So far in our series, we’ve been looking at our daily schedules and how to save time and focus in lots of different areas, so we have more time to plan and grade in the classroom. You’ve probably been aching for us to get to the never-ending pile of papers to grade. Ack! It really seems hopeless and eternal sometimes, doesn’t it?
Many episodes ago, we talked about making the decision to not take papers home. How many of you made that decision? How many of you stuck to it? Seriously, you’ve taken no papers home? If you’ve stuck to your guns, awesome for you. Even though it brings a little (read “A LOT”) of anxiety at first, you’ve probably already started to figure out ways to grade them at work instead of at home. Which is the ultimate goal: NO MORE PAPERS AT HOME … EVER! It’s amazing the little nooks and crannies of time we find when we have to.
Remember, Jonathan didn’t take a single paper home for 7 years of teaching middle school English, so it’s possible. Maybe you just need to be reminded that it’s possible. The only voices I ever heard were always telling me it was impossible, you’d always have papers at home. Not true. He did it for 7 years. 7!!!
One of the big switches I made was an aha moment for me in how I was grading essays. I would assign an essay, teach them through the process, give them days in class to write paragraphs and ask me questions, then collect a rough draft. That started the dreaded paper grading cycle. I would use my grading rubric to fix all their errors in a timely fashion so I could get the essays back to them to edit for their final drafts.
Here’s the problem I kept seeing: Students only really fixed the errors I found because I was the expert and if I didn’t find them why should they fix them?
And that got you thinking, right? … No wonder they don’t know how to edit their essays, you were really the one doing all the editing! No wonder some of them would throw their essays in the trash right after they get them back…they only cared about the grade they got when they fixed your edits.
So you had to find a way to flip things so they were doing the editing and you were doing the grading. Which are different! And the journey he headed down saved him so much time, and his students got sooooo much better at writing and revising.
With the next batch of essays, I only wrote a letter grade at the top. No comments, no marks, nothing but a grade. Well, of course, my grading time got done way faster. I was spending under a minute grading each essay. I internalized my essay rubric that I was using before and only wrote a letter grade. Then I handed the rough drafts back and they looked for all the work they were used to me doing for them, which, of course, wasn’t there.
“Why did I get this grade?” many asked.
“Let’s figure it out,” I replied.
So I walked them through how to grade their essays. I handed out my “Fix These in Your Essays Now” cheat sheet, and we got started. Here's the link for you to get it in our Teachers Pay Teachers store >>> https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Essay-Writing-Revision-Checklist-Rubric-402032. We highlighted hook/intro sections, thesis statements, topic sentences, quote proof and page numbers, transition sentences, thesis echo in the conclusion, and solid closing lines that resonate. They did it. Not me. Then they wrote notes in the margin if any of it was missing. They finished going through the Revision checklist. They made all the marks. They … They …. They. Not me. I already know how to grade essays. They’re the ones who need to learn. I hadn’t been teaching them how to grade their essays.
Then I asked them if their letter grade matched their essay. If that grade was fair? They all saw why now. And the right person did all the editing.
Then a surprising thing happened … looking back, it shouldn’t have been surprising: On their final drafts, they were a little more able to see things to fix. But where I really saw progress was on Essay #2, 3, 4. That year, I actually assigned 9 essays and didn’t grade a single one at home. And my students’ writing skills skyrocketed!!!
It’s gonna be difficult at first to not make any marks on the essays. It’s gonna be difficult to teach them what you see in your essays. It’s gonna be difficult to focus on the macro ideas and not the micro commas errors. It’s difficult, but we get difficult, we’re teachers. This is what we do. But for a long time I wasn’t doing the difficult thing when teaching writing, which really in the long run, ended up the easy thing. Not taking papers home.
Conversation of the Day: If you tried to teach your students how to grade their own essays, what do you worry might happen?
Hop on over to watch the video and share your thoughts in the conversation.