English adjunct and full-time instructors alike can agree, essay grading is a time consuming and thought-intensive task. I spent nearly an hour grading each student essay the first semester I was adjunct. At the time I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I got paid the same lump sum whether I spent 60 hours grading (15 students and 4 papers) or 10 hours grading. Not only does $500 for 60 hours versus $500 for 10 hours make a huge difference, those extra 40 hours could allow you teach more classes, pick up more tutoring hours, or take on more hours at a part-time job. See this post, our Bottom-line Post if you want to read about this concept a bit more. Many newbie adjuncts, unfortunately, learn this idea the hard way just as I did.
First I’ll describe how I learned the hard way that rubrics could cut my grading time in half and then I’ll point out some of the most important features of rubrics, and show how rubrics such as our Writing Process Rubric Package (geared toward face-to-face or online teaching) and Peer Review Process Package (here’s the online version) can inform assignment development from formal essay writing to writing process to reading responses.
During my first few years as adjunct, it felt overwhelming but also necessary to spend 30+ minutes correcting each student’s essay–like most of us, I wanted each student’s feedback individualized to his/her argument and writing style, but for me, handwritten feedback was the only way I knew how to do that.
Over time I learned to build and utilize a grading rubric and write a few comments throughout the essay with a few sentences at the end to holistically tell the student what is going well and what could be improved. However, at that point I didn’t provide the students with the rubric because I was consistently updating it while I worked (another huge time drain).
But providing students with a rubric as part of assignment expectation, using the rubric to grade, and providing students that rubric-based feedback is a teaching and assessment best practice. Students know what is expected, how those expectations translate to their essay grade, and are graded based on those expectations. If students don’t know MLA Style citation and documentation is worth 50% of their grade, they don’t realize how much time they should be (or should have been) spending on its mastery.
An Adjunct’s Reality
Even more importantly, however, if you’re an over-committed adjunct paid a set amount no matter the hours you devote to the students, cutting your grading time in half or more (if you’re like me) can make for a better work-life balance, free-up time to take on more work to make ends-meet, and keep you a little more sane during the semester.
Most English departments post a departmental rubric on their website, so you should have access to one with your institution’s specific objectives and grading expectations. However, and this is a big however, most people don’t use those rubrics to correct essays. Those rubrics are way too comprehensive for grading because they’re meant to establish department-wide grading and essay expectation norms. That concept that took me a A LONG TIME and a lot of frustrating grading sessions to figure out (plus a couple sly and shy questions to full-timers I trusted because I was worried that question would make me look clueless). But use that departmental rubric to help you create your own rubric.
Timesaving Rubric Tips
- Include 4-5 rubric categories:
- assignment expectations and organization
- thesis, argument and support
- MLA Style formatting, citation and documentation
- Coordinate with your Assignment Sheet and PowerPoints. The PowerPoints in our MLA Packages (available here, here, and here) introduce direct and paraphrase citation with the concept that each body paragraph should use “claim, evidence, explain” structure. And all of our rubrics include reference to the “appropriate incorporation of citation” in the assignment expectation portion of the table; for example, the “Satisfactory 75%” section of the “Assignment Expectations and Organization” category states, “two or more body paragraphs display weak incorporation of citation.
- Keep coordinating language vague but specific. When the “Satisfactory – 75%” section of “Assignment Expectations and Organization” category states ” two or more body paragraphs display weak incorporation of citation,” it can not only apply to the “claim, evidence, explain” requirement on your essay’s assignment sheet but also to a student’s use of signal phrases and parenthetical documentation to distinguish when and where a paraphrase citation begins and ends. Our Third-Person Formal Essay Rubric (also included in our Writing Process Rubrics Package) coordinates with all our comp. I and comp. II assignment sheets (whether literary or non-literary focused), our writing process assignments and rubrics, and the related PowerPoints.
- Provide the rubric to students in multiple ways. Instructors can post the rubrics in the LMS Blackboard/Canvas shells and then include those links on the each essay’s assignment sheet and on the course syllabus. And if you’re Blackboard/Canvas savvy, you can copy/paste our rubric into the LMS and embed it into the assignment link–rubrics can be set to include points or percentage, based on your grading style, or they can be set to provide categories without value so you can be the final decision maker about the percentage/score.
The students who will look thoroughly at the rubric to inform the drafting and finalizing of their writing will be better equipped to success; you can direct students who aren’t succeeding for whatever reason to the rubric as an additional resource to help them improve. If you post the rubric to your LMS, embed the link on the assignment sheet, embed the link on your syllabus, and use it in the LMS assignment link, students have 4 opportunities to see the rubric and you can click click click to determine grade.
All in all, I spent about 5 years across 3 different institutions developing my current grading rubric; however, the most recent version is highly customizable and something I use in both my English Comp. I and II courses, expecting that the expression expectation in an English comp. II course is going to include more sophistication than in an English comp. I course.
Check out our Writing Process Rubric Package, which includes the Formal Third-Person Essay Rubric, a Prewriting Rubric (for processing work such as freewrites, outlines, and drafting assignments), Rough Draft Rubric (can be used separately but is also included in the Peer Review Package), and a Writing Process Reflection Rubric.
Anecdotally, the time it takes me to grade Writing Process assignments has been cut in half and I now grade English comp. I and II essays in about 10 minutes each (I tend to average 15 minutes each for longer research essays). As a full timer, that means I can finish most of my grading during office hours and free up more time with my family, community involvement, and committee work.
To help you get a feel for how our course materials can help you get more done in less time, we offer a free download of any individual course material of your choice. Sign up here to take advantage of this opportunity.
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