Friday, March 27, 2009

Grading Block

You've heard of writer's block, when a writer either just can't get started writing or gets stopped by something and can't go further.

I have lots of ways of helping students get beyond writer's block.

Unfortunately, I have grading block.

Sometimes, I look at this huge stack of papers that I need to grade, and I find it too overwhelming to start. So I put it off, and that's a problem.

The other side is that I'll start grading a stack, but then run into something in the stack that's really bad, really frustrating, or something similar. Then I put the stack down, and I have difficulty getting started again.

I need to find a way to get beyond the blockage because once I get behind in grading, things just get worse. And worse.

Of course, eventually, I force myself to just grade, and do get the work done, but life would be so much better if I just got over the blockage and graded.

I need better strategies. Help?


  1. None. When I switched from a non-traditional to a traditional school, the grading was the one thing I dreaded. And I still do it at the last minute. But I bet Dr. Crazy has some method.

    the one thing that someone said to me recently was that you should limit yourself to three comments. I tend to write much too much...

  2. I find that if I really want to grade papers, I have to go somewhere other than my home. I know you have an office to go to, but maybe going to an alternative place -- library, coffee shop, bar (You are in Wisconsin, after all!!) -- would help you get the work done. It helps me a lot. (Gotta leave the computer at home, though. Otherwise, I get nothing done.) Now... finding the motivation to go out to grade? That I have yet to master.

  3. Well, I'm catching up on a ton of grading this weekend, b/c of my own grading blocks last two weeks. So much sympathy here.

    Sometimes, I can work myself back out of it by dividing the grading into sections (5 papers a day) and I will often divide the work so that I start and end with work that's likely to be strong. I may put off particularly complex-to-grade work until the next day. But just dividing it up into smaller chunks sometimes helps.

    You can always blog after every X papers and we'll promise to cheer you on in the comments, too. (she typed, taking a break from a stack of papers.)

  4. Oh me, too! Me, too!

    I have been on Spring Break and just haven't been able to bring myself to finish grading the stack of essays I so energetically dove into on my first day on vacation. Depressingly bad.

    They (the ubiquitous They) should have a grading service available.

  5. I have to trick myself into getting going -- I'll pick up one paper thinking I can do just one, or I'll go to my grading chair thinking I'm just going to count or sort the papers and then I'll read just one, or something like that, and then I'm underway and picking up the second paper is a little easier. I also figure out how many days I can reasonably keep hold of the stack, figure out how many papers I'd have to do a day to finish them by then, and hope the daily number is small. I'm definitely the type to do a little every day than a lot at the last minute. That's easier for me because I simply can't handle doing too much work at once!

  6. Like you, sometimes my grading would stop when I hit upon a particularly troublesome paper. I'd stare longingly at the rest of the pile and then with loathing at the one tough nut.

    Last year, in desperation, I grabbed a Post-it flag, stuck it on the problem paper and just moved past it. Then the next day, when I was feeling fresh and armed with the perspective of having marked many more papers for the same assignment, I went back to the flagged paper and powered through it with much more ease than I'd have managed the day before.

  7. I divide the stack into groups of 5 or 10, depending on the length of the papers. The idea is that I should be able to read the group in an hour or so. It also lets me see how many I have left, which is initially depressing but later helps a lot!

  8. Danielle Mari: Last year, I regularly drove past road work near which was parked a large van reading "[Suburban] Grading Service," plus phone number. I enjoyed imagining the conversation that would ensue if I called them for help.

  9. I'm having a terrible time making myself grade this week, too! In fact, I am trying to think of really good excuses for *not* having graded over at my blog, just in case.

    One thing I usually do is look through the pile and put the papers that look the most interesting at the back to read last as a sort of treat. :)

  10. Ivory8:05 PM

    I watch mindless tv shows that I enjoy and promise myself that the only way I can keep doing it is if I keep reading and commenting. I've also heard that drinking helps - but it may make you a more generous grader. Good luck!

  11. i give myself a deadline to return them--a week, 10 days. and then i break the pile up equally and do a little each day. i find that it's easier for me to dive into the pile of papers if i can say, "well, i only have to do 5 today, and that's hardly anything...."

