Resources for Grading Essays and Giving Effective, Efficient Feedback

Carol Jago writes about challenges all English teachers can understand: grading, giving feedback and helping students to improve their writing while also having a life beyond the stack of essays we all carry in our bags and on our minds every day.

Carol Jago writes about challenges all English teachers can understand: grading, giving feedback, and helping students to improve their writing while also having a life beyond the stack of essays we all carry in our bags and our minds every day.

Grading essays is one of the most time consuming and frustrating parts of being an English teacher.  In addition, the feedback given on final essays is often not utilized by students.  The following is a list of tips and specific strategies gathered from a variety of sources (including Carol Jago’s book and online forums for teachers) that can be used to give feedback on writing effectively while sparing the sanity of the teacher.

Formative Assessment/Feedback Techniques

“When you do the revision, you are the only one becoming a better writer.”

– Carol Jago, Papers, Papers, Papers

The more time spent by the student revising a paper before it is turned in, the less time those papers will take to grade. In addition, studies show that students are more likely to read feedback if they have the opportunity to make changes that will impact their final grade (Jago 87). In our district, one teacher in the high school told me that while most students looked at feedback on their drafts in Turnitin.com, almost none of them have looked at the summative feedback, even when it included the final grade.

Formative Feedback Guidelines:

  • Give formative feedback in chunks when possible (introduction, body paragraphs etc.)
  • Have students identify areas in the paper they feel may need help before turning them in to you for feedback (see draft cover sheet)

Formative Feedback General Strategy:

  • Spend ten minutes looking at a class sets of drafts and writing 1-2 abbreviated comments on each
  • Take notes over common problems and strengths on a separate page
  • Pass back papers the next day and discuss common problems and strengths with each class (could also provide these as a checklist for students)
    • Use areas of weakness for mini-lessons to improve key areas for students’ success
    • Use areas of weakness as focus points for peer review

Other Ways to Give Formative Feedback

  • Use one highlighter for strengths and another color for weaknesses
  • Circle or cross out errors and then have students meet in small groups to work on revision of those errors
  • Provide revision keys and leave abbreviated comments on essays

Revising Sentence Structure:

  1. Highlight one sentence in each students’ paper with a key error (awkward and confusing sentence structure for example)
  2. Pass papers back and have students meet in small groups and each student:
    • Reads the sentence aloud
    • Gets feedback from the group
    • Revises the sentence based on the feedback

Using Peer Feedback:

  1. With a sample paper, model writing questions you might ask a peer after each paragraph
  2. Have each student read their paper silently and write a question to ask their partner after each paragraph
  3. Students take turns reading their paper aloud to a partner, asking the questions they have written after each paragraph
  4. Make the paper due the next day so that students are more likely to use feedback they were given

Using Individual Conferencing:

  • Have students prepare for the conference (be prepared with areas of struggle and strengths, have them talk about their paper first, give them a conferencing form to complete before you meet with them)
  • Utilize the instructional coach as part of the process (to meet the needs of more students)
  • After the conference is over:
    • Share teacher notes with student
    • Have students list “action items” to be completed before the final essay is due

Using Self Assessment:

  • Have students complete the rubric, add comments and reflect on their grade before they turn in the paper (see final essay cover sheet)
  • Have students complete a “reflection assignment” before they turn in their paper
  • Have students reflect on the grade/comments they received after the grade is given

Effective Teacher Feedback

According to Belhanger and Allingham, there is little to no evidence to suggest that students read comments from teachers if they are not being asked to revise their essays (Jago 88).

However, the study shows, “The most successful comments or corrections were those referring specifically to criteria that teachers taught in class” (Jago 88).

In addition, comments that addressed the student directly and showed care about the student and their ideas were more effective than general positive feedback (ex. “Great job!” would not be considered as helpful to most students) (Jago 90).

As a rule:

  • Too much feedback is overwhelming to students
  • Students are more likely to read comments than to look at corrections
  • Verbal feedback is as valuable as written feedback
  • Without opportunities such as time in class to read comments and respond/reflect on what was said, students do not experience gains from feedback

Summative Assessment Feedback

Common expectations make grading easier:

  • Posting common rubrics
  • Using common student samples for each performance level
  • Expressing common expectations for writing assignments

Overall, feedback should be:

  • Focused on instruction given
  • Specific
  • Short and actionable
  • Easily understood

Before turning in the assessment:

  • Have students highlight key elements on which you want to focus within the paper. For example:
    • Highlight your reasoning in one color and evidence in another
    • Label your thesis statement
  • Have students write out three strengths and three weaknesses at the end of the paper. Instead of writing out those comments yourself, you can just circle those with which you agree and write “yes.”
  • Choose specific elements from the rubric as a “focus area” where the most instruction was given and give feedback primarily in that area.

 After turning in the assessment:

  • Have students respond to feedback in some form:
    • Writing a response to the comments given
    • Writing a letter to themselves about what to do next time to improve
    • Revising a sentence, paragraph, portion of their paper
    • Revising the assignment for a better grade

 Works Cited

Boettcher, Judith, PhD. “Tips for Making Grading Formative and Efficient for Your Learners.” Designing for Learning. 2010.

Web. 14 Oct. 2014.

Filller, Daisy. “Six Tips for Grading Writing.” The Educator’s Room. 20 Mar. 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.

Jago, Carol. Papers, Papers, Papers: An English Teacher’s Survival Guide. Heinemann: Portsmouth, 2005.

MizDubya. “English Teachers How Do You Grade Papers Quickly?” A to Z Teacher Stuff. 25 Oct. 2008. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.

Here is a downloadable version of this post in a handout form for teachers:

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