How Many Papers Do I Grade Each Week?

I have ten classes this semester, ranging between 23 students in some to 45 in others.  The total is currently 306 students. 

I assign an average of four papers of some kind (be they reports, journals, answers to questions, creative writings, drilling skills, quizzes, warm ups, etc.) each week.  Some items are only a couple of paragraphs or about half a page long; others are two-three pages.  A conservative average, then, would be that I assign approximately four pages of written work per student, which equals about 1224 pages total, per week.

Now, it’s not quite as bad as it looks.  First of all, even with classes that exclusively consist of honors and college students this year, I still only receive about 95% of assigned work.  (One of the cynical “benefits” of teaching remedial classes is that so few students will actually do the work, that grading is easy!)  That brings my total down to 1163. 

Also, I’m blessed to have two amazing student aides each year, and I do keep them busy.  Looking over my grade book, I’d estimate that, using answer keys and other guidelines I give them, these students grade nearly a third of my work.  Yes, of course, it tends to be the simpler papers, but that’s still a huge amount of time I’m saved. 

Now my weekly average of pages to grade is down to 780. 

Further, let’s note that not every assignment is afforded equal attention.  Every teacher has their prefered methods for dealing with the work load, and keeping in mind that the point of grading is to give students feedback about their work so they can grow, some assignments might be graded only on some aspects but not on others (spelling but not grammar, organization but not style, accuracy but not spelling, for example).  Some teachers might only look at every other question, as another example.  Frankly, some assignments are designed such that, by their very nature, to complete them at all is almost a guarantee that they would have to be done well. 

Also, it’s a good idea to grade some work together as a class when you can–this cuts down on outside grading time, and provides an opportunity for review and revision–two birds with one stone!  Still, this is rarely practicable in an English class, and most weeks does not factor into reducing the total workload. 

Such strategies take the edge off of grading, as anybody who tried to edit in detail 780 pages each week would quickly go insane.  The first time I started grading papers as a student in college, I spent ten minutes on the first one, wrote wonderful comments all over it, then looked at the clock and did the math to calculate what the rest of my day would be like.  It was discouraging.

That being said, certainly, all teachers should edit some writing in detail regularly and guide students in revision.  This may well be the single hardest thing we do as teachers, but it’s also the crux of good education.  Also, it gives me plenty of opportunities to help students not only see where student writing falls short, but to get some cheap empathy (“You can’t make heads or tails out of that, either?  Welcome to my world!”)

So, even with 780 papers to grade per week, some require a few moments of scanning, and others require a few minutes of intense reading.  Let’s say that the average page needs about 30 seconds to grade well. 

I’ll leave you to do that math for the total time commitment there, outside of actual planning and instruction. 

And students wonder why my turn around time on getting papers done isn’t faster!

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