Students (and we) sometimes think that we ought to spend as much
time commenting as students do writing; it's just not true. You
aren't doing them or yourself any favors.
Studies repeatedly show that when it comes to commenting on papers,
less is more. The more comments you put on a paper, the less likely
students are to be able to process any of the comments you've written.
30 comments are much less effective than 10, and 10 are less effective
Your goal should be to spend no longer than 15 minutes reading
and commenting on a paper. Set a kitchen timer. If you take longer,
you're essentially donating your time to the University: noble,
maybe, but not especially wise.
So, here's a routine for grading:
Once you get to know your students, your preconceptions about them
are likely to influence the grades you give them, so try not to
know whose paper you're grading:
* You may want to ask students to adopt aliases so that you can
respond to drafts without learning their identities.
* Vary the order in which you read papers (students at the end
of the stack tend either to getrewarded as you imagine finishing
the task or punished for making you sit and grade for so long).
* Know your limit: most people can't grade more than 6 or 8 papers
in one sitting; beyond that number, they start to lose their concentration.
Skim the whole paper over once before you write anything.
This will help you to resist the temptation to line edit, and will
allow you to see the big picture. When you finish the essay, decide
what the two or three biggest issues are in the essay. Number a
few locations in the essay that you want to cite as examples.
Type your comments.
Students tend to make similar errors on the same assignment; it
just makes your life easier if you can cut and paste definitions
or explanations. (You may want to explain to students that you
do this, so they don't flip out when they find comments with the
Check the language of your comments.
Did you include some praise for things that the student did well?
Did you use positive language (instead of "Don't forget," "Remember";
instead of "Your paragraph is confusing," "the evidence
doesn't seem to support the reason")?
Sort papers into grade piles as you read.
Make one stack each for A, B, C, NC.. Then, when you've read
all the papers, go back through to make sure that all the B papers
are of roughly the same quality, and to distinguish the B+ from
the B-, etc.
Grade papers for what's on the page (not on effort, or improvement,
A paper that fulfills the basic expectations of the assignment
(in other words, an average paper) should receive a grade
in the B-/C+ range.
Invite students to come talk to you after getting papers
back. Ask them to wait a week, and to e-mail you in advance