How Online Grading Made Me a Better Teacher

Photo Credit: Nedral
Photo Credit: Nedral

I have used Google Docs (now Drive) in the classroom for about six years now, and I can honestly say that it has improved my ability as an English teacher probably more than any other tech-related tool.  I could list a bunch of different reasons why I think it is something that every student and teacher in the country should be using, but perhaps that will come later.  Instead, I want to discuss its ability to allow me to grade better and offer more detailed and specific feedback to my students.

I did not start out by grading online even after the first couple of years of using Google Docs, mostly because it seemed a bit tedious.  As an English teacher, it was frustrating to have to add in things like commas and then change the color so the student knew that I had changed his work.  It was easier for me to just grade by pen.   Despite this, there were times when I would provide feedback and grades online, and even when it was somewhat burdensome, I realized that the quality of my comments was much higher – largely because I could type faster than I write, write more, and not be held back by the writer’s cramp that most English teacher can identify with after grading a stack of 60 three-page papers.

My students appreciated the feedback online as well.  They didn’t have to worry about figuring out my cursive/print style hand-writing, easily could identify which portion of the paper I was talking about as Google Docs highlights the section of the writing attached to the comment, and didn’t have to worry about losing the paper if they wanted to go back and see prior mistakes.  Their positive response made me realize that even if it was at times tedious, the good far outweighed the bad.  Plus, it became tremendously helpful for me to be able to have a record of my comments that I could look back to when writing grades and assessing future work.  I didn’t have to worry about making photocopies.  And when I needed to find a previous piece of writing, I didn’t have to search through the stacks of paper still waiting to be filed at the corner of my desk.  Do teachers actually have time to file??  Everything was neatly arranged in folders that students had created and shared with me on Google Docs.  Portfolios? Check.

As I began to solely grade papers online, I also realized that I was doing too much for my students.  Fixing sentences with poor punctuation, re-writing structures to help students get them to sound right, or pointing out every single mistake did not help them – especially when for the most part, they didn’t re-write their final drafts.  Now, instead of identifying every mistake, I focus on things I am going to be assessing and color-code student’s work in terms of the type of error they make.  For example, spelling or mechanical mistakes are highlighted blue and sentence structure mistakes are highlighted in red.  Students then must go back and figure out the type of error they made – with help if necessary – and re-write the sentence so it no longer contains a mistake.  This forces them to actually think about what they did wrong and, more importantly, it puts the corrections in the hands of the person who needs to know how to fix them, and it makes my students more independent and responsible for their own learning.

I will, of course, continue to grade online, but also know that sometimes I wish I had a pen that I could add symbols like arrows or stars to what I am grading.  This is why I was so excited to see that there is an app soon to be coming to the iPad that will allow you to mark-up a Google Doc with a stylus.  The app is called gradeonipad and I, personally, cannot wait for the email to come through that says I can give it a try.  With this app, I can’t imagine why any English teacher would continue making his/her students print out papers that they are then forced to carry home if they had the option.  And even if you don’t have access to an iPad, give Google Docs and online grading a try.  Trust me, it’s worth it.

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