Grade Essays 10x Faster

Today, we are going to continue on with our series how to leave on time and never take papers home again. We're going to tackle a large concept. Yeah? - Big. - How to grade essays faster. So far in our series, we've been doing a lot and talking a lot about daily schedules and other kind of mindset things and things that help you, just, daily in your classrooms to save time so that throughout your day you're saving time so you have more time to plan and grade papers when you're actually in your classroom so that you don't have to take the papers home with you.

That's probably where all the extra time has gone so far.

You found some, saved some time from the trips, and the planning, and all that stuff, the batching and all those, but you've probably poured it into, okay, now I have more time to grade, or maybe you've just been chilling, I don't know what but we're going to talk now about the essays. - Something that I'm sure you've been aching, but, what about that giant never ending stack of papers to grade? We talked, in one video, about grading for effort or accuracy. In this one we're going kinda switch it and go even bigger.

And practical, some serious, I mean, big ideas, but practical. - And it might be really, if you decide this, it might be really difficult, but there was a switch that Jonathan made and he didn't bring a paper home for seven years to grade and it was quite amazing. And, yup, is that - I'm trying to do different ways for seven. - It was throwing me off. Anyway, for seven years no papers. And what was this magical switch that you made? - Yeah, and that may even seem unbelievable, you might not believe me. For real though, seven years, no papers home. Not small ones, not essays, not the daily work, none of it, none. So, yeah, it was a big switch I made, it was an ah-ha moment. And maybe, we've talked about this before, but, maybe nobody's ever told you that it's possible. Until this point everybody had always told me, well, you're an English teacher, man, those papers. And I just believed it, and at one point, I just had to stop believing it. I may be the first person to ever try this.

Maybe I hope I'm not the first person, but, I can't believe I'm the first person to try this. This may not be some magic formula, but this was my journey and I figured it out for myself and we wanted to share it because it saved me a ton of time. And, seriously, for the first seven years of my daughter's life I didn't take a paper home, which was awesome, right? So, here's how it would normally go for me, you might relate to this, you assign an essay, you teach them through the process, you give them the days in class to write them, maybe.

Maybe you don't have that time and they're doing it for homework, whatever it is. The way I would do it is in class I'd budget a whole week, a day per paragraph, really, and they would ask me questions, show me their paragraphs, I'd walk around and make sure they're on it, and then I would collect a rough draft. And I called it a rough draft at that time, I don't anymore, we'll talk about that in an upcoming episode. But that started the dreaded paper grading cycle. We've got a rough draft which means I gotta get it done quick because I don't wanna wait four weeks for them to get to the final draft 'cause then they forgot everything about their essay, right? And so, I had, of course, I had this paradigm in my head, I had to take papers home at that point because there was no other way to do it. I would use my grading rubric, and fix all of the errors, and then try in a timely fashion, which, timely fashion for 250 middle school essays meant many, many, many hours, right? If I were to spend 10 minutes on each of their essays that's 2,500 minutes, divided by 60 minutes per hour is 40 hours? That's 40 hours, that's a whole work week extra of grading essays just so I could get their rough draft back in time so they could fix all the errors I just told them, so they could turn in a final draft, which I, then, was required to grade again, right? Maybe this is a familiar process. That started to become insane in my head, and just saying it out loud seems insane and you can commiserate with me, maybe, and you're probably still doing something like that. I wanna give you a way out, I hope, that worked for me. So, I started feeling like, that's taking way too much time. And here's really the problem I was seeing, I kinda just said it, students were only fixing the errors I found because I was the expert, so why should I ever expect them to fix anything else besides what the expert found, right? That was a big ah-ha for me. - And that got you thinking, so, no wonder they don't know how to edit their essays, because you've been doing the editing for them. - Yup. - And so then you tried to figure out how to flip things for them and make it so that you could empower them to be the ones editing. And, I mean, you taught them grammar and things like that, so the hope is that it would switch into them being able to see that in their writing.

