Work Smarter: Commenting on Student Writing

Work Smarter Not Harder

When I was still teaching in the classroom, I would often bring home piles of student work to assess or grade.  I would sit comfortably on my couch, usually in my pajamas, with a cup of coffee on one side and a stack of papers on the other.  More likely than not, the TV played in the background.  Happily, I moved from one set of work to the next… until it came to student writing.  Ugh.  Making comments on student writing is so time consuming.

Here are 7 tips I hope will streamline the process for you:

1.  Turn off the TV.  Commenting on student writing takes a little more focus than grading other types of work.  Try to find a quiet place and focus.  Your attentiveness will make the task go quicker.

2.  Quickly skim through the entire pile to get a feel for the general strengths and weaknesses of the class.  This may seem counter intuitive since it is actually an extra step in the process.  However, this quick scan of the class’s writing will allow you to identify trends.  If you notice the entire class did not use paragraphs, jot yourself a note.  You won’t need to write “Remember to use paragraphs” on every single paper.  Likewise, if you notice the entire class wrote strong thesis statements, you won’t need to write “Great thesis statement” on every paper.  You can address such issues in class the next day.

3.  Comment with a rubric or checklist in front of you.  This will help you make productive comments which are directly tied to the assessment process.  Use language from the rubric in your comments.  Try to stay focused and not veer too wildly from the rubric.

Red Pen by Jenny Kaczorowski is licensed under CC by 2.0

Red Pen by Jenny Kaczorowski is licensed under CC by 2.0

4.  At some point in your life as a student, you were probably handed back an essay or paper covered in red ink.  Your heart probably sank.  Making 1 or 2 positive comments and 1 or 2 suggestions for improvement is enough.  Limit your comments to no more than that.

5.  Go digital.  Your students can submit their writing to you via Google Drive, and you can comment electronically.  This is much quicker and more efficient than writing comments by hand

6.  Remember, you do not need to read and comment on every student’s draft every time you assign a piece of writing.  Instead, give yourself permission to grab a sampling of the class set (a few developing writers, a few average writers, and a few sophisticated writers).  Flip through the drafts, see what you notice, and plan your instruction from there.  You can always address any glaring issues in 1:1 conferences.

7.  If you need to address spelling errors, use the minimal markings technique.  Place a check mark in the margin of the paper, indicating a line with a misspelled word.  This is not only more efficient for you, but it is also forces the student to manage their own editing process.  For more on minimal markings, click here to read Stacey’s post about the technique.

Please leave a comment below, and share your own tips for streamlining the process of commenting on student writing.

Remember to join us next Monday evening, November 10th, when we host a Twitter Chat about working smarter, not harder.  The chat will begin at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time.  Just search and tag #TWTBlog to participate.

Click on the image for more information about the Twitter Chat.

Click on the image for more information about the Twitter Chat.