Of all the things you have to grade, writing is one of the hardest. Why? Because when you ask someone to write, they are going to put a piece of themselves into the writing. Whenever you are grading a piece of someone, it is difficult to be too harsh even if the writing needs quite a bit of work. How do we keep our personal feelings out of writing? Here are five tips for grading student writing that will make the process easier for you and for your students.
#1 Use a Rubric
We all know before you grade anything you need some form of measurement. Rubrics are a great form of measurement for writing because it is specific. Whenever you create a rubric, make sure you explain in detail what each point value entails. When using a rubric, you need to write comments on the paper or the rubric itself to make sure students understand what they did wrong or what they need to do to improve.
One way I like to make rubrics is by making a list instead of a table. For example, I will have a bullet point that says “Introduction” with a point value behind it. Under “Introduction” I list all of the elements an introduction needs. For example, I will have attention grabber/hook, central idea, and thesis. Behind each one I explain what I am looking for and put a point value behind it. The point value behind “Introduction” is all of those numbers added together. I do this for each part of the paper as well as for grammar and citations.
#2 Use Student Writing Rubrics
Students often think they are done long before they actually are. One way to make sure students are actually done with their papers before they get handed to you is to have them do some grading themselves. Whenever I make a rubric for my students, I make sure the language is easy to understand. I also make sure it mirrors my writing rubric so there are no surprises for the student. I find instead of using points, using a checklist system is best when students are grading their writing.
Why use a checklist when grading student writing? Students are either way too hard on themselves or they are way too easy on themselves. Rarely do students find a happy medium especially when grading writing. Therefore, having a checklist at least tells them what they do and do not have. From there, peer editing can be a useful tool for the content itself. I also provide a rubric for the peer editor that has more content related questions while still using the check list idea. You can easily implement peer editing into a writing workshop.
#3 Grade Writing with Comments
Grading writing does not have nearly as much meaning if you do not use comments. This takes more time; however, it is incredibly effective. When you comment on a student’s work, you will want to make sure you are being positive and constructive. Only writing negative comments will result in students not feeling like they are good enough writers. This can cause a block when it comes to writing and you don’t want that at all.
One way to help students see a potential disconnect in their writing is by looking at their graphic organizers and commenting on them as well. Often students are not using their graphic organizers to the best of their ability when they are writing. Therefore, grading all of the writing tools is beneficial.
#4 Grade Student Writing as You Go
One way to break up some of the time it takes to grade is to grade as you go or have students do some purposeful peer editing. When I say “grade as you go” I mean grade paragraphs at a time. You can utilize writing conferences and literacy centers for this tip.
How do you grade student writing as you go? Set a deadline for your introductions and then grade each paragraph making comments on them. While you will still have to read it again, students will have the chance to change it up and hopefully make it better. This will make the final grading process much easier and you won’t have to spend as much time making comments on the final draft.
You can also have students work together and “grade as they go” which will hopefully have the same end result: less time on the final grade.
#5 Honest Grading
Grading student writing is one of the hardest things to do. When you are grading writing, you want to be kind because so much hard work goes into a final product. However, you want to make sure you are being honest when you are grading writing. If a student is not conveying an idea clearly, offer suggestions or attach a resource they can use in the future. One thing my students struggle with are transitions. I have found that giving them sentence starters or a resource that has a variety of transitions on it can be very helpful to them on the next writing project.
Grading writing is never an easy task. It takes time to do, and it can be a trial if papers are not done well. So, follow these tips to make the final grading process a bit easier, pour a cup (or thermos) of coffee, grab some chocolate or a healthy snack and get to work! You’ll love getting to know your students better through their writing and form a special connection!