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7 Tips to Balance Teaching With Grading

Grading: That dreaded seven letter word.

No matter what subject you teach or what assignments you give out in class, grading is an inevitable part of being an instructor. If you are teaching a class that will require grading with extensive feedback, you might feel like the pile of papers is a reminder of evenings spent going each paper and trying to help each student. If you have a larger class, the stack of assignments in your to-grade pile might be a reminder to cancel weekend plans. Grading is a necessary part of the class and an important piece of the learning process for students, but with some adjustments in the way you think about balancing grading, you can claim back a little more of your free time!

  1. Plan, Plan, Plan!

One thing that can lead to enormous stress with grading is when you have several classes turning in work at the same time. If you are having to grade major assignments for several classes at once, it can be overwhelming.

  • Stagger Your Due Dates

Planning out the due dates for all of your classes ahead of time means that you can stagger your due dates to prevent having several assignments to grade being submitted to you all on the same day. Even the difference of a day or two can help to keep you on top of grading.

  • Block Out Work Hours for Grading

Additionally, plan your grading as part of your week and your office hours. Just as you have set office hours for your students, set grading hours for yourself as well. If you have this time set aside each week, you can get ahead in your grading and have dedicated time where you can focus on grading.

  • Be Protective of Personal Time as Grading Time

If you must grade outside of the time you are on campus, decide on when and how much time you will spend so that you can balance your grading with the other parts of your life.

  1. Break Off Grading into Bite-Sized Chunks

Along with planning, you can focus your grading on just a few assignments at a time. If you are grading essays and have thirty to get through, you can decide to just grade ten a day, which will only have you grading for three days. This can be much more manageable than trying to grade all thirty papers in one day, which can end up burning you out and often prove to not be possible. Tackling assignments a few at a time will still allow you to get assignments back to your students in a timely manner and also still give you time to work on lesson planning rather than just focusing on grading.

  1. Arrange Your “To-Grade” Assignments

Sometimes if you end up with a lot of assignments to grade at once, part of feeling overwhelmed can come from not knowing where to start first. If you have several assignments that need to be graded, consider deciding what to grade first by ranking the assignments.

  • Submission Date: You can rank assignments based on when the assignment was submitted if you want to focus on timeliness for returning grade.
  • Easiest First: If you are stressed about grading, you can start with assignments that you know will be easy to grade just to get you started and to make a dent in your work.
  • Urgency: If students are going to need a certain assignment graded in order to complete the next assignment submitted, you can prioritize grading those assignments first.

Having a plan of attack on your grading and what order you want to grade in can help immensely when tackling a stack of work.

  1. Alternate Between Intensive and Less Heavy Grading

Sometimes you are going to have to grade assignments that can take longer or be more of a mental drain. When you have a lot of these assignments to grade, spacing them out by putting less intensive assignments to grade in as “breaks” can help you from feeling too stressed out or bored, since you will be able to give your mind a break before returning back to the more intensive assignments.

  1. Give Non-Graded or Auto-Graded Assignments

  • When possible, set up assignments that will automatically be graded can be a huge help.
    • LMS Assignments: If you have a learning management system (LMS) where you can set up quizzes, try using quiz questions that can be graded automatically by the LMS.
    • Publisher Programs: Third-party programs, like McGraw-Hill’s Connect,  can provide you in-depth assignments, complete with auto-generated feedback and mastery-based learning that doesn’t require extra work on your end to grade.
  • Non-Graded Assignments: for some lower-stake activities or assignments try setting them up as a “completion-only” grade. This will allow your students to practice but avoid the grading burden on your end.
  1. Change Your Grading Scenery

Just sitting in front of a desk in an office can already put you in a negative mood as you start grading. The longer that you sit, the more grueling the work can seem. Sometimes something as simple as taking a stack of assignments or your laptop to a different location can help you focus and change your mood. I’ve found that taking my grading to a local coffee shop when I just can’t handle sitting at my desk any longer has helped make grading seem more like a field trip and less like work (with the added bonus of a ready supply of coffee!).

  1. Take Time to Breathe

One of the most crucial things I have learned when grading is to recognize when it is time to stop and take time for myself. Teaching can be enough to wipe you out by the end of the day and switching straight over into grading leaves very little time for yourself. Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself when you need it. Take breaks, take a walk, look up something fun on the internet, talk with friends, get lunch, etc. Don’t let grading take over your life; keep it as just part of your life that you can take a break from when you need to.

Grading can be an enjoyable experience, or at least bearable, with a change to mindset and organization. Grading can be a chance to learn more about students and also see what areas might need to be covered further in your class. It provides evaluation for the student but also acts as a motivation for them to continue to work hard or work towards improvement. Finding what works best for you when grading will help you to be a great teacher in and out of the classroom.

About the Author

Maureen Walters has been an English instructor for the last thirteen years at Vance-Granville Community College located in Henderson, NC. Her classes include composition, literature, and technical writing. She teaches primarily online classes and enjoys finding new and exciting ways to use technology with students. She also works as the school's instructional designer and helps faculty and students navigate the online classroom as successfully as possible. When not in the classroom, she also enjoys working with students in the school's honor society and teaching students about the importance of community involvement.

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