Grading essays is often as hard on mom or the teacher as it is on the student.  Is there a way to diminish the pain and increase the reward for both?

            I think so.  Regardless of the age of the student, adhere to the following steps for an almost pain-free, grading experience:

  • Before allowing the essay to be turned in, make sure your student has "polished" it to the best of his ability.  The student should understand clearly that writing is a process involving both sides of his brain, therefore multiple drafts are necessary.  Do not waste your time evaluating an essay that has not been carefully prepared.  When the essay is turned in, insist the prior versions be included, with the polished copy on top.  Most essays will require at least two prior drafts before the final copy is ready.  Having the student turn in those copies validates the time he spent on them-like when the math teacher wants to see how the problem was solved, not just the answer.
  • The polished copy should be double-spaced, whether handwritten or typed.  You need room to make your comments and save your eyesight.  Do not accept an essay that does not have a blank line between lines of writing.
  • Know that you, as the evaluator, will have to read the essay more than one time to accurately grade it.  The first time through, look for positives and note them with a pen in an easy to see color, but preferably not red.  Think green or even purple.  Find the gems in the essay and comment on them.  You might say things such as "excellent word choice," "I love this word picture," "great idea," "outstanding organization," etc.
  • The second time through, find the errors and underline or circle them lightly in pencil.  Do not ignore any mistakes, even if the essay is riddled with faults, but don't make comments on the errors, just note them.  Choose only one or two errors to address verbally.
  • Discuss the essay with the student using the sandwich approach.  Begin by pointing out something he did well, and praise him for it.  End with something he did well.  Your praise at the beginning and end are what holds the "sandwich" together.  Consider how messy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be without the bread.  Begin and end with praise!  In the middle, the peanut butter and jelly part, discuss one or two items that need improvement; ignore the rest of the errors.  Don't even mention them.  Do make sure your student knows how to improve the one or two mistakes you've chosen for him to work on.
  • Tell your student that you will be looking specifically for these two weaknesses in the next essay, so he should proofread carefully before he turns it in.  Stay true to your word.  For the next assignment, follow the same steps by first finding what is good about the writing, then looking for the errors.  If the mistakes you asked him to work on are present in this essay, he must rewrite it.  If they are not present, recognize the improvement in a way meaningful to him and choose another weakness to tackle.
  • Find a way to showcase the essay.  Post it on the refrigerator.  Read it aloud at the dinner table.  Make a copy to send to Grandma.  Do this regardless of the age of the student.  Keep the work posted until another, better one comes along to replace it.      

            In my next blog, we will focus on common writing errors and ways to help overcome them.