Time for a New Normal: ELA Grading Tips


There is no way around it.  Grading student writing takes time, but there are lots of ideas out there that can make it easier. While I don’t always put them into practice, I am now scratching my head as to why I haven’t. When I do, my life gets better.

Student Created Rubrics

Student created rubrics have become a popular concept thanks to Kentucky’s writing program review (Writing: Formative and Summative Assessment, demonstrator 1, indicator A) and the TPGES, which is based on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (Comoponent 1f – Designing Student Assessment).  I decided try this idea out soon after TPGES came out, and I was amazed by the results.

I prepared a rubric for a literary letter I was about to assign to see if students would develop a similar one. I also wrote a model literary letter for my favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird.  I put students in groups and asked them what made this good writing.  At first, students only focused on conventions, but I asked them to dig deeper, and they did! After creating an anchor chart based on my classes’ suggestions, I was amazed to find their rubric matched mine.  The only difference was their language was more student- friendly.  Because they were invested in the creation of the rubric, my students used it more during peer conferences, gave more specific feedback to their partners, and the papers were better.

To read more about self-created rubrics, check out my dear friend Liz Prather’s blog post on the CTQ website.

Rubric Highlighting

I have done this more often this year, especially after finding the Kentucky Writing Project’s 16 point argument rubric.  It allowed me to hone in on specific areas.  Teachers don’t have to grade each indicator.  They can focus on one section at a time which speeds up grading.  The specific indicators allowed me to focus on each area more easily than any other rubric I have ever used.

A note of caution: Never tell students what you are focusing on.  If you do, they will only work on those areas.

List of Common Errors

I can’t seem to help myself when grading.  I still mark every obvious sentence fragment or spelling error.  Those errors often keep me from appreciating a students’ thinking and really mess up the paper.  Instead of becoming that teacher who makes a paper bleed purple, try this trick I learned but have yet to put into practice. Maybe writing about it today will convince me to start next year!

Create a master list of errors you can’t seem to ignore when grading, and assign each error a number.  Then go to the resource you use to teach these skills.  For example, my classroom still has a perfectly usable set of Language Network grammar/composition books.  When a student gets a number, they have to hit the books.  Here is a sample list:

1 – Sentence Fragments: Page 115; Test: Page 125

2- Run-on Sentence: Page 116; Test: Page 126

Add chunks of time during class when students work on these skills so you are available to clarify. By doing this, lessons in grammar/mechanics will be based on students’ individual needs as writers.

I think the reason I have never gotten this off the ground is I forget to create this during the summer.  Maybe, this year, I will remember.

Stagger Due Dates

If you don’t need to have all classes turn the assignment in at once, don’t.  Thirty papers looks less intimidating than 150.

Roll the Dice

Have students write more than one example of a specific type of writing.  If you have to do open response, have students answer three different questions.  Then have a student roll a die until a one, two, or three comes up.  The number that comes up is the number you grade.  You can even do a different roll for every class.  As a result, students work hard on all three responses while you only have to grade one.  If you have a struggling writer, tell them to focus on only one.

I love this because students get the writing practice they need, but I don’t have to grade it all.  It definitely eases the workload!

Grade Aloud

I got this idea from Brandie Trent, a fabulous English teacher and colleague of mine, when I participated in the Morehead Writing Project as a returning fellow a couple of years ago.  It works well if students are struggling with a specific part of the writing.  Have every student read that specific section of his or her paper out loud.  Then give it a grade.  I tried this with introductions, and while I still had to grade for conventions later, I could easily assess the effectiveness of the hook, context, and thesis statement.  The great thing about this was I saw students improving their introductions before I called their names, which I did randomly. Did they steal a few ideas? Yes.  Did it improve their introductions?  Yes.  I entered the grades into the gradebook, students practiced their revision skills, and they taught each other how to improve introductions.

I feel inspired after writing this blog post.  Hopefully, this will be my new normal next year. If it is, I may have just found the extra time needed to make regular exercise part of my daily routine.  Now, that is something to celebrate!



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