eCoaching Tip 83 Tips for Making Your Grading Time Efficient and Formative for Your Learners

November 29, 2010

eCoaching Tip 83 Tips for Making Your Grading Time Efficient and Formative for Your Learners

In a more relaxed world, we might have lots of time in which to read and review student discussion postings, read and provide feedback on project proposals and to individually mentor and coach our students with no limits. Teachers with a passion for teaching want to provide excellent feedback and mentoring to their students, but the reality is that time is scarce and limited. So, some of you have been asking, are there any tips for assessing student’s work quickly and well.

First, recall there are different types of students’ work to assess. Student work includes items such as (1) straightforward objective tests that can be graded by Blackboard “robots,” (2) slightly more complex discussion postings, (3) community and class participation, (4) shorter concept or reflection papers, and (5) larger multi-phased projects.

This tip focuses on strategies and suggestion s for grading your shorter concept or reflection papers or blog sections and various project segments, including the proposals and final projects.

First of all, here are a few reminder suggestions that have been addressed in other tips that are in the tip library at  Also, as a reminder, Ecoaching Tip 82 which is probably in your mailbox somewhere described three scenarios for the use of rubrics.

  • Use rubrics to set clear expectations and standards
  • Use peer review for some assignments
  • Have students self-evaluate their work

These tips generally guide students to do a good job of learning so that the completed assignments come closer to meeting expectations and thus are a more pleasant and rewarding experience. Let’s move on now to some tips that focus on the actual process of grading.

How to Make Grading Pleasant, Fast and Effective

In our efforts to put students first, we sometimes don’t make enough effort to be good to ourselves. So here are a few practices that can help you be good to yourself while also doing a better job on grading and review of papers.

  • Set yourself up in a pleasant spot, perhaps with great music and some treasured tea or coffee. (I find music such as my new favorite — alto flute music by Tim Wheater — to be great for supporting a concentration time.  Finding such a place reduces distractions and concentrated time saves a lot of time.  Another benefit is that you can think of grading as a pleasant experience.
  • Do an attitude adjustment on yourself, if need be. Rather than thinking about how much work it is, think about how much you can learn about your students during this time. This can be very satisfying in confirming or setting plans for subsequent teaching experiences.
  • Before grading any one paper, scan a few of the papers to get a sense of how the students as a whole worked with the assignment. As appropriate, record a few of your thoughts about how well the students seemed to be meeting the expectations and standards of the assignment.
  • Don’t start editing the papers. For myself, as an English major in time past, editing or suggesting revisions to a student’s writing — in detail — is a serious temptation. But stop and do not get sidetracked with this effort. The purpose of reviewing and grading papers is to provide feedback and help students improve their writing and to guide their learning.  Many faculty do find that it is valuable to keep a record of common writing or expression errors and suggest tools to support their improvement.  This can be a list that evolves over time as well as being specific to a particular assignment.
  • Once you have reviewed the papers as a whole, start reading/reviewing and grading the papers using the assignment rubric. For example, if the rubric calls for references or quotes to a reading or developing a research question, you can provide x points on that particular dimension without the need to provide much detail.  The detail more often than not will be in the rubric.
  • Set a time limit for each paper. Is this possible? Not always. But it helps one to focus, and be realistic by setting interim milestones.
  • If you find a paper with particular difficulties, I find it is helpful sometimes to set it aside for a bit. When I return to it, I spend a little more time on one or two of the rubric dimensions. The goal is to provide students with ways to improve and they can be easily overwhelmed. Make any feedback reasonable and doable.
  • Include some self-evaluation as part of each assignment. This self-evaluation can be in the form of a rubric, which might a simple checklist.  See the example below.

The final step of your grading event should be the creation of a feedback statement to the students as to how they as a group did on the assignment. The best time to do that is just as you finish the grading of the papers. This consolidates your own understanding of how and what they are learning, and possibly suggests follow-up activities or changes to the next sections of a course. This summary statement will probably include some insights and innovative or challenging ideas from the student’s works. Another strategy is to prepare this summary statement and then sleep on it, and review it before posting it.

Highly Recommended Resources

If you would like to refresh your ideas on the whole topic of grading, the GSI Teaching and Resource Center at the University of California, Berkeley has a whole section that they have prepared for their graduate students. This is available at

Here is one suggestion from that guide that you might find useful.  It is a checklist used by a faculty member who asks students to complete the following checklist and attach it to their papers. (Walvoord & Anderson, 1998, pp. 128–29.)

  • I read the short story at least twice.
  • I revised this paper at least once.
  • I spent at least five hours on this paper.
  • I started work on this paper at least three days ago.
  • I have tried hard to do my best work on this paper.
  • I proofread this paper at least twice for grammar and punctuation.
  • I asked at least one other person to proofread the paper.
  • I ran the paper through a spell checker.

Another section has a few questions that you might ask yourself when writing comments.  Here are a couple of them.

  • What were the strengths in this piece of work? What were the weaknesses?
  • What stands out as memorable or interesting?
  • Does the author provide sufficient evidence or argumentative support?

Another resource that you may want to go to for more depth is by B. G. Davis, who is the author of Tools for Teaching.  An excerpt focused on Grading Practices is available at

One of the strategies that Davis recommends is to “Consider allowing students to choose among alternative assignments.” This is a suggestion that is similar to what we have encouraged as a way of customizing and personalizing learning.  The suggestion, however, has been more or less limited on providing choices within assignments.

Davis suggests a contract approach to a course grade or section of a course. She does this by developing a list of activities with the possible earned points based on the educational value, difficulty, and likely amount of effort required. Students are told how many points are needed for an A, a B, or a C, and they choose a combination of assignments that meets the grade they desire for that portion of the course. Here are some possible activities as quoted in that excerpt:

  • Writing a case study
  • Engaging in and reporting on a fieldwork experience
  • Leading a discussion panel
  • Serving on a discussion panel
  • Keeping a journal or log of course-related ideas
  • Writing up thoughtful evaluations of several lectures
  • Creating instructional materials for the course (study guides, exam questions, or audiovisual materials) on a particular concept or theme
  • Undertaking an original research project or research paper
  • Reviewing the current research literature on a course-related topic
  • Keeping a reading log that includes brief abstracts of the readings and comments, applications, and critiques
  • Completing problem-solving assignments (such as designing an experiment to test a hypothesis or creating a test to measure something)

Some variation on this strategy might work for one of your courses or a section of your course.


See which of these suggestions you might like to try to save yourself some time, while holding yourself and your students to quality standards of teaching and learning.  If you have strategies that you would like to share for future tips or for the faculty resource site, you can call (703 587 8892) or write to me at

Selected References

Boettcher, J. (2010) Tip 82 Three Scenarios for Engaging Students with Rubrics.  In library of tips at

Davis, Barbara Gross. (1999) Grading Practices.  Excerpt from Tools for Teaching.  Jossey Bass.  Retrieved on November 22, 2010 from

Teaching Resource Center at UC-Berkeley. (2005 – 2010). Teaching Guide for Graduate Student Instructors.  Retrieved November 22 2010 from

Walvoord. B. E. & Anderson, V. J.  Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright by Judith V. Boettcher