Making Grading Manageable, Efficient, and Purposeful

Maintain your workload through focused assignments, expressed objectives, and clear rubrics

By Bethany Bodenhamer


As all teachers know, the amount of paperwork that piles up on your desk is overwhelming. It seems the assignments come in at a faster rate than you can grade, record, and return them. Grading can easily become an obligation, a nuisance and even a dreaded task. This does not have to be the case.

Make Grading Manageable

Your time as a teacher cannot be consumed with grading. You have other important tasks on which to spend your time, such as lesson planning, teaching, and communicating with students and parents. In order to effectively manage assessing your pupils’ work, consider the following tips: 

  • Give yourself goals, quotas, and breaks. It is unrealistic to think you are going to sit down and grade 130 essays on a Saturday morning. Set quotas and schedule breaks for yourself such as 15 essays this hour, followed by a 30-minute break, then another 15 the next hour. Breaks are necessary, otherwise you may start to lose focus, provide unauthentic feedback, or miss certain aspects of your pupils’ work. Give the last essay you grade as much time, attention, and effort as you gave the first one. 
  • Do not grade every single piece of work. It is okay to have your class complete assignments that they will not turn in. However, make sure that this work has a specific purpose behind it, otherwise it becomes busy work and has no benefit.  Instead, think of purposeful assignments such as pre-writing and brainstorming journal entries or concept and thought-maps.  While such activities get your class activating their prior knowledge and preparing to do a subsequent assignment, they don’t necessarily need to be formally assessed. 

A key way to make your workload manageable is to utilize your time efficiently so that grading is a smooth and seamless part of your workday.  

Make Grading Efficient

There is always more work to be done than there are hours in the day, so you must find a way to quickly, yet thoroughly, complete your grading. Here are some suggested ways to do just that:

  1. Create systems: Have a system for all parts of the grading process:
    • Collecting the work: Have a specified place in your room, designated by class and/or period, for your pupils to put completed work. This can help minimize the time you spend simply organizing the assignments before your grade them.
    • Grading scale: Decide on how you want to grade your work. There are many options beyond the standard A-F system. You can use a 1-5 or 1-10 numeric scale, with 10 being great, 7 average, 5 below average, and 3 failing. Some teachers utilize pass/no-pass, and require learners to redo no-pass assignments. Popular in the elementary levels is the plus, check-plus, check, or minus system. This can also be used for smaller assignments at the secondary level. Regardless of the system you decide to use, choose one, explain how it works to your class, and stick with it. 
    • Recording the work: Instead of recording each individual assignment after you grade it, wait until you have several assignments, or multiple classes’ work and enter it all in to your computer and/or grade book at the same time. 
  1. Rubrics: These are wonderful tools and there are many great ones already created. Check out RubriStar for a variety of rubrics on a range of subjects and projects. A key to being efficient is not recreating the wheel, so use these resources that have been shared by fellow educators. However, make certain that your chosen rubric fits your assignment, precisely and effectively measuring each element you want to evaluate.
  1. Peer review: A lot of time can be spent reading multiple drafts of written assignments. Minimize grading and teach your students writing conventions and editing habits by scheduling a peer-edit session before every final draft is due. Give your classes specific elements to look for as they grade their peers’ essays. A great tool to provide is the actual rubric you will be using when you grade their work. You will have to teach the art of peer editing; however once you do, your learners can be valuable assistants to you in the grading process. This way, once you receive the last few drafts of your pupils’ work, you can spend time editing the larger content and structural issues. 

The last key to making grading manageable is to ensure that you are assigning assignments that have a direct purpose to the standards you are teaching. For each piece of work you give, you should have a specific outcome you desire to see. 

Make Grading Purposeful

  1. Don’t assign busy work: Nobody likes it. Students hate it and can see right through an assignment that has no direct purpose. Keep in mind that if you are giving classwork or homework just to keep your class occupied, and for no other reason, you are going to end up spending time grading piles full of worthless work. Such assignments often are worksheets, and add no academic value. 
  1. Have an objective: Just as each lesson you teach should have an objective, so should your assignments. As you create or assign each piece of work, verbally express to your class why it is they are being asked to do this specific task. It helps to even write down the objective on the white board or on the individual handouts. Your grading should pertain to this objective. For example, if your purpose of the assignment is correct comma usage, you might not look for, or grade, incorrect spelling or capitalization. If you are looking for theme identification in a social science chapter notes, you might not mark down for small factual errors as in wrong dates and places.

Implement these tools and strategies to lift the burden of grading off of your shoulders. Not only that, but your feedback will become more authentic, thus producing more improvement and better results amongst your pupils. It’s truly a win-win for everyone! 

Lesson Planet Resources:

Rules for Rubrics

Great tips for utilizing effective rubrics in the classroom. Learn how to use a simple, standards-based, student-friendly and consistent rubric throughout the year to help you establish an objective grading system.

Peer Editing Form

This is a clear template that can be used in any writing-based peer editing assignment. There are specific grammar rules and conventions that students are to look for to determine if their peer correctly implemented them.  A space for comments allows pupils to provide direct feedback on how each other can improve.

Assessment Differentiation

This is a helpful article with suggestions on alternative assessments for the completion of a novel unit. Instead of giving the popular essay or written exam, consider giving a project or technology-based assignment that allows students to demonstrate their knowledge in a more hands-on fashion.