And it did, a little bit, you know, they would, as I taught grammar and we taught the commas and sentence structure and all that it started to filter into their rough drafts, but it never really filtered into their final drafts because if I didn't fix the stuff in the rough draft, then they didn't fix it, right, that was, yeah. - So then, you, let's see, they were doing the editing and you were doing the grading. That's how you switched it? - Yeah, I started to see it as, I think I had to separate those words 'cause they're different. The editing part and the grading part I always, in my head, thought all of the red marks, the green marks, whatever color I would use on there, that was the grading part. But what I really realized is I was doing their editing, so, of course they didn't know how to edit. And so, then, wait, if I were to pass the editing back to them, then what would the grading be? What would it be fair for me to grade? Yeah, and so, it was when I figured that out, it started to save so much time. And really, my students got so much better at writing. So, with the next batch of essays here's what I did. I only wrote a letter grade at the top, that's all.

Wait! No editing, no correction? - No comments, no marks. - What if you saw something that was a random capital? - Nothing. Nothing but a letter grade at the top, which meant that I could grade them way faster. Of course, it caused me psychological pain. (Lisa laughs) to pass up all of their errors (laughs) that were in there, but I knew there was a different goal. The goal was that they were gonna fix the errors, not me, I'm just grading it. The graders put the grade, right, and then, later, I can teach them how to edit. So, if I separate those processes then I can grade this way faster and actually get them practicing what they need to practice. So, I had to internalize my essay grading rubric, and once I did that I got to, it took me some practice, but, really, right at the beginning I was able to grade essays way faster 'cause I was basically just reading them. And then, since I internalized my essay rubric I didn't really have to read them all the way through, I didn't have to pay super close attention to every word because I'm looking for structure and big ideas at the beginning, and then we'll zoom in on the smaller ideas. And so, then I actually, you know, at one point, when at my peak I was down to 30 to 45 seconds per essay. - What? - Right, and I could tell right away, once I started filtering it that way I could grade the essays even faster. So, 250 essays graded at 30 seconds, let's just even call it a minute per essay, is 250 minutes. That's still four hours, but four hours is better than 40 hours. You wanna get 36 hours back? (laughs) 36 hours! And that happened with every one of the essays, I got 36 hours back. That's just crazy. (laughing) I didn't think about that. - That's like binge watching a whole series of something. - Like all of Walking Dead. Yeah, anyways.

Not that that's a misuse of your time. - And so, then, here's what I would do then, I would hand the rough drafts back to them, and they, of course, then looked through for all the work I'd done for them, which was nothing. - Wait, what? - I just had a letter grade on top, and then their question was, wait, wait, wait, why did I get this grade? And I would say, let's figure it out, and that was the process. So, then I would walk them through how to grade their essays. I had to create a rubric for them, not a rubric for me because I don't know if you've looked at your rubrics before, lots of them are teacher-centric and not student-centric. I had to create a student-understandable rubric that they could grade themselves, right? I called it a Fix These in Your Essays Now. And we have it, actually, in our store, we'll put a link for you, you can go check it out, it'll help you flip the classroom in that way. And then I walked them through it, right? We highlighted, well, yeah, so I handed them out the thing and I showed them there's checkboxes and I told them, don't turn back in your next draft until every checkbox is done. And they had to go through every eheckbox themselves, not me, them, right? And then we got highlighters out. I had them get four different colors, I didn't care what colors they were, but I liked pink, and orange, and yellow, and green, actually is even better than yellow, and blue, blue is sometimes a little dark. Whatever, I don't care, but we got four different colors out and then we went through the essays. They highlighted their hook, and their intro, their thesis statement, topic sentences, their quotes and proof, the page numbers, transition sentences. Down in the conclusion, the echo of their thesis. And then, their final, philosophical closing lines that were supposed to resonate with us deeply in our souls. All of that, but they did it, they highlighted it, not me. And then, they took their notes, I had them write in the margin, forgot a topic sentence, which is a sentence that I would've normally written, except now they're writing it, they're looking at their essay, the spot where they didn't put it, where they just told themself they didn't put it, and write in the note in the side, I forgot to do this. So much more deeply in the learning center than a comment that a teacher did, plus I saved 36 hours. Boom! It was awesome!

