an assignment consists of a series of questions with definite answers, you can go through the answers as a class and have your students grade their work. Instead of grading each individual paper, you can put your effort into developing clear, detailed explanations and answering any questions that arise during class. For a simple twist on this idea, you can your students swap their assignments with a neighbor and mark each other’s work as you go through the answers.
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