Time-saving editing tips for writing teachers

Facing a stack of essays? These time-saving editing tips will help co-op and classroom teachers find balance.

Whether you’re teaching a homeschool co-op or five high school English classes, editing and grading compositions and essays has the potential to suck the very life out of you.

Even if you devote a mere 5 minutes a week to 100 compositions, you’d spend over 8 hours on this task alone. The wise teacher will realize it’s probably impossible to give full attention to every student’s paper each week. The time-saving editing tips that follow will help you streamline the process so you can find the balance that works for you.

1. You Don’t Have to Do It All

You can strive for different levels of “completeness” when editing papers.

See how each successive level of editing requires more time and effort? Working within your time limits, pick the level that will be the most helpful for the students. For example, correcting all the errors is not only time-consuming, it hinders students because they need to wrestle a bit on their own to improve their writing. It can be more effective to correct one error and then point out others.

2. Stagger the Workload

Edit a certain number of papers each day. If you teach several classes, assign each class a different due date for written assignments.

Another idea? Quickly peruse class papers and divide into piles of good, average, and poor writers. Consider giving poorer writers feedback first, since they need more time to grow and improve.

3. Take Breaks

Editing marathons are unproductive because your brain grows fuzzy after a while. When you’re fresh, you’re more objective, but as you tire, you can become cranky and irritable, which in turn may make you more critical in your evaluations.

Take short breaks where you might:

  • Walk around the block.
  • Make a cup of tea.
  • Eat a handful of nuts.
  • Start dinner.
  • Toss a ball with the dog.

After one of these quick activities, you can go back to work refreshed.

4. Set a Reasonable Time Limit

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in working through the first half of a stack of essays that you run out of time. To avoid this, figure out how many papers you need to edit or grade, and divide the time available by this number. If you have 10 hours available this week in which to edit 40 papers, that’s 15 minutes per paper.

Set a timer and get to it! At first, you’ll probably have to adjust your estimated grading time, but this will make it possible to give papers fairly equal attention.

5. Adopt the One-in-Four Rule

Tell students you will collect all papers for a given assignment, but don’t announce from week to week when their paper will be picked for review. Once you’ve collected the stack of compositions, mark three-fourths of them “Completed.” Give your undivided attention to the rest. Next time, choose different students’ papers.

Hint: To keep everyone on their toes, always pull one or two papers from the “three-fourths” stack as well.

6. Assign Oral Presentations

On the first day of oral presentations, students should come prepared with two copies of the composition they will read in front of the class. Instruct them to mark your teacher’s copy according to your prior instructions (e.g., highlight topic sentences or thesis statements, circle “to be” words, underline sentence variations, put an “x” over synonyms they’ve chosen, etc.).

Each day, as time permits, choose students randomly to read their compositions. Alternatively, assign specific students to speak on specific days of the week instead of collecting all papers at once.

As they read, evaluate their writing style and give a grade.

7. Give Students a Choice

Edit each student’s choice of  composition. First, have them complete three writing assignments through the second-draft stage. Then, invite them to pick one of their second drafts to undergo teacher or peer editing (your choice). Return edited drafts and assign a final draft, which will then receive a grade.

Another option: Have students create a portfolio of checked-off compositions from which they select the best for you to grade. As an alternative, invite them to choose one of three consecutive writing assignments for you to grade.

. . . . .

Do you face a stack of essays and compositions each week? How do you streamline the editing and grading process?

Photos: Jo Naylor (essays) and Vancouver Film School (class), courtesy of Creative Commons
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