You’ve gathered up all your materials: rubrics, stacks of student work, sheets for note-taking, and coffee. Lots of coffee. Now you’re ready to get started with analyzing and scoring a big huge pile of writing.
But before you dive in and start reading and studying student work in any random order, you might want to strategize. You want to give each student your undivided attention as you read and assess their work. Time is precious, and your mental energy even more so. Why waste either when others before you have learned through trial and error? Avoid a few common missteps by reading these simple tips.
When I have a giant heap of student work to read, my first step is to do a quick glance through to sort the piles and prioritize. Depending on the genre, the time of year, and my energy level, I might prioritize in a few different ways.
First and foremost, I often want to read and analyze the pieces from students who receive extra services first, so that I can share that information with the other educators who support the student sooner, rather than later. Sometimes, the other educators can help me to analyze and score these pieces–we can work together as a team to study the student work.
Sometimes it makes the most sense to put all the papers in order of what I think will be the easiest to read first, and put the more complicated and more challenging to read and analyze last. Sometimes that means the shortest pieces of writing are going to come first, working my way up to the longest–sometimes that isn’t the case.
Other times, it makes more sense to make three stacks: quickest to score, longest to score, and somewhere in the middle. I find it helpful to read and study a bunch of work that is similar in level, rather than jumping around from one extreme end of the rubric to the other. Although, sometimes I manage my time and mental energy by scoring one complicated piece and then “treating myself” to a piece that is more straightforward.
However you prioritize, having a strategy or plan in mind will help you work more efficiently as you read through student work, and help you maintain the focus and attention that each piece of writing deserves.
As a teacher, I always wanted to read all of my students’ work, so simply swapping pieces of writing with another teacher to score each other’s was never something I would have been very excited about. However, as a literacy coach, I’ve found that when teachers do swap – even just a small stack of four or five pieces of writing, it can be really helpful for calibrating our understanding of grade level expectations.
When you swap a small stack of papers it can help you calibrate your scoring to be more consistent with your colleagues, so that as a team you are all on the same page. It can also be a way to calibrate yourself if you are scoring a large number of pieces of writing.
What do I mean by calibrating yourself? As you get fatigued, it’s easy to slip into becoming “harder” or “softer” in your scoring the longer you spend reading, analyzing, and scoring. You’re only human, after all, and humans can get tired. Taking a break and swapping a few pieces with a trusted colleague who will hold you to task can help you get back on track with your objectivity.
Setting A Timer
This, to me, is so obvious that sometimes I forget to even suggest it. When it comes to scoring writing, it is easy to go down a rabbit-hole deliberating over the nuances of a single aspect of one student’s writing. The reality is that you have a ton of writing to read and analyze (especially you middle school teachers out there), and truth be told you will probably come to same conclusion spending 15 minutes on one piece of writing, versus 45 minutes.
Personally, I set a timer for 15 minutes (regardless of grade level). Occasionally the timer goes off and I give myself a few extra minutes to finish up, but usually, I’m done by then. Now and then the timer goes off and I’m still not even close — so I put the piece aside and come back to it later with a clearer head.
The One-Thing-At-A-Time Strategy
I love this strategy for certain things, but it isn’t for everybody, and it doesn’t work for me every time. The One-Thing-At-A-Time strategy is just like it sounds. I take 5-6 pieces of student writing. I read all 5-6 six in their entirety. Then I analyze and score at one item at a time from my rubric. I usually start with leads–I score just the leads for all 5-6 pieces of writing. Then I move on to transitions–and score just the use of transitions for all 5-6 pieces. Then conclusions… you get the picture.
I found that in some situations this helps me to hone in on one aspect of writing and score each item more consistently–I can keep my head wrapped around leads for a while, then transitions. What I’m really doing is a little author’s craft study of the students’ writing–instead of jumping from one item on my rubric to the next I’m studying one item deeply. “How are my students doing with leads?” I ask myself, and then study and score multiple leads before moving on to the next item. On the occasions when I don’t score one item at a time, I sometimes find myself looking back at pieces I’ve already scored to compare how I scored those items anyway.
This strategy doesn’t work for me every time. But when it does work, it works really well.
Note-Taking As You Go
Last but not least, the whole point of reading, analyzing, and scoring student writing is to get to know your students as writers. Keeping track of what you are learning about each student as you go is probably the most important thing you can do when you sit down to analyze and score a ton of writing.
You may want to keep a whole class list next to you as you read, making notes on strengths and goals for each student as you go.
Or perhaps you have some sort of recording sheet for each student, where you can note strengths and next steps.
Or maybe you have a spreadsheet going, or you add your notes to your conferring notes from writing workshop? Here are some samples:
Find a system that works for you, and then consider different ways to share your feedback with students. You might plan to do a round of feedback conferences and small groups where you hand back their scored writing and confer with them about their strengths and next steps. Or perhaps you have your whole class self-assess using a student version of your rubric, and then you’ll confer with them to compare how they assessed themselves with how you see them as writers.
Find a nice, quiet, cozy spot to work in. Or maybe, like me, you’ll sometimes intentionally choose an un-comfy spot so as to motivate yourself to get ‘er done. Whatever works. With these tips, plus lots of coffee, you are ready to tackle a ton of writing.