Typhani Harris | March 2014

Oh… the Grading: strategies for grading student work

*Writers note: Usually, the second week of the month is devoted to the topic of Common Core, but as I began preparing for my article on the unedited conversation of common core, I received so much feedback that it needs a two part series.  Since the month of March has five weeks,  I have decided to move the common core conversation to the end of the month so that I can do both parts back to back.  Therefore, this week will be a strategy-based article.

Grading Student Work

As we move into Common Core, the range of writing standard for grades 9-12 states: “Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences” CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10 & W.11-12.10  (www.corestandards.org).  It is expected that we have students write, write, and write some more, as we should because practice does make perfect.  However, if we are going to give our students multiple opportunities to write, at some point are we going to have to grade everything?  This grading debacle brings on anxiety for even the most seasoned educators, so, I wanted to offer some strategies for grading writing to alleviate feeling bogged down by the grade monster.


Start small.  Choose small chunks or sections to evaluate.  You can focus on many different aspects of student writing.  You can even continue focusing on those sections until your students get a good grasp of adequate composition.  Don’t tell students what you are grading, however, before they turn in their work, have them highlight the section you plan to grade.  Here are some options for sections to grade:

  • The claim
  • Introductory sentence or hook
  • The thesis
  • Cited sources
  • Evidence
  • Academic language

Once students have grasped these concepts, move into larger sections:

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion

Peer Evaluation

Peer evaluation can be very effective, and alleviate some of the paperwork for you.  However, some  opposition to peer evaluation includes: they don’t know what they are looking at, they don’t want to hurt their friends’ feelings, or they don’t completely read it.  For this, I suggest parameters.  Make students locate certain sections and offer suggestions.  For example, have student graders highlight the thesis and then offer a suggestion to improve the academic language.  Or, have them highlight some evidence and then offer a signal phrase to introduce the evidence.  Possibly, grade the grader.  If students know they are being graded on how well they evaluate their peers’ work, they may take it more seriously.


Rubrics are also an efficient way to tackle grading.  This can also be broken down, by evaluating based on only one section of the rubric.  The website www.rubistar.4teachers.org offers multiple strategies for creating rubrics within our classroom.

Choose One

Have students write daily or weekly and choose only one to actually grade.  Since students won’t know which one you pick, hopefully they will put effort into all of the writing assignments.
The idea is you don’t have to grade EVERYTHING.  And whether or not we are grading every word, students should still be constantly practicing their writing.  Especially with the new assessments, our students need to be constantly writing.  Happy grading!

Next Week: Teacher Talk

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.