Grading should not be a random act. Points should not be arbitrarily assigned or deducted from students’ papers. There must be an equitable way to add or deduct points from a paper. The expectations must be expressed in the assignment directions as well as in the grading rubric. This makes grading easier, because just as students need guidance, a road map, so to speak, so do we, the instructors grading the work.
Use a Grading Rubric
The grading rubric alerts the students and the instructor to the important points a paper should contain. This is where you should focus your attention when grading; it explain how to spend your time, and how to spend it wisely, when grading.
Not too little, not too much…
Too often, I see new instructors provide WAY too much feedback or just the opposite – no feedback at all. There must be a balance. Students need feedback. This helps them to identify why they received the grade they earned. It also gives them guidance for improving future work. However, too much red on a paper can be just as unhelpful as a paper returned without any feedback. Overwhelming! Confusing!
It is unnecessary and unproductive, as well as time consuming, to correct every spelling, grammatical, conventional, and mechanical error on a student’s paper. Instead, it is more constructive to select on page of the paper (usually in the middle of the paper works best), and highlight errors. Then instruct students to look for similar errors in the remainder of the paper.
Work Smarter Not Harder
Because I tend to see the same mistakes over and over again when grading, I have generated lists of general comments that I use when grading papers. This helps to save time and ensures that every student is receiving quality feedback. If you are working with a graduate assistant or grading assistant, this also help to ensure consistency of feedback being provided.
In addition to general comments that relate to formatting, organization, and mechanics, I have several comments for each assignment that specifically relate to the content for the assignment. You can quickly develop these as you grade your first few papers. Or you can use the grading rubric and develop content specific comments. I like to use Excel to store my comments. I create a new tab for each assignment for a class as well as a tab for General Comments. You can add or revise comments, over time, just like you modify and revise lesson plans, activities, and assignments.
When it comes to formatting errors, general comments about errors relating to formatting can be generated. Consider comments that you might make on the title page, reference page, headings, or in-text citation and reference formatting as you generate the list. You may also create and save comments that you frequently use.
Set Clear Expectations
One way to reduce errors is to teach or review concepts, even if you think the students were previously taught the information. Reinforcement can help to clarify expectations and reduce errors that are made.
For example: It may be helpful to introduce and teach one specific skill related to formatting each week. Then you can focus feedback on the skills you introduced. You might begin by teaching the correct formatting of a running head and page numbers. On the assignment, students should have this part of the paper properly formatted. If they do not, make comments and deduct points from the formatting section of the grading rubric. Throughout the semester, continue to instruct on different formatting components until students have been instructed on all formatting guidelines. They should have a perfectly formatted paper by the end of the semester. This also reduces the likelihood that students will complain they were never taught proper formatting.
Provide Quality Feedback
When you deduct points from a student’s paper, it is good practice to ensure a comment was also included to help the student make corrections to future assignments. The quality of the comment can make all the difference.
You are missing a comma.
Better: You are missing a comma. Here is a weblink to assist you in reviewing the rules of comma use: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/owlprint/607/
Remember, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel when helping students make improvements. There are a lot of great resources on the web that you can provide to students. Purdue Owl is one of my favorites!
Comment: Missing a thesis statement
Better: You are missing a thesis statement. The thesis statement guides your paper development by providing a purpose and main points that will be covered. Here is a link to help with thesis statement development: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/545/01/
Consider Using a Grading Tool
There are grading tools such as Type It In and Grademark to help make grading faster and more streamlined. Comments can be added into these programs to make grading more efficient. Your university may offer access to a program like this. It might be a good idea to ask other instructors to see if they use any of these programs.
Good feedback does not have to be time consuming. But it should be specific and provide feedback that guides corrections in future papers. You do not need to point out every error. The feedback provided and the grading rubric should complement each other and should provide students with a clear picture of why and how points were deducted.