  12. Oh GOD! I have NO method! No strategies! None! (Well, at least it feels that way right now. I think once I thought I had a strategy.)

    I will say this. I cannot do the five papers a day thing. I know some people can, and I admire them, but no, I do it all in fits and starts.

    What I think *does* make a difference is in planning long before the semester starts about when I get things. If I have a stack of cool things to grade that comes in during the same week as a stack of annoying things, I find that I can do the annoying things first and ten as a "reward" I grade the cool things. Also, when I was teaching comp not online, I made students come in for conferences to go over their papers after I'd graded them. It stopped me from commenting extensively, and while it did mean about 8-10 hours of facetime (for about 44 students), I found that it actually took less time for me and was less painful than sitting there writing out comments, and I enjoyed getting to chat with them, so that inspired me (and there was the deadline of the appointment, which was a "hard deadline" - saying I'll get papers back in one week is not a hard deadline. I can make excuses :) )

    Also, I don't know if you do this, but I give a class's first page of a paper the once-over before I grade so that I can anticipate the frustrating papers. This helps me because I'm never so frustrated when I actually grade because I saw it coming - I don't put the stack down, because I had a sense of what I would get when I picked the paper up. Also, sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised that papers I thought would be horrendous based on the first page end up being ok. It's the surprises that stop me from grading.

    Ok, so I guess I have strategies after all. But seriously? Grading blows.

    My word verification word: phaills. I think that's no accident :)

  13. er, the frustrating surprises that stop me from graded. The pleasant surprises inspire me to press onward.

  14. Fah! I have it NOW--and avoidance isn't working real well.

    But I do have some strategies that have helped from time to time:

    1] I always collect my papers alphabetically; then when the effort gets HUGE, I whip through the stack, pluck out the handful of papers that I know are going to be a blessing to read, and salt them back through the stack, then set to, promising myself I will grade until I reach the first gift paper. It helps.

    2] When I am really bogged down, I read each paper coldly and out of linear order: Intro, conc, then back through the body looking for the evidence and the "tag-ups" that show how and where each kid is drawing his/her argument through the text. Goes pretty quickly; I also minimize comments on these rounds.

    3] I have been known to hand a set back largely ungraded when I see that several are unfocused/wandering (kids in my school have a particularly weird habit of rejecting assigned tasks in favor of "making one up on one's own." This, of course, is actually a function of "Topic? I don't see no stinking topic!"/refusal to read assigned task/directions. Students must highlight their theses and their evidence and their "tag ups"/transitions, then take a moment to edit and revise IN whatever is missing before I recollect--then I evaluate ONLY what kids have self-identified as their fundamental arguments divorced from the yadda-yadda-yadda.

    4] I have kids "block" their arguments by the aspect of rhetoric being applied in framing each portion, then I look only within each blocked bit for how, in fact, that aspect is playing out, and how, across the whole, the rhetoric is balanced and varied.

    5] I toss the pile across my living room floor, clutch my hair just off temple on each side, and
    wail "AAARRRRGGGGHHHH!," whereupon my dear husband pops open a bottle and pours me out a decanter of red.

  15. I'm there today -- and it's such a beautiful sunny day to be stuck inside. However, there is a wrestling banquet at 4pm and so I must be done with half the pile. I can not count on staying up past midnight to grade. I am terribly late on these already and can no longer face this class tomorrow without the papers. yup. only a deadline works for me.

    It doesn't help that they are all electronic and hidden in the computer. no sense of how many are lurking inside. I count them up, check them off on a classlist and count down as I do them. I also record the time and how many left so I can see when I've spent way too much time on one (or actually finished before the 10 minute buzzer on my watch). sigh. still don't want to go back and finish.

    doesn't help at all that 10/30 people who received papers back on Thursday have not yet opened them. what amy I writing extensively on these papers for?

  16. Put a timer on it and try to beat the timer. Give yourself however many minutes you usually use to read a paper and see if you can do it faster. If you tend to lose focus if the paper is really bad, or conversely to put more effort into the paper than the student did, the timer keeps you honest.

    Or put together a stack of how many you'll usually get done in an hour and see if you can get them done before the hour is up.

    Pathetic, I know, and mechanical, yet this is the thing that keeps me from bogging down in Paper Despair.