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Seven Grading Strategies to Improve Your Students’ Writing Skills

Pen and notebook

There is no magic EdTech wand you can wave to make your students become better writers. The way to become a better writer is by writing. In my last post, I calculated that the amount of time required to grade a class-full of essays was overwhelming for most instructors, and noted that this could result in students being shortchanged.

In the spirit of being a constructive critic, rather than simply complaining, here are some of the ways that I cut down on my marking time for post-secondary students of varying experience and ability levels.

  1. I always give a full comment at the end. Sometimes this is quite full! Why? Because in my classes, students are not supposed to be learning grammar; they’re supposed to be learning how to think. I need to show them that I’ve thought about them thinking.
  2. I use symbols in the margins that link back to the full comment. For example, “in the area on p. 2 where I put a **, you make your best case by linking primary and secondary material.” Why? Because examples help consolidate learning, and I prefer that the examples come from the students’ own work to facilitate replication.
  3. For papers with poor grasp of grammar and mechanics, I copy-edit only the first paragraph, and refer students to a writing center. Why? Because that shows them that I’ve noticed — but again, teaching grammar is not my job.
  4. Having said that, if there’s an easy trick to remember the mistake (“would you say "the monster ate I?”), I write it in the margin. Why? Because my feedback is usually faster than the writing center.
  5. I use a combination of short-writing and step-writing assignments, with only one big paper per year. Why? Because then I can guarantee turnaround in less than a week — usually between class meetings. And students still have their work somewhat fresh in their minds.
  6. I require one rewrite, and the rewrite requires a cover page explaining how the student addressed my concerns. Why? Because that way, I know that the student has read at least one full comment — and I can make sure that my comments are understood.
  7. Marking is best done in line, on transit, and before meetings. Why? Because (as I say in #5) I require short assignments — this way, I can make the best use of otherwise idle moments!

Those are my major strategies for marking; what about yours?

About the Author: Jaclyn Neel is a visiting Assistant Professor in Ancient History at York University in Toronto, Ontario.

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