Q&A + Grading Hacks Video Series Launch

Fellow English teacher Heather recently asked, “How do you do grades?” With her permission, I’m posting our email conversation in a Q&A format. Maybe you’re new to the classroom or, like Heather, just looking for a new approach. Either way, here’s a look at how I keep scores.

1. Do you record the grades on paper and then post them online? Do you just post the grades online and skip writing down the grades on paper? Or just write them all down on paper?
I’ll grade a stack, marking the score on the top of each student’s paper and then enter those scores straight into the online grade book. I don’t ever write homework or quiz/test grades down on a piece of paper because it seems like lost minutes and I’m all about efficiency when it comes to dealing with papers. The fewer times I touch ‘em, the better.

2. How long does it take you to grade a quiz, test, or assessment that does not use ZipGrade? That’s a tough one because it’s all dependent on the type of assessment. For a quizzer (a quick one-question reading check), I usually get those graded in that same class period while students are reading or having small group discussion. It takes less than three minutes to grade a stack of 34 quizzers, so I’ll immediately know in that same class period who isn’t doing the work or who’s struggling with comprehension. Essay-based exams, obviously, take longer, but I’ve been able to carve my grading time down to just five minutes per essay because, rather than writing out lengthy comments, I use a memorized coding system as a sort of shorthand to mark the most common errors in my students’ writing. (Click here to learn more about this sanity-saving system.)

3. Do you throw away assessment papers so students won’t be able to give answers to friends or siblings in lower grades, or do you give them back to the students?
I hand back reading quizzers and vocab. quizzes because I change the questions on the fly all the time, but I keep the ZipGrade answer sheets when they’re used on major exams. I encourage students to come review their graded tests at lunch or after school. Less than a third of my kids actually swing by to check their answer sheets, though. Sad, but true. No cameras/phones are allowed while they review their exams because one quick snap would mean I’d have to spend three hours rewriting next year’s exam. Um, no, thank you. When a student’s done comparing her paper to the answer key, I collect everything. At the end of the year, all of those papers are thrown into the recycling bin at my house. (Yes, I’m paranoid and don’t dispose of answer sheets at school. Is that weird?)

4. Have you used your code system to grade speeches (written down)? Do you think it would be effective to use codes to grade them?
Nope, I haven’t. The codes are focused on common grammar errors and writing content mistakes, so they wouldn’t be a good match for speeches. I don’t require manuscripts because I want speeches that are prepared but not memorized. I enjoy presentations so much more when students are comfortable with their talking points without trying to stick verbatim to a memorized script.

5. How do you grade speeches (delivered)? Do you grade right on the rubric while the student speaks? Do you take notes on the speech and then give the grade later? And how do you mark down students’ grades when they go over/under the time limit?
I have a rubric that I fill out while the student is speaking, quickly marking performance levels and making brief notes. I do some fast math once the kid is done and finish my final comments on the rubric before the next speaker begins. If I waited until the end of the hour or even until my prep period to finish scoring the rubrics, I’d forget absolutely everything and those grades wouldn’t have any kind of accuracy. On a good day, I have the memory of a goldfish. After a long day of freshman speeches? It’s a miracle I can find my car in the teacher parking lot. If a student doesn’t hit a required time window, I’ll deduct a pre-determined number of points from the rubric score. Kids always know beforehand what the time window needs to be and how many points will be deducted if they don’t hit the mark. Most of the speech assignments I give are required to be between three-to-five minutes, a pretty wide window that’s easy to hit if a kid has properly prepared.

6. When do you give students their speech grades? How do you give them back their speech grades? By giving them a rubric with circled categories/scores and comments? By just posting their grades online?
I call myself “the grade-o-matic” on speech days; if you give your speech today, you’ll get your grade at the end of class today. I keep a master list of speech grades as everyone presents and hand out the individual rubric sheets with my comments to students at the end of class. They are allowed to keep those rubrics because I’ve already written down their final score on my master list. Once the entire class has presented, I enter the master list of scores into the grade book.

