How do you get through piles of grading?

The reward method:  Grade an essay or grade a problem and then you get to read a book chapter (or a section of a book chapter).  Sure it sounds like it’ll take longer, but it takes a lot less time than procrastinating by hitting reload on the internet for hours and not actually grading anything.  Works best with short sections (romance novels!)

It helps to be on a couch away from people and away from the computer too.  Distractions are difficult to resist when grading, so they need to be minimized.  Having a big pile (on your lap, or on both sides of you) that’s difficult to escape from also helps, but you have to remember to use the restroom between problems or else you could end up in a bad situation.

My best tip is to grade in colored marker.  Any and all colors that you love.  The benefits are two-fold: 1) it makes grading more fun when you get to play with pretty markers; and 2) it prevents you from writing too many comments, so the grading goes faster.  Students who want details can always come see me in office hours, but they rarely do.  The thickness of a marker means you have to write your comments pretty big to be legible, and not a lot of words fit in the margin.  As it should be.  If you really MUST say a lot of things (why??), then you can always use the marker to write “Come see me.”  Switch colors whenever you get bored.

#1 prefers Pilot G2 gel pens (sensuous) or colored pencils (erasable!).  But we’ve had this conversation before.

Those of you who are or aren’t procrastinating, how do you get through your piles of grading?

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30 Responses to “How do you get through piles of grading?”

  1. Suburban Finance Says:

    I can imagine grading assignments can be tedious, especially essays, Internet is also one of the biggest distractions ever exist. I like how you find a way to distract yourself by reading short sections, actually good to keep you focus.

  2. Leah Says:

    I’m procrastinating right now (though mostly because I just woke up, and I was up until almost 1 am grading). I have 12 more essay quizzes to get done today so I can hand back to students. Blegh.

    I really struggle with the procrastination. I’ve tried bribing myself with big stuff (ie pedicure when I finish this file — that pedicure is starting to look like an end-of-the-year reward) and little stuff. In the end, I find it is easiest to grade when I laid out a clear-cut key with expectations in the beginning so that I don’t have to think about my evaluations each time.

    My husband never (or rarely) procrastinates on grading. I’ve asked him how he does it, and the answer is always “I just sit down and do it.” Not helpful.

  3. gwinne Says:

    I’m all for the colored pens, all year round.
    Stop watch.
    I go somewhere I like (a coffee shop?) that isn’t too distracting.

    • Leah Says:

      Query: is there anyone who doesn’t grade with colored pens? I like my comments to stand out.

      Next year, I’m thinking of handing out a one page “key to my markings” with the first marked up item. That way, I can write “awk,” “r-o,” “CS,” “WC,” etc instead of writing out common comments.

  4. Cardinal Says:

    I set the timer on my phone with a really obnoxious alarm. If it buzzes before I’m done the paper (always), I have three minutes to finish up then I have to start the next one.

  5. xykademiqz Says:

    I also do a combination of mini-rewards and colored pens (I am a sucker for Pentel felt-tip markers).

  6. bogart Says:

    Hunh. What I loved most about the end-of-semester grading that I am now only rarely subject to (bwahahahaha) was NOT writing (much in the way of) comments at all. Then after they got their final grades, I’d arrange to meet with the 2% of students who actually wanted to collect their papers/exams and would mark up their work before we met. Not writing comments expedites matters! The process is still grueling beyond reason, however.

  7. Flavia Says:

    Colored pens for sure!

    I sit on the sofa, with no internet anywhere nearby. Set the kitchen timer for one hour and try to get through three essays–one every 20 minutes. I’m *allowed* to take a break every three papers, but usually try to get through 2hrs/6 papers before I break. Sometimes, I can do three hours straight.

    For some reason, this works: telling myself it’s just an hour and just three essays makes the task seem manageable. . . but when I actually do it, I always feel like, “okay, I did THREE! I’m awesome! But I bet I can do JUST THREE MORE!” And six essays really feels like I’ve actually gotten somewhere; if I’m grading over several days, six essays is my daily minimum.

    Frankly, though, I prefer to gut it out, clear a whole day and a half, and grade ALL THE THINGS. Part of my problem is that I have trouble taking just short breaks, which is why I try to do longer stints without a break; I know 15 min will turn into 2 hrs before I know it. All or nothing, baby!

  8. delagar Says:

    Believe it or not, I “reward” myself with household chores. I grade two papers, and then I get to do some laundry. Two more papers, and I can vacuum the living room! And so on. This way I get the grading done *and* a clean house. Why this works, since I enjoy neither grading nor cleaning, I cannot tell you, but it does.

  9. xykademiqz Says:

    What I do, especially near the end of semester when I already know the students and where they are generally in the class, I start by grading papers by good students to cheer myself up, then take 2-3 poor ones followed by a good one to perk up. So looking at a good student’s paper is a mini-reward of sorts.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That works until one of your “good” students decides to punt, and then the world seems bleaker than bleak.

      I usually put them either in random order or alphabetical order (and FILO if I’m grading one problem at a time so as to not advantage/disadvantage people by last name) so as not to put any implicit bias on the papers. I usually get a mix of good and bad that way anyway.

  10. J Liedl Says:

    I get most of my students’ essays electronically and macros make commenting a breeze.I often resent the hard-copy essays because I have to sit down and write out repetitive terms as my poor mangled hand fails at the task, so I reward myself after marking those with a brief stint of computer gaming or an episode of “The Big Bang Theory”.

  11. Leah Says:

    I submit a product of my procrastination and an excellent potential for your next link love: http://www.tylervigen.com/

  12. undinenotofgeneralinterest Says:

    I’ve written posts about this and don’t want to hijack, but: timers, timers, timers. Set a time and see if you can beat the clock. Devote the day to it (or however long) and give yourself some nice chocolate when you’re done. Don’t say whoa in the mud; finish those things!

  13. Finals awareness month Says:

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  14. 2btenured Says:

    i grade in order of longest paper to shortest. this way as i go through the stack the time it takes to grade will be getting shorter. i also second the approach of setting a doable minimum number of papers to grade each day. if you really want to hold yourself accountable, tell students what day they should expect their papers back in class.

  15. Nathaniel M. Campbell Says:

    If I have to have the computer on (e.g. I need to type comments on essays), I make sure to keep the wireless OFF. If I don’t need the computer, I leave it off too.

  16. Dr. A Says:

    Rubrics. Make a rubric for EVERY assignment. Give it to the students as part of the assignment. Tick thru the rubric as you go. Do not write on the students’ work. You can make some notes on the rubric, but don’t overdo it. Tally up points, write a sentence or two about what you liked, a sentence e or two on what to work on in the future. Done.

    I always have a section with “exceptional work” and list what those qualities are. I do not give A+ for earning all the points, so to speak; students must earn it.

  17. Professor Ana Says:

    I have used rubrics for years and I find they save me a lot of time. I have a rubric for every occasion, and I give it to the students with the assignment sheet. I usually write only comments on papers about individual error patterns. I do provide students a handout of my editing symbols at the beginning of the semester.

    I also use a timer, colored markers (Staedtler has THE colors), a coffee shop with good muted music, chocolate, and when I’ve finished them all a reward of a nice long walk.

  18. dr dorothyinoz Says:

    I sit on the couch with Deadwood running in the background. That way I can pretend that I’m hanging out in an old west bar. Occasionally I stop and watch, but mostly it’s just background. All that violence and bad language cheers me up for some reason.


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