How to Spend Less Time Grading

Planning carefully, when and why

I just read this article in Edutopia.  I think  Elena Díaz has a lot of good points here so I’m sharing the article here. Assessment has always been a challenge for teachers. I often wonder if the time spent on grading by the teacher, is appreciated and valued by the students? How many times have we seen a graded paper thrown in the wastepaper basket? Ok, not many now since all our grading is being done electronically, but still, how much time does a student spend on reading the teacher’s feedback, compared to the Timothy teacher puts in? I would like to share this from Cambridge international examinations.


Learners often do not read the written feedback their teachers provides them with. Teachers often write the same comment; it is not focused, specific and clear. Learners sometimes do not understand what the teacher has written. Learners often do not act upon the teacher’s feedback.


1. Plan for less grading: I always say to my staff, “If a student writes it down, it needs to be marked—it just doesn’t have to be marked by you.” When you plan your lessons, consider the ratio of activities that require teacher assessment.

I organize my teaching in stages following Barak Rosenshine’s principles of instruction: explanation and modeling, then guided practice, and finally independent practice. All the practice, apart from the last stage of independent practice, is assessed by using mainly closed questions. By the time students produce answers to open-ended questions, they have had masses of practice, and there’s little to correct, making grading go by much quicker.

2. Grade less: When planning my lessons, in order to decide if something is worth grading, I think about impact and alternatives.

In terms of impact, will student learning be transformed by my grading this? Will I have time in the next lesson to allow students to reflect deeply on my feedback? Will I make them produce something that proves that they have learned from it? If the piece is marked for any reason other than impact, then it needs to be replaced by a different activity.

When time is tight, I think about alternatives. How can I check that students have learned a concept? Will a multiple-choice exercise do? Can I create a self-marked form that I can then recycle with other classes? Can I provide students with the answers and then give them time to reflect on how their answers could be improved?

3. Unleash the power of rubrics or feedback sheets: One of my all-time time-saving favorites is my feedback sheet. It includes the criteria needed for earning each letter grade. To be more efficient, I use the same rubric for all of my students for every topic. Every year, I provide all of my classes with a student-friendly visual version of this sheet and go over what it means. I also model for my students how to use the sheet to grade an essay. The rubric is attached to every assessment, and I use it to grade every open-ended (usually essay) question.

Díaz inset reflection example


4. Speed up your grading: When it comes down to it, we can only reduce grading workload. We can’t eliminate it, nor should we. So how can we deliver maximum feedback with minimum effort?

The answer lies in training our students to turn a few visual cues into full-feedback messages.

These are the cues I use:

  • If a student writes something that impresses me or goes beyond expectations, I highlight it in green.
  • If a student meets the criteria for a grade, I highlight that part of the criteria using a green highlighter.
  • If there is an error, I highlight it in pink.
  • If a key part of the criteria hasn’t been met, I highlight it in pink.
  • In a section called Even-Better-If (EBI), students complete a short (closed-ended, self-marked) task that matches the kind of errors they have made. This task is linked to the part of the criteria that I highlighted in pink.
  • In a section called Correct, I write a word that students have misspelled in the text, and they need to copy it out three times.
  • In a section called Perfect, students complete a short, open-ended task that will prove to me that they have taken in my feedback

Edutopia, Elena Diaz


  1. “If a student writes it down, it needs to be marked—it just doesn’t have to be marked by you.”

    Dette virker jo litt ekstremt, og er vel ikke noe som gjøres i Norge? Jeg har aldri hørt om lærere som vurderer alt en elev skriver (alle oppgaver i timene, alle lekser, osv, i tillegg til andre prøver.) Derimot virker det som det faktisk er tilstanden i USA, der absolutt alt som gjøres av elever skal karaktersettes.

    Hva er egentlig begrunnelsen hennes for at ALT de skriver ned skal vurderes?

    1. Er nok litt forskjell på USA og oss i Norge, men generelt så har vi jo en plan når elevene skriver noe. En form for tilbakemelding som kan variere fra en felles økt, eller individuell vurdering.

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