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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 3, January/February 2004

Teachers' tips
Managing your marking load

by Steve Naylor

Marking is one area of teaching that can easily get out of control. Teachers of English, social studies, and other subjects that require lots of writing may be overwhelmed by the volume of reading, correcting, and grading they must do. Here are 10 ways to manage your marking load:

Don’t mark everything
If students are working on a series of similar assignments—for example, descriptive paragraphs—have the students decide which one or two are their best. They can still hand in all five, but you mark the ones the students have chosen as their best work.

Use portfolios
Nothing improves the quality of your students’ work as well as portfolios do. Students use their portfolios for work in progress or as the place to showcase their best work. You can ask the students to choose one piece from the portfolio that they think deserves to be evaluated. You can tell the students to rework five pieces from the first term and re-submit them in the portfolio. Since you have already seen the work, you can easily see what growth has occurred without re-correcting everything. Students can receive a portfolio grade at the end of a term based on criteria you and the students create. There are many creative ways to use portfolios.

Have a marking session with the class
Students can be taught to recognize good writing. Show them examples of A, B, and C writing. Have them produce a piece using a code name. Mix up the papers, and put the students in marking groups. Watch them as they negotiate with their peers. If you have more than one class of the same subject, exchange between classes.

Turn an in-class essay test into a take-home assignment
If you believe that students need practice in writing in-class essays or other timed assignments, prepare the students for the test day and have them spend the period writing. At the end of the allotted time, ask the students if they would like the chance to take their essays home to make them even better. Of course the majority will say "Yes!" The assignment has now become a take-home paper, the students have had the experience of writing under pressure, and you get one paper to mark instead of two. If you feel you need to see the work done in class, initial the rough copy and have the students staple it to their revised writing.

Don’t circle every single error all the time
Although you may mark some assignments very intensively with lots of red ink, you don’t have to mark that way all the time. Research suggests that many students don’t look at the corrections, and some students find such intensive correcting demoralizing. Leave some assignments completely untouched, but place a sticky note on each paper briefly pointing out strengths and problem areas.

Ask the students to come in during tutorial period for a one-on-one reading of their paper with you
After you have returned a set of papers with sticky notes attached, tell the students that they may come in to see you during tutorial period or some other time to go over their writing. This is the time real learning takes place, but not every student will take advantage of the opportunity.

Use small numbers for grading papers
If you mark out of 50 or 100, you are indicating that you can see 50 or 100 distinct levels of achievement. Nobody can do that. If you mark out of 10 but then end up giving half marks, you still are saying there are 20 different categories into which you can place the papers. Don’t agonize over such miniscule divisions. Instead, mark out of five or six with half marks if you feel you must. The fewer the categories, the faster the marking will go. Multiply the students’ marks by whatever factor you want after the papers are graded. Government exam essays are marked that way.

Limit the criteria for each assignment
Using three criteria for an assignment is surely better than using 10. The more things the students are worried about getting right, the more frustrating writing becomes. The more things you are looking for, the more frustrating marking becomes.

Don’t correct work that comes in late
Although you may still have to grade late work, tell the students that one of the perks for getting their work in on time is a paper returned with your comments. If they can’t get their work in on time, they have to accept the consequences, which may be an evaluated paper with a grade but no comments, corrections, etc.

Have the students do a self- or peer evaluation before you see the assignments
Give the students the criteria or rubric for marking the assignment. Have them grade their own paper and/or a fellow student’s paper using the rubric. Remember to have students use a code name. The students then fold and staple their assessments to the back of the essay. You mark the papers with the same rubric. When the papers are returned, students can open up the folded papers and compare the two or three marks they received.

Steve Naylor teaches at Salmon Arm Senior Secondary School, Salmon Arm.

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