I'm Late, I'm Late….Grading!

Whew! Sorry about being out of breath. I’m rushing to get this done (and as my editor will testify, I’m already a few days late). You see, I was stuck wrestling with the bane of my existence, namely grading.


Since grading papers has consumed all of my waking hours for the last week and a half, I thought I’d try to recycle some of that frustration and make it useful. I know that all teachers have to grade, and that it isn’t specific to adjunct instructors, but we’re the ones teaching too heavy a load for too little money, and so we’re the ones who need the most help grading papers. Here’s the issue. I’m confident in my ability to teach, and sure that I can help students learn to write better, but the time involved in grading. Therefore, I want to learn to grade papers more quickly.


This week I finally did something I should have done long ago: I looked into alternative methods of submitting papers to the plagiarism checker. To be specific, I had been submitting papers one at a time, if I suspected them of plagiarism. Now I’m submitting entire batches, as zipped files. Basic, I know, but it has two advantages: I submit more papers at once, and I delay engaging my judgment about the papers.


I’ve taken a lesson from some more experienced teachers, and have made my policies clearer and stricter. The first action also helps my teaching. The second…only helps my grading. Take file type, for example. I’ve always had a statement in the syllabus indicating which file types were required. I used to contact students who submitted essays in the wrong electronic file type and ask them to re-submit. Now I’ve added a statement that the wrong file types won’t be accepted, and I post reminders of the most common incorrect file types and repeat that they won’t be accepted. When students submit in the wrong file, I don’t grade them. I know it is their responsibility, but I still feel guilty.


I use standardized comments, and that helps. I have also started marking the first few times a grammar or spelling error occurs and indicating that it should be fixed throughout the paper. I know, that sounds basic too, but it took a while.


At this point, though, I’m looking for more ways to cut time. I have fewer options than a tenure track professor, because some of the ways to save time aren’t open to me. I cannot, for example, eliminate assignments in some of the courses, because I must teach the course as assigned.


In those cases, I also can’t follow some of the advice found online, like redesigning assignments for easier grading, or grading for only a few things. (I can in courses I design, of course.) Other tips, such as creating my own rubrics, will apply in some courses (those I design) but not others (where I have to use standardized rubrics). This would speed up grading at some schools, but I’d have to switch methods at other schools. I will see how much this distracts/slows me. 


Other tips were new to me, and I’ll try them: using a timer, using abbreviations for comments (though with automated comments, I’m not sure what that will add), and simply limiting the amount of comments I give. Most tips were pretty familiar (such as identifying what qualities I’m looking for, and/or only grading for the specific qualities asked for).


I’m trying some new things. I’m pricing faster computers and a faster Internet connection. This will get things to and from online classes faster. I’m doing all the techy tips I can find to speed up the computer (deleting programs, etc.)


The main new thing I’ve tried recently is asking students. I asked them if they read certain types of feedback. If they said no, I stopped giving it. When I noticed they were repeating certainly failings, either large (no thesis in the paper) or small (specific spelling/grammar errors), I mentioned to my classes that I felt like I was wasting my time (and theirs) by marking the same things on each paper, and asked how they would prefer to get feedback. Some of them were honest enough to admit they weren’t reading the comments; others generated new incentives for improving their papers. (Sadly, in most cases these would lead to more grading, not less.)


To sum up what I do/what others suggest to grade quickly:

Define assignments clearly.
Develop detailed rubrics spelling out expectations at different levels and in different areas.

Make policies very clear.

Review sample papers, to get a sense of how they did.  

Batch check for plagiarism.

Use auto comments.

Limit comments

Focus comments

Abbreviate comments

Limit comments on repeated issues.

Use rubrics.

Use a timer.

Ask students what reaches them.


Other ideas to grade more quickly?
I’ll close by noting that there are numerous online/forum discussions of this issue, but relatively little formal scholarship.



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