10 Strategies for Managing a Heavy Paper Load

One of the challenges of teaching writing is, to put it simply, handling the paper load. Whether your students submit printed copies of their essays or submit using an online course management system like D2L or Canvas, the reality of teaching writing is that it takes a lot of time to read student writing. However, in Bean’s book Engaging Ideas, he suggests 10 strategies that writing teachers – or any instructor who assigns writing – can use to handle that seemingly endless stack of student papers.

Below is my own take on Bean’s 10 strategies for handling the paper load:

  1. Use Well-Designed Assignments: Well-designed assignments break long papers into shorter papers so that students work toward a larger goal. Also, well-designed assignments are clear enough that misinterpretations are rare.
  2. Use Clear Grading Criteria: Share task-specific rubrics (rubrics assigned just for that assignment) with students when you assign a paper. Then, hold an in-class norming session where you share a few example essays with students and have students score them until the class reaches a consensus. This can help to clarify expectations to students.
  3. Exploratory Writing and Class Discussion: Sometimes, the paper load is frustrating because students have interpreted an assignment differently than we intended. Or, sometimes we read underdeveloped papers that perplex that need to be fleshed out. In-class exploratory writing allows students to free write or journal about their topics. You can walk around the room and check in with students as they write, so you can immediately give them feedback on their ideas. Class discussion is also a powerful tool for managing the paper load. Students can brainstorm paper ideas as a class or in small groups.
  4. Scaffold: It may seem like it is more efficient to have students only submit their final written paper, but in fact it may be better to have students submit some writing early in the process. For example, have students write a short proposal so that you can identify students who need help.
  5. Peer Review: Students can read each other’s essays and provide one another with feedback. Peer review can strengthen student writing.
  6. Writing Center: By referring students to the writing center, students can tackle both higher order concerns and lower order concerns before submitting a course assignment. Feedback from a tutor can help motivate a student toward revision.
  7. One-to-One Conferences: Conferencing with students allows you to course-correct, answer questions, and challenge your students to develop their ideas in writing. The key is to have students drive the discussion by asking students to talk about their writing and what kind of help them need.
  8. Group Conferences: It can also be helpful to hold group conferences, which tend to be more efficient than one-on-one conferences. Plus, group conferences allow students to hear each other’s struggles and bounce ideas off of one another.
  9. Give Written Feedback on Drafts: When you give written feedback on drafts, make limited, focused comments and try to avoid marking too many errors. Instead of acting as an editor, act as a curious, thoughtful reader who wants to guide the student toward revision. As a result, it becomes less challenging to think of what feedback to give and how to say it, as you’ve decided a clear role as a reader for yourself.
  10. Reduce Written Feedback on Final Papers: By this point, students have received a lot of feedback. Unless you allow students to revise and resubmit final papers, reserve your comments for earlier drafts.

In my own experience as a writing teacher, I’ve used each strategies with varying success. My favorite strategy is to give feedback on drafts instead of final papers. If a student expresses specific interest in rewriting a final paper, I then leave more detailed feedback focused on ways to revise.

In the future, I’d like to try sharing my grading rubric with the assignment sheet and holding norming sessions. On one hand, I’m not crazy about the way that the rubric/norming session focus student attention on grades. On the other hand, I can appreciate that rubrics/norming sessions can be a teaching tool to help students conceptualize their projects.

What do readers think? Do you have a favorite strategies for handling the paper load? Do you think that a norming session places too much focus on grades?

1 thought on “10 Strategies for Managing a Heavy Paper Load

  1. writingwithvetter

    I always share the “Criteria” as part of the assignment sheet. This helps students get a sense of what I will be reading for and grading. Wouldn’t it be possible to do a norming session that didn’t involve a whole lot of quantitative norming? That just focused on criteria and whether a sample was fulfilling or departing from those criteria?



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