As an English teacher, where are you spending most of your time during the writing process? If you are like most, it’s the grading essays step. Is that grading time resulting in student growth? If not, it may be time to reevaluate your essay grading process.
Fed up with spending my weekends grading essays that students barely looked at, I decided to shake things up and try a completely different approach. These small but powerful teaching changes completely transformed the writing process for me and my students, and they can do the same for you too. But it all starts with English teacher mindset shifts. No matter if you are on a traditional grading scale or transitioning to standards-based grading, both you and your students can benefit from the following:
3 ESSAY GRADING MINDSHIFTS
Now that you are in the right headspace, let’s get into some concrete essay revision strategies. The goal of these essay revision tips is to help students become more self-sufficient with their own editing, aid you in differentiating learning needs, and encourage you to spend more time teaching and less time grading. By the time final student essays hit your desk, they should be mastery level and require little to no more feedback on your part.
How to improve your writing revision process backed by research:
“5 Research-Based Tips for Providing Students with Meaningful Feedback” by Marianne Stenger from Edutopia does a great job of breaking down research on how to get the most out of your feedback effort. I have applied this same feedback research specifically to grading essays so that you can make sure you are working smarter rather than harder at improving student writing.
Writing feedback must be specific
I used to leave extremely detailed feedback on final student essays. I think this is just in the nature of English teachers for many of the mindset issues I listed above. However, unless students are able to use that specific feedback to learn from and improve their writing in the moment, our efforts are lost. Rather than leaving detailed feedback on their final essays, think of ways you can give specific feedback during the writing process. Here are some ideas:
- As students are writing in class, walk around the room and spot check their writing leaving specific feedback for each student
- Point students to writing or grammar mini-lessons specific to their needs. This writing self-help station is perfect for this!
Essay feedback needs to be immediate
Isn’t it funny how students take a week or longer to write an essay but then expect their English teachers to have 100+ of them graded two seconds after the due date? HA! Well, while that’s obviously not possible, they are onto something. Studies show that participants who were given immediate feedback showed a significantly improved performance than those who received delayed feedback. How can you use the writing revision process to give immediate feedback in the moment rather than waiting until your efforts will be too late on the final? Here are some ideas:
- Walk students through a color-coding process to help give them immediate feedback on their drafts.
- Have students write in class while you walk around the room providing prewritten mini lessons or verbal 1:1 feedback. This also helps combat cheating with an AI tool like ChatGPT.
- Set up a comment bank that links to reteaching videos and quickly add these during the writing process.
- Get students in the practice of running their writing through an essay editing website that will give them immediate feedback on their grammar. Some of my favorites are:
Writing feedback should progress students toward a final goal
Writing is often subjective which makes it especially difficult to grade or offer a concrete revision plan. However, research shows that effective feedback progresses students toward a final goal. How can you best articulate the final writing goal? What would a mastery essay look like to you? Is it possible to provide revision essay examples? Oftentimes, this is where mentor texts come into play. For example, if you are working on narrative writing and you want your students to show rather than tell, it would be helpful to provide a mentor text like in the mini-lesson example above and then have students revise to reach this writing goal.
Essay feedback should be helpful without offending or hindering
Creating an inviting and helpful feedback culture is important. It’s very difficult to write with someone standing over your shoulder or watching your every keystroke within a shared document. Feedback can also be counterproductive when students think they are trying to be controlled or forced to write in a certain way that goes against their own style or creativity. While leaving feedback during the writing process is essential for growing strong writers, be sure that your revision environment welcomes creativity, uses positive reinforcement, and creates a cooperative learning atmosphere.
Writers should be involved in the essay feedback process
Students need feedback that lets them know if they mastered the material or not. While the final call on this will come on the final essay grade, there are some steps you can take to help students become more confident of their writing mastery during the revision process. By the time students turn in their final drafts, they should have a very good idea of what their final grade will be. To better involve students in the feedback process try these tips:
- Walk students through a color-coding process to help them self-check mastery level writing components
- Have students grade their own writing using the same essay grading rubric you will use and allow time for revision
- Set up revision stations and peer editing opportunities
It is my hope that this feedback research will help you see that you can create boundaries AND be an effective English teacher. If this process resonates with you, my Fast and Focused Feedback System has everything you need to get started!
If this resonated with you or if you need a stronger reality check, I encourage you to download this free essay grading calculator to find out your number and then lessen it!