How to be timely, specific, and kind (and why it matters).


Let’s pretend it’s an afternoon on a day a big assignment is due. What does your desk look like?

Oh, the horror. Already, you’re cringing at visions of Everest-esque stacks of papers and projects. Let’s do the math: five classes of, say, 30 kids (if the counseling gods were kind that year) means 150 assignments. Now, multiply that by three to four times a week — at a minimum. That equals … a lot.

Yes, it’s overwhelming, yet we know that a huge part of our students’ progress depends on us giving them quality feedback. It’s got to be thorough and meaningful. It needs to be critical while maintaining their integrity. And it’s got to be quick.

You don’t — and shouldn’t — have to sacrifice your sanity in order to be an effective grader. Here’s a handful of suggestions to help you navigate those assignment mountains, and truly come out on top.


Utilize rubrics.

If you’re not already doing this, you need to jump on the train. Rubrics give you a two-sided advantage. By handing them out before students start working, rubrics provide guidelines on what the best work will look like. Post turn-in, they make for quicker grading because you can circle or highlight achievement areas, as well as places where the student may not have met the standards. My personal favorite use for rubrics is right smack dab in the middle of the project to help students assess what still needs to happen in order for them to achieve their desired score.


Swap out the students that you’re focusing on.

Split your kids into small groups and choose one group each assignment to give richer feedback. Rotate through these groups so that everyone gets an opportunity to receive special attention.


Keep kids on their toes.

An unexpected audience can go a long way with kids at all grade levels. Why not trade grading with another teacher? Get one of your principals to read their essays? Have another class period edit their work? Another trick for adding an element of surprise is to keep students’ grades from them until they have read and processed your feedback. For example: Hand students an essay with just feedback, then, give them a night to reflect on the comments before conferencing with you and being given their score; or return a test with just your commentary, then students must use to correct any errant problems before receiving their grade.


Choose your bull’s-eye.

Pick just one skill to hone in on for that assignment. Learners can get lost in a whirlwind of topics. When appropriate, zero-in on one skill on which you’ll give intentional feedback. The impact will be greater when students can concentrate on a specific lesson.


Kindness is key.

Ever been in an evaluation where a supervisor focuses on one problem after another, or a conversation that felt more like a laundry list of everything you did wrong? Don’t put your learners in the hot seat. Our students deserve to be shown whether or not their learning is on point, and a large part of that is confirming what they are doing right. Don’t risk losing a kid’s attention because his or her self-confidence has taken a nosedive. Start feedback with what’s on track, being sure to congratulate them for any risks they took. When giving critiques, be specific, and watch the tone of written commentary.

Fine-tuning your feedback isn’t just better than an extra shot of espresso when it comes to zipping through stacks of grading. Ultimately, it’ll save your sanity and motivate your students to reach their goals.


Wondering what to do with your talkative class? We have six strategies to help you out.


Heather Sparks is a writer, educator, and mom of four. An Arizona native, she holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master’s degree in gifted education from Arizona State University.

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