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Sustainable Grading & Meaningful Assignment Feedback

Manage Your Grading

In Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment (Walvoord and Anderson 2nd ed., 2010), the authors offer 13 strategies for "making grading more time-efficient." The list below summarizes and combines some of these strategies into a more compact set to help get you started.

1. Know where your time is going."

  • Keep a log. "Walvoord and Anderson (2010) suggest keeping a grading log for one semester so you can figure out how your grading time is spent and how you can use it better. For example, are you spending hours grading journals that only count for a few points? Did you schedule assignments too close together or in ways that create conflicts with your other duties?
  • Set a timer. "It's easy to get immersed in a paper and lose track of time." "Estimate how long it should take you to grade each student's work, and set the timer to that amount.

2. Invest time up front to save time later.

  • Make expectations clear. "Having thorough assignment descriptions, with clear expectations and guidelines can save time responding on assignments that don't follow expectations or guidelines (although it will never completely prevent them).
  • Create rubrics or similar measures to help you grade. "Although rubrics take time to create, they save time--and stress--while grading. For more on rubrics, see CMU's guide to Creating and Using Rubrics or see the Resources section of this LibGuide.

3. Let technology do some of the work.

  • Use ePortfolio's built-in "Discuss" tool. This lets you provide feedback to your students, help generate discussion, or have the students comment on each other's work. For more information, see the Interactive Discussion in ePortfolio section of our Help Portfolio.
  • Create reusable text for comments. If you're commenting electronically (for example, on Word documents they have submitted), you can keep a document of frequent comments that you can copy and paste onto individual students' papers. You can also use this in connection with rubrics to further personalize your feedback to each student.
  • Give audio feedback on papers. Different tools exist that allow you to record your feedback to students as you review their papers. This not only let's you give students more direct feedback, it can also save you time. For research on this topic, see Audio Feedback versus Written Feedback: Instructors' and Students' Perspectives
  • Use the Blackboard Learn Grade Center. Even if you don't use the content and assessment tools in Blackboard, you can use the Grade Center as a one-stop-shop to manage your grades. This can save you time, but it also lets you work on grades from any computer with an internet connection. See our LibGuide on the Blackboard Grade Center for more information.
  • Integrate your rubrics into Blackboard. This can make it easier to implement and manage the rubrics you use to evaluate student work. Directions for doing so are on the Blackboard Grade Center LibGuide, mentioned above.

4. Don't be the first or only person to assess the work.

  • Establish gateway criteria. To avoid spending an excess of time grading unpolished drafts, consider having students complete a checklist before they submit their assignments to document their process. This helps make sure that they edit their work, have proofread it, etc. For details, see A Strategy for Grading Student Writing Assignments.
  • Encourage self-assessment. This doesn't mean that students grade themselves per se (although some people have tried that), but that they are responsible for the the first step in assessing their own work. It's more time efficient for you to simply say "I agree" if students indicate where they need to work more or what improvement they think they've made. Examples include:
  • Use peer assessment. Whether it be having students review each other's papers using your rubric, or grading each others' homework, they can often learn more by seeing others' work. Read about getting the most out of peer review to get started.
  • Use IF-AT forms for group quizzing. F-AT forms can be used for individual assessments or with groups of students in team-based learning or similar activities. See the IF-AT section of the CTL Web page for more information.

5. Focus feedback on what students can use to learn.

  • Don't be your students' copy editor. The minimal marking technique (Haswell, 1983) is a way for you to help students learn to find and correct their own errors. The original article is available for download: Haswell, 1983 (PDF).
  • Use comments only for teachable moments. It's tempting to try to comment on everything, but focus on priorities, such as specific learning goals for the assignment or for that student. As Bean says in the book Engaging Ideas, "We need to remember our purpose, which is not to point out everything wrong with the paper but to facilitate improvement." (Bean, p. 241).
  • Only use as many grade levels as you need. If you're spending too much time debating between a B and a B+ for an assignment, consider whether or not you need such fine distinctions, or if marking some work as pass/fail, or maybe a check, check-plus, no check system, will accomplish the same thing.
  • Comment without grades. Not all work needs to be graded (e.g., feedback on drafts), although it helps if you connect ungraded work clearly to graded work (e.g., the final draft) to help students see the value.

A key resource...

Link to "Don't Be Cruel" - Chronicle of Higher Education (Web article)

Text Expansion

Grading Tip!

Consider Text Expansion. You can set up a system of simple codes that create longer strings of text automatically as a kind of shorthand to let you provide feedback faster. You can combine the "minimal marking" technique (see #5, at left) with rubrics (#2, at left) and text expansion (below) to develop a powerful grading “combo!” See these articles from the ProfHacker Blog for more information: