Piles of Papers

Papers, Papers, Papers: An English Teacher's Survival GuideThis is my ninth year teaching (tenth, if you count the year I taught pre-K, but for our purposes today, I won’t). I have been caught up on grading once this year. I have yet to figure out how to manage my piles of papers so that I do not constantly have a stack of some sort. Taking work home with me is merely an exercise in moving papers around, as I have three children running around, a cluttered house, and supper to cook. I try to tell myself this is OK, but it sincerely bothers me that it takes me so long to grade papers. I can remember being in the students’ shoes and wanting quick feedback, so I know how they feel when they have to wait a week or so for papers.

Carol Jago has a book called Papers, Papers, Papers: An English Teacher’s Survival Guide. Has anyone read it? Did it help?

My schedule is a modified block schedule. We do subbing in-house. Some days, my schedule is somewhat light, while on other days, I barely sit down even once. I teach fewer than 60 students, but I do a lot of writing. Students generally write an essay for me every three to four weeks. All of my students. I also do other types of writing assessments. Rubrics save my life — my grading goes much more quickly.

I can remember my students doing much less writing when I taught in public school and simply had too many students to make it effective. How much writing do your students do? How do you stay on top of grading compositions?

[tags]grading, assessment, composition, writing[/tags]

5 thoughts on “Piles of Papers”

  1. I've read Jago's book; it's great. But the really significant changes can't be implemented on the grading end; they have to happen on the assigning end. Do make some changes for next year — or even for some of your April and May assignments. But I don't think this book holds the cure for the current stack problem. How about only taking 2 or 3 home each night?

    This from the teacher with a 3" stack on the dining room table. Poetic analyses. And I already spent hours on their rough drafts — one would think the final draft grading would be a breeze. I often envy the 6th grade math teacher! On the other hand, she has to do math all day — while today I spend the morning with juniors and Emily Dickinson. Aaahh . . . what a great life!

  2. I had an epiphany last year. I asked myself why do I grade papers outside of the classroom at all. It's incredibly inefficient. They write, turn it in. I pick them up, read them, and mark them up. Next, I give them back and they read the comments. That's insane.

    Instead, I pretty much only deep grade one-on-one, face-to-face. I organize my classroom so that on grading days I have small groups working or some other seat work while I take people one by one. In my senior writing class I only teach 20 minutes of a 100 minute period and spend the rest of the time in direct one-on-one writing conversations. I can point at a passage and ask questions; I can communicate deeper more substantial issues that FRAG and WW. I can even smile at laugh appropriately at the good parts. If I need them to do more writing than I deep grade, I don't deep grade it. I use a low-stakes blog for them to put their ideas down…

    So, there are, of course, drawbacks but the joy of talking writing RIGHT THERE rather than jotting down ideas that may or may not be communicated plus the fact that my life is easier makes the whole thing win-win.

  3. Rubrics are indeed a lifesaver. But in order for them to really help you in speeding up your grading, you need to make sure that your rubrics are only addressing a small number of skills each time. The big mistake we teachers seem to make is that we try to assess every aspect of writing in every paper. By focusing our assessment on a few specific skills, and essentially ignoring the others for that assignment, we can give our students more timely feedback. Another option is to assign and assess shorter pieces of writings. In addition to full-blown essays, I used to assign 2-3 timed writings per semester which were very focused, in-class writings that had to be completed in a single class period (50 minutes for me). These were necessarily shorter, and I found that I could assess them much more quickly. However, they were great practice for the students, and I found that, for the most part, students can learn not only to write well, but also to write quickly under pressure, which is an important skill as well.

  4. Dana,

    Carol Jago's book looks great (I just looked at the Amazon summary), but when will you have time to read it?


    I've been away from teaching for more than a decade, and now looking to get back. My Achilles heel was grading essays. The papers would overtake my apartment. Students began to believe there was a black hole in my garret apartment which would suck in the papers; every once in a while, one would make it back out and into their hands.

    Toward the end, I used something like Nate's deep grading concept. Still tough, however. They don't learn to write unless they write and get feedback, and every time they get teacher feedback, the stacks of paper get taller.

    As to Jeri's 3-inch stack… 3-inches is nothing!


    Best of luck… and when you figure out the answer, please let the rest of know… You're in search of the Holy Grail, and we all want a piece of the action.


    /s/ Peter

  5. Traci, I tried to do what you are suggesting, but it didn't work for me personally. Maybe it is one of my failings as a teacher, but I can't just check for a few things.

    Jeri, thanks for putting in your $.02 about the book. I have a problem with spreading things out. I do OK with one class — I don't, for example, assign one class to do three papers one month and none the next. I do, however, find that I schedule multiple assignments for different classes.

    Nate, that's a good idea, and maybe I'll try it some time.

    Peter, I'll keep you posted if I find that Grail

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