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I have wanted to be a teacher since I was 6 years old and I used to set up my dolls with my chalkboard and teach them to read and write.  I have always wanted to be a teacher and I am thrilled that I am doing what I love by teaching for 3 different universities.  That’s not to say teaching is easy or even always fun, but I love to learn along with students, I love to see how my students change and grow and develop over the course of a term, I love to push my students to think about things in new or different ways.  In short, I LOVE teaching.

What I don’t love about teaching, however, is grading. I take my responsibility seriously and while I enjoy looking at student work and reading my students’ thoughts and ideas (many of my students are very creative and it is always interesting to see how they turn an assignment into something really great!).  What I don’t like about grading is the time and energy required to grade assignments effectively. I want to provide good feedback, I want to be able to justify the final grade on the bottom of a paper or project with thoughtful, useful comments, but all this takes a great deal of time, especially when I am teaching many different courses each term (right now I am teaching 4 different courses for 3 different universities and I have about 70 students all together).

I also don’t like the anxiety and stress that comes when I return assignments and then have to face a barrage of emails questioning and complaining about the grade.

Overall, grading is the worst part about being a teacher and right now in the university term, it is the grading crunch.  From now until the middle of December, I have to mark: integrated literature reviews, research journals, blog projects, grant proposals, program evaluation reports, final reflections, and final projects.  That’s a lot of grading to get done in about a month.  I see a lot of coffee in my immediate future.

Over at the wonderful blog Hook and Eye, Aimée Morrison talks about how she handles the grading crunch.  She suggests grading in clumps and taking breaks.

Here is what I wrote in a comment to this post at Hook and Eye:

I do the clump approach too…and I often try to mark 1 or 2 that I think will be ‘good’ first and then save 1 or 2 (hopefully) good ones until the end. I am terrible about getting distracted while I grade, so doing small numbers at a time helps. I teach entirely online so my grading is all on the computer…sometimes I use a paper rubric or grading sheet and fill it out by hand (and then scan the grading sheet to return it electronically). I find being able to write on paper helps give me something else to focus on while I am grading and my students often appreciate the handwritten comments (if they are legible!). I have also started using Evernote as a way of providing students with feedback. I create an Evernote notebook for each student and share the private link with them individually. Then, I can just add comments/feedback/marks for each assignment to their notebook. This works particularly well for journal assignments or for other long term or big projects that they work on and which I give them feedback on periodically throughout the term.

Evernote has been a revelation for me this term and I am so glad I added it to my grading toolbox.  It has been a fantastic way to provide ongoing, formative assessment to students throughout the term.

Another strategy I have been using for some time is to mark written work directly from Word (I ask students to submit their work as .doc/.docx or .rtf files) and use track changes to make comments throughout their work.  This means my comments are always legible and I can simply save the paper and return it by email or through the course management system.  Using track changes to make comments, ask questions, etc. throughout the assignment also means I don’t have to make as many final comments at the end.  I see these comments throughout an assignment as a conversation of sorts–and hopefully they are more useful to the student than a lot of disjointed comments at the end.

From the other comments to the Hook and Eye post, I like the idea of setting a time limit for each paper and trying to stick to that–it is very true that it is easy to spend a lot of time on each paper which then means the job never gets done.  Like another commenter, I tend to only do fine edits of a small section (one page or so) of an assignment rather than correcting the entire assignment.

Because so much of my current teaching (and therefore my grading) takes place online, I get a lot of screen time.  While this is handy in some ways, it also means it is really important to take time away from my computer while I am in the middle of a grading crunch.  I’m hoping this afternoon, for example, to take a break and go for a run.  I also tend to get lots of laundry and vacuuming done on the days when I am grading virtual piles of assignments!

What are your strategies for coping with the grading crunch?

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