I think I could wager a guess that grading journals and notebooks is not your favourite teaching task. They can take a long time to wade through and can become an onerous and dreaded job. But it doesn’t have to be that way! I’ve got a strategy that helps me grade students responses quickly.
First of all, I love what journal/notebook writing offers our students: responses, free-writes and writing prompts let them spread their wings and experiment with new things. They are an outlet for their thoughts and a place to build new skills. So how do we give our students this opportunity without chaining ourselves to our desks? Read on to find out the solution I’ve arrived at, as well as a freebie. You can grab it here so you can try it yourself.
DON’T READ EVERYTHING
This is the key. It’s what will allow your kids the freedom to write and you the ability to give fast feedback. I make my kiddos well aware that I will not read every word they write, but that I still expect them to do their best with each entry.
How do I get high schoolers to do this? I don’t tell them ahead of time which entries I will grade, so they need to make sure they work hard on each one. The notebooks come in every two weeks, which usually means they have done at least ten responses. I will choose to read two or three of them, based on what I want to assess at the time.
How do I choose what I will read?
CHOOSE ENTRIES THAT FOCUS ON IMPORTANT SKILLS
Last week we were focused squarely on word choice. I gave my students a variety of things to respond to like photo prompts, and questions about their independent novels. They also did a number of quick-writes on controversial topics. Each of these was preceded by a lesson on word choice. We also talked a lot about ways that authors can develop their ideas. Therefore, I knew I wanted to read entries that showcased what the students had learned about language and idea development. The quick-writes would not be the best choice for the latter, as they just didn’t have time to fully flesh out their points. Therefore, I chose three entries that they spent more time on and that would showcase their use of language.
CREATE AN EASY-TO-USE CHECKLIST FOR GRADING
Spending some time creating a rubric that helps you get through the process is time very well spent as it helps you grade student responses quickly. Part of my rubric always includes a completion grade. Even though I’m not reading everything, I want to give them credit for doing the work. I make a list of the entries that were to be in the journal, and as soon as I open one, I count to see that they are all there. If they are, the student gets full marks for completion.
Next, I’ll turn to the entries that I’ve chosen to read. However, I don’t write any comments on the page. Instead, I use a yellow highlighter to point out several words or phrases that illustrate effective use of language — perfectly chosen diction, a metaphor, a sensory image, etc. Then, I use a pink one to highlight some words and phrases that could be stronger. Because we also worked on idea development, I underlined one or two ideas that could be pushed and wrote “MD” (for more detail needed) in the margin.
As I said, I don’t write anything–no explanation as to why a phrase was highlighted and not even a note on the checklist. If you check it out, you’ll see that it’s blank. That’s because the most important step comes after I give them back. The form lets students know which entries were read, and so they need to find the highlighted words/phrases and to try to figure out what I was doing. They write their guess on the feedback form, and then they have a conversation with the students around them to see if they are all on the same page. Finally, they need to suggest a better word or phrase to replace the ones highlighted in pink.
Every time I’ve done this, they quickly figured it out and had good discussions about better word choice. The point of this little exercise is that I want them to be doing the thinking. If I spend all my time writing explanations that they may not read, it’s a bit of a waste. This way, they need to figure out my color code and come up with better wording. In other words, they are doing the thinking.
I could ask them to pass in another assignment where they rewrite the phrases highlighted in pink, but it can be enough just to have them recognize that it wasn’t the best word choice. Plus, I will have other assignments that require them to use what they’ve learned about language.
One thing I’ve learned in my almost thirty year journey as a teacher is that I can’t read and grade everything. However, I have learned some tricks that keep the students learning and me sane. This is one of them. Click here to snag an editable version of my rubric, so you can also grade student responses quickly!
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