7. How do you give students back their essay grades? Do you staple a rubric to their paper or just write down the score?
Before I hand back a stack of graded essays, I’ll choose an “A” paper to serve as a model for my classes. From the stack, I always pluck one of the top-performing essays which my T.A. types up for me. I give copies to my students and, as a class, we talk about the qualities that allowed this paper to earn a top score. These models are very helpful for students, who appreciate having a concrete example of what good writing looks like. It also helps me explain to some of my grade-grubby honors students why their essays earned a “B” instead of an “A.” When they see what an “A” looks like, they quickly understand the validity of their own grade and learn what they’ll need to do to reach the next level of performance. Each essay is turned in to me with one of my rubrics already attached. When I hand back the scored paper, students get my feedback on the rubric and then get to work making essay corrections on my grammar and content codes.

8. Just curious, what grade service does your school/district use?
We use PowerSchool. It’s alright.

As always, I feel the need to add a disclaimer that this isn’t necessarily The Best Way to do things; it’s just the way I do things. Finally, after conversing with Heather and a few other teachers this month I decided to dive deeper into this topic with a new YouTube series. About once a week for the next month, I’ll share a few ideas to help you give meaningful feedback to your kids while still enjoying nights and weekends with your friends and family. Episode #1 – Slash the Stack (Be sure to watch to the end for some unexpected teacher love!):

Click below to learn more about topics mentioned in the video:
Crazy Essay Week (free materials)
Sustained Silent Reading (free materials)
Writing Competition (paid product)

Teach on, everyone!

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19 thoughts on “Q&A + Grading Hacks Video Series Launch

  1. Hi, Laura! I hope you are doing well. Thank you for taking time out of your summer to share this fabulous series. I wonder what you think of reading questions vs. annotations.

    I teach freshmen and one of the first major skills we cover is annotating. I stress how important annotations are (not just in English classes), but each year I feel as if I do this vital skill a disservice. A majority of my students just see this as an unnecessary and difficult extra step. I have relied on periodic annotation checks instead of assigning nightly reading comprehension questions, but I have found that my students struggle with having to “find” the important parts of the text on their own. Thus, they’re overlooking major parts of the texts we read and not adequately prepared for discussions and assessments.

    How do you deal with this issue? Do you teach annotating in conjunction with having them fill out reading questions? I feel as if this might be too much work in a single night (reading a whole chapter, looking out for vocabulary, annotating, and completing reading questions). Or do you prefer one method over the other?

    Thanks in advance!

  2. Excellent questions, Lydia! Annotation is definitely a skill that needs to be modeled and taught directly. Few students can dive in and do this in a meaningful way all by themselves. I use questions to help guide students’ reading (those are the homework or in-class question sets I mentioned in the video), but I also break up assignments by having close readings of select passages the next day in class.

    In the fall semester, we do a LOT of modeling, where I begin by just speaking my thoughts aloud as I annotate a passage via the document camera. As an example, I posted a copy of my annotations for Julius Caesar Act 3, Scene 2 here: https://laurarandazzo.com/2016/05/15/friends-teachers-countrymen/

    Slowly, I’m able to shift the focus away from my thoughts and help my kids dig in by asking, “Okay, what do you notice in this passage? What jumps out at you?” With a fresh slice of text, I’ll give kids a few minutes to annotate their own ideas and then we move to a full-class discussion of the text, while I mark their comments on the projected page. Kids will start to piggy-back on each others’ comments and, by the spring semester, many of them can hit good depth all on their own. It is definitely a slow process, though.

    Early in the year, I also give my students this handout (https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/How-to-Annotate-Text-Annotations-FREE-Sticky-Note-Method-Handout-with-Bookmark-1395773) and many of my kids use the bookmark option as they read our required texts.

    Hope this helps! And know that you are far from alone in being discouraged by students who highlight passages without any notes or thoughts. Oof. 🙂

  3. Love the ideas- and plucking an A essay to show the class is a terrific idea!

  4. Thanks, MamaWolfe! I started doing this years ago, so I also now have a healthy collection of good samples on file for those times when I need to show the kids how it’s done. 🙂

  5. I save them on Google docs now that I’m mostly digital. Before I was always so thrilled to finish and pass them back I always forgot to keep one!

