Grading papers is the bane of my existence. Of course, as an English teacher, it is also a huge part of my existence. I get a lot of comments/emails from fellow teachers saying that they too hate this necessary part of the job and asking if I have any tips. I wrote a post a while back called “3 Tips for Surviving the Teacher Workload and Staying Sane“, but today I thought I’d address the issue of grading specifically. Before I get to it though, let it be clear that I’m 100% preaching to myself here. I’ll be the first to admit that I often take WAY too long to return papers and am scrambling at the end of the nine weeks to get everything done. Even after almost nine years of teaching, finding a good system for grading is still a work in progress for me. I don’t do all of these things all the time, but I think if I did I’d be a lot better off. So…
Set a certain time in your day (or week if that works better for you) to grade. Stick to this the way you would any other appointment. The amount of time will vary based on your style – I tend to “get in a groove” and be able to crank out a lot at one time, while other people find that 30 minutes or so a day is perfect. Either way, pencil grading into your planner and make it a priority.
Set the scene.
This seems kind-of silly, but I really do find that a clean work space – ideally with a candle lit (if I’m at home) and a hot cup of coffee – makes a big difference in my productivity. As I’ve gotten older, I also need complete silence to work so a quiet room or noise canceling headphones are a must for me. Figure out what environment is best for you and then do your best to create that environment when it’s time to grade.
Use good pens.
Another tiny detail, but it really does help! As is the trend with most teachers I know these days, I try to avoid red, but I love to grade with bright colors – sometimes just switching to a new color gives me the boost I need to get through another five essays or so! I use these for grading (and these for everything else).
Use a timer.
I’ve mentioned it before here, but I really like using the Pomodoro system to help keep me productive and on track during the time I’ve set aside to grade. Pomodoro is basically just a 25 minute tomato timer with a 5 minute break in-between work sessions. Forcing myself to focus on one thing – in this case, grading – for 25 minutes is usually just the right amount of time. I’m able to get a good bit done without getting totally burned out. (There are a million Pomodoro apps, but I use this one.) Of course, you could set a timer for any amount of time that works for you (an hour? 15 minutes?), but the key is to be focused for a set amount of time. I usually try to get in a couple of Pomodoros in a day, but even one is better than none.
As a slight variation on this tip, sometimes I will physically bundle my papers (with a paper clip or binder clip) into groups of five or ten and challenge/force myself to get one bundle done before I leave for the day or something like that. This is especially good for really big essays or projects that will take a while to grade.
Keep your papers neat.
First, make sure that you have a system for collecting papers and that your students know you expect work to be turned in neatly. I’m crazy about papers not being crumbled up, no torn edges on looseleaf, and all pages being lined up before stapling. The kids think I’m a nut, but a big pile of sloppily-stapled papers of varying sizes and shapes is even less enticing (if there is such a thing). I also like to alphabetize my papers before I start grading so that I know about how many I have left based on what letter I’m grading AND so that entering grades into the grade book is quick and efficient. This obviously has its flaws, but I alternate where I start in the alphabet to help.
I have a friend that gives herself one M&M after every essay. Hilarious, right? I’d never be able to do that, but I do appreciate a good reward. One of the things I like about the Pomodoro, for example, is the five minute break. It feels like a treat to spend five minutes reading blogs, sending a text, or talking a walk outside after I’ve worked for my allotted time. Another idea is to reward yourself with a “night off” to indulge in a book for fun, a bubble bath, and an early bedtime after an especially productive day of grading. The possibilities are endless.
*Bonus* IF ALL ELSE FAILS: Give yourself an ultimatum.
I’m what Gretchen Rubin calls an Obliger, which means I’m more likely to stick to a goal if other people are depending on me, so I’ve been known to say something like “if I don’t have those essays returned to you by Monday, you don’t have to write the next one” or “I’ll have your paper graded by Thursday or everyone gets 10 bonus points.” This is, obviously, risky, but so far I’ve always met my goal and not had to follow through. A safer bet would be to only “let” yourself watch the Bachelor (let’s say) IF you grade five projects this afternoon – but that wouldn’t be as effective for me. (I like to live on the edge.)
So, there you have it. What tips/tricks work for you when it comes to grading? Please share!
Hope you’re having a great day!
P.S. THANK YOU for your sweet words on yesterday’s post. It seems my confession that life is anything but “together” right now has struck a chord with many of you. You guys have encouraged me so much and made me realize that I’m a.) not alone and b.) doing just fine! I hope you get that same message every time you are here. 🙂
The worst mistakes I made in my first couple of years were waiting two weeks to confront 125 essay (making the whole two week turnaround thing pretty impossible), feeling the need to mark everything wrong on an essay, and not developing a plan to make grading productive for both me and the students. Correcting those mistakes did nit make ne enjoy grading, but it did help me to see the vakue in helpful, timely feedback, thus helping me just get it overwith already. Also, grading on turnitin.com and creating my own custom comments revolutionized grading for me.
P.S. I live all the way down in ATL, but one day this past fall I mentioned your blog to a new coworker of mine from VA in a, “Hey, I’ve been following this girl’s blog for four years, and I think she lives close to where you grow up,” kind of way, and she knew you! It’s a small world after all!
And, those typos are eww.
Preach! Here I am reading your blog about grading essays as my school bag waits with a pile of essays inside. Thank you for the tips!! Now, I guess I need to start grading.
I just downloaded a pomodoro app. I heard about the idea last month but haven’t tried it. Thank you for reminding me!
As a first year high school English teacher, I’m finding that grading is the bane of my existence! As my coworkers were rejoicing for Spring Break last week, I was packing up multiple bags full of essays and projects to grade! These tips are really helpful. If I could just convince myself not to watch Netflix as I grade, I might spend half the amount of time grading! I’m glad that it’s not just me though.