Friday, March 26, 2010

Quick Grading Tip

Every time I collected a set of essays or projects, I always told myself that I would grade them quickly. Once I started, though, I found myself writing a comment here, making a correction there. My drive to help my students told me to give specific help to each student, but the clock told me that I did not have time to spend fifteen minutes on every student's paper and project.

Here is a way to give helpful advice quickly. Use the "Find" and "Replace" function on your computer.

Grading on the computer is terrific because your comments look more professional than writing in red pen. You have a permanent record of comments for later reference or parent conferences. In fact, if a parent emails you with a question about an assignment, you can simply copy and paste the grade and comments into the email.

I have noticed that when grading an assignment, most students seem to make the same mistakes. When writing comments by hand, I seem to write "Avoid Run-On Sentences" or "Remember to Add a Topic Sentence" several times. Instead of writing the same ten comments over and over, I just assign them a number.

Make a list of positive and negative comments that you think that you will write. You may need to skim a few papers first, and you can always add to the list as you grade. Assign each comment a number (a two digit number works best). As you grade the papers or projects, type the number of the comment that fits the paper - I usually like to give one positive comment and two things for the student to work on. When find an unusual project, you might need to type a comment by hand (be sure to only use words and not numbers; I will explain why later.)

At the end of grading, you will have each student's name, a grade, and a few numbers that represent comments on your list. Now is the fun part, highlight the comment numbers and hold down "CTRL" ("CMND" on a Mac) and "h". This is the "find and replace" function. In the field for "find," type the number of the first command, like "50." In the "replace" field, type our the comment, like "Great use of quotes from the text." Now every student who had a "50" next to his or her name has the comment typed out. Do that for all of the codes, and you have specific comments for each student. You can now print them out, cut them into strips, and staple them to the students' papers.

Here are some things to make it work smoothly:

  • Do your work in Excel and import your students' names from an electronic copy of your roster.
  • If you are using a rubric (and you should be), make a column for each graded item. (Introduction: 8, Organization:10, Spelling and Grammar: 18). As long as the number grade is in its own column, Excel can add up the total grade for you. Again, be sure that the number grades do not conflict with the comment numbers.
  • Use two digit numbers - if you use "2" for a comment, you might replace part of "12" by accident.
  • If you want to be really fancy, print them on labels and stick them to the paper or project.
  • Can families check grades on you school's website? See if there is a field where you can paste a copy of your grade comments.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Not Sure if Students are Doing the Reading? Let Them Prove it.

Since I taught literature, my students always had a novel that they should be reading at home, but I never knew for sure if they were keeping up with the reading. The common solution to this problem is the periodic reading comprehension test.

I gave many of these, but they took a lot of class time, they took even more time to grade, and they didn't always accomplish my goal. Some students did the reading but happened to skip over an important fact that was on the quiz. Other students, often the ones who struggled, spent twice as much time reading, but their poor test taking skills got in their way and earned them a grade that looked like they skipped the reading. Conversely, too many students did skip the reading but looked at plot summaries online or asked friends about the plot. These students often earned better grades than many of the students who completed the assignment.

One day, while I was trying to solve this problem, I realized that it's not my problem, it's the students'. The next day when I assigned the next week's reading, I asked the students if they liked reading comprehension quizzes. Of course, they did not. I then informed them that it would be up to them to prove to me that they read the assignment. I wanted to really push their problem solving skills, so I make half of the grade based on how effectively they proved that they read. The other half? how creative their solution was. One could also make it a contest to see which student or which class came up with the best solution.

I have never had students devote more effort to a reading assignment. Far more students completed the reading than usual. Unfortunately, some students lacked creativity, turning in notes from their mommies stating that they had done the reading. I also had a few that made a poster because at our school, they had done so many posters over the years that the word "project" = "poster." Conversely, I had very fun, unusual submissions. One student wrote his own quiz and then took it. A few students made home movies acting out the plot. One student did the same thing but with animated stick figures. One swore an oath on a Bible while another tape recorded herself reading the whole chapter aloud - I fast forwarded to the end. My favorite was a student who took a photograph every ten minutes of herself reading with a clock in the background; you could see the turned pages staking up as the clock hand moved.

Obviously, students in school need to write essays and take tests. But often, there is a fun and creative alternative to boring busy work. Instead of asking students to write the answer to a question, have them give the answer in anything except words. Or have them write a poem, act it out in class, or send it in a text message. Many students are so bored with the same old assignments that they really appreciate a teacher that does something unexpected.

And if you just have to give reading comprehension quizzes, roll a die or flip a coin right before the quiz to see which classes have to take it. The students think it is great because they don't have to take a quiz, but they still had to prepare for it, and you have half as many quizzes to grade.