…and April Is Especially Cruel for Those Who Assign Papers

Those of you who’ve taken the WI workshop series have heard our spiel about how to save time when dealing with papers.

Although it’s likely too late to redesign assignments, you might

  • Consider separating commenting from grading.  Research shows that students usually don’t carry writing feedback from the end of one class into the next semester.  Ever write comments on a paper due the last day of class–and find that many of your students don’t pick them up?  Sigh.

If you give students feedback on a paper in progress, however, they’re more likely to engage with it in the hope of improving their grade (or their learning–yes, we have those students, too).

  • Consider commenting early on a chunk.  If you have a paper due at the end of the semester, you might give some feedback on the thesis or introduction or give some feedback on a specific issue, such as organization.  You might collect a paragraph and note all the grammar errors that you expect to be eliminated throughout the final draft.
  • Consider making comments on the final paper only if students express interest.  Some professors ask for a self-addressed stamped envelope as a commitment.  Others schedule conferences (if you explain that there’s no penalty in just wanting a grade, a lot of students won’t sign up) and hand back the paper then or just comment orally.

You still have to grade, but at least you won’t feel as if you’re wasting your time casting pearls of wisdom that no one will bother to pick up.


One Way to Save Time Grading: Outsource

Too busy to comment on student papers?  Master’s students in India stand ready to take on the job, according to the Chronicle of Higher Ed

Cost for giving feedback to 20 students on six assignments: $1,440.

What’s Your Paper-Grading Practice?

Hofstra University fine arts professor Laurie Fendrich outlines how she tackles a stack of student essays in “4 days, 40 papers.” Team-teaching a large lecture course, Fendrich assigned one small essay, wrote all over it (too much IMHO), asked for a revision, and then awarded checks with plus or minus.  This assignment, however, she’s grading. It’s a 2-3 page essay.

In brief, she skims first, mostly intros and conclusions.  Then she reads a few papers carefully.

She reads 10 essays a day, three at a time before a break.  She allots 10 minutes per page for reading and commenting.  She puts them in piles: best, middle, worst.  She vets best and worst again, then divides the huge middle pile into its own best/middle/worst based most only her comments.

Finally, she assigns grades by pile.

How does her process compare to yours?