Taking the Frustration out of Grading

Posted December 2004: Kathy Paxton-Williams offers tips for making grading manageable for you and meaningful for students. See Dorothy Zemach's From A to Z column, "Grader's Block," Essential Teacher, Winter 2004 (pp. 16-17).

To make grading manageable for me and useful for students, each week I pick a new focus for correction, say, spelling or a grammatical point. Every day, the intermediate- and advanced-level students in my class do an activity called 5-minute writing. I write a question on the board (three of my favorite sources are McFarlane & Saywell, 1995; Nicholaus & Lowrie, 1996, 2000), and the students must either answer it or write about another issue for the first 5 minutes of class in a spiral notebook I hand out at the beginning of the year.

Once a week, the students pick a 5-minute writing to edit, revise, rewrite, and turn in. I grade only the focus area for that week. By zeroing in on only one point, I get a good idea of each student's writing style, I don't get bogged down in correcting everything, and neither the students nor I get frustrated by a large number of corrections.

The students save the writings I have corrected to refer to when we meet throughout the year for individual help. For example, with one student I would correct the weekly focus plus subject-verb matching, and with another I would correct the weekly focus and spelling.

More Grading Tips

For more grading tips, see these online sources:


Columbia University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. (n.d.). Responding to and grading students’ work. In Teaching resources: Teaching manual. Retrieved September 23, 2004, from http://www.columbia.edu/cu/gsas/cs/tch-rce/pages/tch-manual/sec/resp-to-and-grading-std-work.html

Davis, B. G. (1993). Grading practices [Online version]. In Tools for teaching (pp. 282-287). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved September 23, 2004, fromhttp://teaching.berkeley.edu/bgd/grading.html

Dunne, D. W. (2000). Teachers learn from looking together at student work. Education World. Retrieved September 23, 2004, from http://www.education-world.com/a_curr/curr246.shtml

McFarlane, E., & Saywell, J. (1995). If ... (questions for the game of life). New York: Random House.

Nicholaus, B., & Lowrie, P. (1996). The conversation piece. New York: Random House.

Nicholaus, B., & Lowrie, P. (2000). The conversation piece 2. New York: Random House.

McKinney, K. (2004). Tips for grading group work. Retrieved September 23, 2004, from http://www.cat.ilstu.edu/teaching_tips/handouts/tipsgroupwork.shtml

Zlokovich, M. S. (2001, January). Grading for optimal student learning. APS Observer, 14(1). Retrieved September 23, 2004, from chttp://www.psychologicalscience.org/teaching/tips/tips_0101.html

Kathy Paxton-Williams (kathyp11@aol.com) teaches ESL at Grant High School in Portland, Oregon, in the United States.