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How do I grade papers/essays?

When grading papers/essays, use the following four-step process:

  1. When the assignment is given:
    • Figure out what the purpose of the assignment is, and generate grading criteria based upon that purpose.
    • Share the criteria you decide upon with your students: hand it out in class, and post it on your door.
    • Provide models of your grading criteria to your students.

  2. When the assignments are turned in:
    • Quickly overview a percentage of the papers to get an overall sense of how the group did on the assignment.
    • Skim some papers that you feel are representative of the range of quality in the student work.
    • Use these papers to start four piles: High, Medium High, Medium Low, and Low.

  3. Digging into the grading:
    • Always use a pencil on your first run through: as you develop your sense of how the students did, you will probably go back and fine-tune the papers you graded first!
    • Having separated the papers into piles (high, medium, low : not letter grades yet), do an initial read through and assign a preliminary, holistic grade based upon a general impression of the work. Don't get bogged down in details yet, short of marking a plus (+) or minus (-) in the margins next to issues that strike you.
    • Now re-read each paper for how it addresses the criteria you identified for the assignment. Two papers may address the same criteria differently. Focus first on what the paper does, before you get to what it doesn't. After a sympathetic read, give it a critical read, marking up the paper to the level that you feel comfortable with.

  4. Marking up the papers:
    • Interactive grading poses questions and presents problems the student needs to resolve. For example: "Is this (x) what you mean? How does this connect to your main point?"