  6. Yet another reason I wish I was on a 1:1 campus, MamaWolfe!

  7. hi, laura! so just to clarify: do you increase the number of items you grade if you assign more questions? for example, if you were to assign 20 questions, would you grade more than 2-3 questions or still grade 2-3? thanks! 🙂

  8. Hey Kelsi,
    I’m thinking 20 questions is a lot for a homework assignment, so I’d probably pare that down a bit. But, yes, if the assignment was longer, I’d grade more of it, for sure. 🙂

  9. Laura! Once again, you are my hero. I am going on year four, and grading has been one of the most difficult things for me to stay on top of! I always feel a responsibility to grade every. single. thing. the kids turn in…and they hold me to it! Having an up-front conversation about it and making it a “game” seems perfect! I am so excited for part 2. Thank you!

  10. Absolutely, Brittany, we have to just call it like it is. Also, my kids want to get my feedback and grades quickly, so I think that helps them see the value in getting quick feedback on three answers rather than waiting much longer to have me comment on all 10 answers which we already covered in class anyway. What’s the point of extensive notes on an assignment they turned in a month ago? Nobody even remembers what they wrote by that time. Slash that stack, Brittany!

  11. Joanne Simpson says:

    Random quick question on the SSR grade. After reading Readicide this summer, I want to encourage more independent fun reading, and I really like your SSR grading handouts! I have several students, though, who vehemently complain they ONLY read online…how do you address students who want to count Wattpad stories or serial web content toward their page count? Has this come up for you? I want them to read what they’re into, but I really don’t want to mess with trying to quantify these things.

  12. Hi, Laura! I’d just like to say, your tips are amazing!

    What I do for question sets is choose 2-3 questions and make them worth 3-5 points. For the rest of the questions, I just give one completion point each.

    I find that this makes students answer each and every one of the questions I assign, so I may be able to mark them down if they do not answer the question at all and make them more accountable, instead of not being able to mark them down because I’m not grading those questions.

    Thanks for helping me and many other teachers with grading! 🙂

  13. Great idea, Eng10Santos! Glad this is working for you. 🙂

  14. Great question, Joanne. I’m fortunate that this hasn’t come up too often for me. There’s two main issues/problems that immediately come to my mind. First, any device I green light would have to be a dedicated e-reader (like those old Kindles or Nooks) because internet distractions are just too tempting for nearly all of my kids. Second, self-published material on sites like Wattpad can be wonderful, but there’s no way for me to assess writing quality or content appropriateness. E-readers also make Book Talks difficult because I can’t easily flip through random pages as the kids are talking about their book. Also, page counts, which are what I use to determine the score on the assignment, are wonky on a digital page vs. a print one. In the end, I’ll stick with good ol’ fashioned paper books for now. One compromise I might offer is that once a student has successfully reported on the required 1,000 pages for the full year (250 pgs. due per quarter), then I’d be open to allowing the electronic option because Book Talks aren’t required for any pages over the 1,000. Hope this helps! 🙂

  15. Could you explain more about the writing contest?

  16. Absolutely, Julie! I had a feeling my description of that in the video wasn’t very clear. Stay tuned to the Grading Hacks video series; I’m going to add a bonus 5th episode that I devote solely to explaining how I run the contest. 🙂

  17. How have you adapted your Crazy Essay Week for a block schedule?

  18. Hey, Sarah, great question! It definitely is a little trickier on the block. For my juniors this year, I ended giving them three 45-min. SAT-style writing prompts over a M-W-F week and then we chose the final draft for Writers’ Workshop on the next Tuesday when I saw them. It worked just fine. The only difference was that I needed to fill a bit of time with short pieces to flesh out the M-W-F days (our classes are 90 min.), so I used bell-ringers, brain teasers, a short poetry lesson, and a shortened SSR Friday reading session to make everything work. Crazy Essay Week definitely still works on the block. 🙂

  19. Gr8 entry ^^!

    heart the grmr 1, 2. really gr8 stuf. just wat i needed, @ just the rite T. on another note: i h8 dbl letrs – we should move to ban ’em. but thats a convo 4 another t.

    stay frosty. keep cre8ting.


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