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!
MORE ON EFFECIENT GRADING:
✅ Use Conferences to Reduce Grading
Lorena Bathey says
What a great post. I plan to use journals a lot so this a great…whoops word choice…phenomenal way to use journals without getting overwhelmed. Thank you!!!
This is the perfect solution to having them write daily and not having to read all of it! I will definitely implement this idea. It's time for a notebook check anyway. Thanks for the tip!
Room 213 says
You're welcome! I hope it helps : )
Room 213 says
You're welcome! It's definitely been a game changer for me.
Kristin Seed says
Hi! Love this resource but had a question about the grading– are you giving a completion grade AND a grade based on the quality of their responses (4, 3, 2, or 1)? Or is it more for them as feedback for next time?
Thanks in advance 🙂
Room 213 says
Yes. I give them the quality grade based on the responses I choose to read. I'm just giving them a formative mark this time (won't count in their average) and the next time it will be summative.
Awesome! Thank you for sharing this! I have tried various methods of grading journals in my 3yrs and I believe yours is so much more concise. Thank you! I will try this next month!
Sharris Hayes says
Thank you for a great template!
Lynn Adsit says
This is a very interesting approach. I happen to cross your post through Pinterest. I am a math teacher and do Interactive notebooks and this gives me some real food for thought for grading authentic Lee without doing the thinking work for my students. The simplicity of your approach is right in my wheelhouse. See we can learn things from each other even across disciplines! Thanks for great read.
Room 213 says
That's awesome! I love that you can use it in math 🙂
I love this!! I plan on doing exactly this – with some scaffolding as I will be doing this with a Special Education ELA class of 9th-12th graders. I wasn't able to access the Google Doc download though.
It will not let me open your editable rubric! I love this idea and would like to develop it for my writer's notebook time! Thank you for sharing!
Room 213 says
I'm so sorry. It's fixed now!
Room 213 says
I'm so sorry! IT's fixed now!
A Haskell says
Is your RW short hand for review? What determines a 1-10 score for work? How do you make this clear to learners. I figured out your method of adding each up and the completion grade for an overall out of 50. I think I would rework this to show that but I love the idea!
Do you scan or make copies for your own records later?
Room 213 says
Hello! Thanks for reaching out. At first I wasn’t sure what you were referring to and went back to look. Someone had completely changed the rubric I posted rather than making their own copy. It’s fixed now so that can’t happen. You can download my original here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1bne0n_n3X7ZtLVCez43JJ0Dyj9JlgBIg4IF72CH8kL4/copy
This is such a great idea! I'm just trying to think of a way to implement something like this in my classroom and I'm trying to think of a timeline. How often do you check their entries? How long do you give them to revise? Are they revising and writing new entries at the same time or do you give them time to revise before expecting them to write new entries? (Sorry for the 20 questions – thanks for any information you share!)