Strategies for creating a manageable workload begin with designing and communicating good writing assignments. Writing to learn assignments can be designed to be assessed quickly based on effort, depth, and completion. Formal assignments can be designed to put forth clear instructions and grading criteria, as well as a staged sequence towards completion.
Here are additional strategies to consider when assigning writing in larger classes:
Having students collaboratively compose documents in teams of two or three (or more) is a great way to reduce the amount of writing that requires commenting and grading. Team projects also encourage critical thinking about subject matter and communication strategies, as teammates are obligated to discuss these problems as they engage the process. Collaborative writing projects need to be planned carefully to ensure all team members participate equally.
While sequencing major writing assignments into multiple stages is essential, it is not always plausible for the instructor to comment on every idea or draft produced. To ensure students receive feedback on their writing during critical phases, have peers be the first to read and comment on students’ prewriting or drafts in classroom discussions, or asynchronously online, guided by your outcomes for the assignment. This way students receive feedback at critical points while concurrently analyzing others’ ideas and documents. Still, make sure to provide some feedback before the final draft.
Efficient Methods for Written Feedback
Students often will prioritize their revision in line with your comments. For example, if more grammar errors are marked on their paper than remarks on idea development, they might focus on correcting errors instead of developing their ideas more deeply. And so when commenting on process drafts, it is recommended that you not mark every error and address everything you find ineffective in a piece of writing—this takes too much of your time, and likely will overwhelm the student.
Instead, if needed, prioritize your concise written comments towards those major concerns regarding ideas, organization, development, and clarity to ensure the student focuses on these changes when revising for the next draft. For example, you might provide clear, but brief remarks on one or two of the most critical higher order concerns that the student might focus on. Style, grammar, and mechanics might become the focus if these higher order essentials are successful.
Lastly, when commenting on final drafts that won’t be revised, justifying the grade with minimal commenting, or else simply letting the included rubric communicate the grade breakdown, might be fine. If students cannot revise for a higher grade, your detailed comments might not be effective towards their purpose.
Scheduled meetings with students individually or in small groups is a great way to provide effectual guidance during critical stages in the writing process, and will definitely help avoid later misunderstandings that can needlessly consume resources for both parties. Like written comments, plan the live discussion to focus on encouraging students’ critical thinking about subject matter and communication strategies—in other words, ask the key questions that will lead students to effective choices. Also like written comments, it’s recommended that you plan beforehand to focus on higher order concerns first (or only if necessary) before focusing on style, grammar and mechanics. In the end, conferencing creates a familiarity with each student’s writing which often leads to more efficient commenting and grading of later or final drafts.
While turnitin.com is best known as a plagiarism detector, it is also useful for facilitating many of the strategies mentioned above. Turnitin.com allows you to receive, read, comment on, and grade writing online which can add clarity, save time, and provide interaction with students in a way they find familiar.
Some advantages of using turnitin.com are the ability to save and reuse effective comments that address commonly seen issues, include web links in your comments, (very useful for grammar and mechanics guidance), and conducting peer review online using the PeerMark function.
Finally, encouraging students to make an appointment with the FIU Center for Excellence in Writing as an additional source of feedback on their writing can be an effective way to encourage the process while lessening your workload. Keep in mind that unless the student arrives to the Center with a copy of written assignment instructions that include clear instructor expectations, the Center may have difficulty helping the student meet those expectations.