So, they were trying to find where to highlight it and then they realized-- - There's nothing to highlight here, or, I would have them highlight it and then trade papers, right, look at your partner's and see if they actually highlighted a thesis. And then, they're looking at somebody else's having to process it again, and then they go, wait, wait, that's not a thesis, you just highlighted a sentence, right? And then they were able to check each other that way. But it was very direct, I don't know if you've ever found your students don't know how to peer critique, right? Maybe that's because I haven't taught them how to peer critique, because they don't actually know how to critique themselves, right? (sighs) This was so, I don't know if you can hear the passion in my voice. This revolutionized my essay grading. It was amazing, right, because really I hadn't been teaching them how to grade their essays, or to edit their essays. I'd been doing it for them, they were the ones that really needed to learn this. And then here was the surprising thing happened. Looking back, it really shouldn't have been surprising, but I want you to just think what would happen on the final draft of that, and then, the rough draft of the next essay, and the final draft of the next essay. And what was happening is they started making actual progress, and it was with me only writing letter grades. It seemed so counter-intuitive to write one letter, right, and then they improve so much, but it absolutely did, and they skyrocketed. Some of my students were writing, 'cause I used to teach freshman comp in college, some of my students were writing at freshman level by the end of that year, 7th graders. And I wasn't pushing past what they were capable of, I actually just taught them how to do it. Oh, gosh, it was so crazy. And that year we did nine essays, and I took zero papers home. And that was probably too much so I dialed it back down to six the next year, and they still learned way past grade level on the writing, just because I actually taught them how to write, it was crazy what that flip did.

Yeah, and you didn't have it, we didn't talk about me sharing this right now, but, he's not gonna brag about it himself, but it was funny because the high school freshman teacher from the school that the kids went to after his class called him up, found his name and figured out who he was, called him and said, what did you do in your class with your kids because in my classroom I can tell which kids are from your class compared to the other kids because they are so much more advanced, it's like I have two separate classes, which, kind of, didn't make it easy for her. (laughing) - Sorry! Mrs. D, sorry! - But how awesome is that, that those kids were so well-prepared and knew - And confident. - how to write, and confident, yeah. - Totally confident in their skills. - So, this idea that Jonathan had and did and how it revolutionized his way of teaching writing, and then, also going into how he graded his writing, it may seem super difficult for you. You might be thinking, oh my goodness, I don't know how I could not make marks on their papers. - One way is to put the pen away. Don't hold it (makes frustrated sounds). - So, at first, it might be difficult to not make any marks on the essays, then, it might also be difficult for you to actually switch to teach them to see what it is that they need to fix in their essays. And then, it also might be difficult to switch to thinking about the macro ideas of the essay and not just the micro, the little grammar and common things. It is difficult, but we get difficult, we're teachers.

That's what we do. - We can do this. - We do difficult. - We do difficult. But for a long time the difficult, so, the difficult things with writing will become easier once you get used to it. And then, the ultimate thing will be it will be so much easier because you won't be taking papers home. And so, as a teacher, you'll be more relaxed. And so, once, if this is something that works for you, or you can make it work, even though it might be difficult at first, in the long run it could actually really save you time. - I was just doing the math, so, that year I did nine essays, right, normally it would take me 40 hours to grade one essay, and then, it moved down to four hours to grade an essay, and four time nine hours is 36 hours. So I graded nine essays in less time than it took me to do the one essay in the past. That's mind-blowing, so, when I cut it back to six, and then four, you know, because six, even, ended up too much, they were doing way more writing and growing way better with me at a fraction of the time. And think of how much, what I was able to do with all that extra time. If you had that much, a whole week extra, that's crazy. - And, once again, you were a facilitator of independence. - Yeah.

So that their rough drafts became even better and there was way less to-- - Then the rough drafts get less frustrating. Rough draft number three was way less frustrating in my brain that rough draft number one, yeah, as the years went on.