About Daisy Filler

Mrs. Filler, or Savage Fill to her students, has been teaching high school English for a decade. In addition to the standard core English class, she has taught inclusion, honors, accelerated honors, and AP Language and Composition. Sometimes, she teaches creative writing and reading intervention. Her love of teaching comes second to her love of family.

grading-essaysEnglish teachers often look upon their math and science colleagues without a shred of envy while, ironically, they look upon us with pity. “At least, I don’t have to grade essays!” they say. If only, they knew…

Along the way, I have picked up a few tips that make grading writing more efficient. I am hesitant to say that all these tips make the grading process faster or easier (some of them may), but the ones that do not speed up the process do help to keep me focused and objective.


Tip #1: Use a Checklist

Whether it is a formal rubric or a checklist of items you expect to see in the paper, make one for every single writing assignment. You can find or make free rubrics online, or you can create your own. Share your grading criteria with the class. Some teachers like to be as specific as showing students the actual rubric while others are purposely vague: “I will look for how well you answer the prompt. And yes, grammar, spelling, and mechanics count as well!” Determine how many points each item is worth, and stick to it as you grade each paper. Try not to let your feelings hinder you from deducting points. (Hey, I hate having to take away points from the world’s kindest student, but you do that child no favors if you mislead him or her into thinking he/she writes flawlessly. I have learned this the hard way.)

Tip #2: Choose Anchor Papers

I always follow this tip whenever I am grading a difficult paper, especially if it is new to me. (Rhetorical analysis, anyone?) Skim through all the papers you have and find the best one. This paper is your 100 (or, at least, the highest point-earning). You can judge all other papers by this one. It also helps to list the qualities of the anchor paper that make A-quality. Just make sure that the traits match up to whatever you have listed on your rubric or checklist so that you are as fair as possible to the other students.

I like this method because it ensures that students are earning their 100s and that the students who did write the best are truly valued. Before, I would grade each paper in isolation from the other papers. I usually regretted it, as I would give a high grade to a mediocre paper but would not know just how mediocre it was until I saw a better-written paper. Because I had not seen an A-quality paper beforehand, I had a skewed frame of reference. It does an injustice to the students.

Tip #3: Sort the Papers

If you do not like using anchor papers and you are still having a difficult time figuring out how to rank each paper, try sorting instead. Make at least three piles. One pile can represent the “strong” or “exceeds expectations, another can represent “so-so” or “meets expectations,” and the final pile can represent the weakest or papers that do not meet the minimum requirements. With a rubric, you could sort them into numerical piles instead. Your strongest papers represent the highest grade and so forth. Later, look at each paper, one pile at a time. Ensure that all papers belong in their respective piles; you may find that you need to move a paper up or down once you have compared it to all the others. This method also ensures that you are fairly weighing your students’ writing ability and that students earning 100s have truly gone above and beyond.

Tip #4: Make Notes

Instead of writing the same comment over and over again on each paper, note commonly occurring mistakes or characteristics on a separate page. For instance, several of your students could be writing fragments with subordinate clauses, or they could be seamlessly integrating quotes into their writing. You can use your notes to share your observations with the rest of the class (“Good job with those quotes! I especially enjoyed this one…”), and you can use the notes to help you determine the next mini-lesson (“OK, class, today we need to learn the difference between subordinate clauses and independent clauses…”).

On a side note, using a revision key (make up your own or find one online) can also save you time. You need not write out “run-on sentence” when you could simply write “r.o.”
Tip #5: Grade during Class

Oh, yes, I did! That is, you can grade during class as long as that class is working on a timed write. Say your first period completed a timed write, and now your second period is also completing a timed write. If this class does not call for you to closely monitor them, why could you not sit down at your desk and grade papers from the previous class? Or, your later class could work on another equally valuable and independent activity that allows you to sit at your desk. This process will, at least, help you put a small dent in all that paperwork.


Tip #6: Never Grade While Angry or Sad

Sometimes, we find a reason to get angry about some aspect of our jobs. Whatever the cause, anger has struck. Grading in this state puts you at risk for slash-grading. Slash-grading is when you angry slash through a student’s paper, finding fault with any and every item you come across. Whenever you find yourself in this state – PUT THE PEN DOWN so no one gets hurt.

Other times, we find ourselves in a funk. That cloud of gloom could come from anywhere. Grading in this state could either make you feel more depressed, lead to anger (see the previous paragraph), or lead to undue leniency. Again, you should put the pen down and do whatever needs to be done to cure your blues.

And these are my tips, accumulated from my mentors’ advice and my own experience. I hope that you have found something useful. Even better, you could offer your own tips in the comments section below!

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