Authors: Dr. Kimberley Grant, PhD, Dr. Patti Dyjur, PhD, Alysia Wright, Dr. Sreyasi Biswas, PhD
Grading is an important but often challenging part of teaching. Effective grading strategies help make the assessment process more transparent and consistent, time-efficient, and learning-focused (Walvoord & Johnson Anderson, 2010). Whether you are beginning to plan your assessments for an upcoming term or taking a deep breath before grading a stack of final exams, grading alone or with a team of Graduate Assistants - Teaching (GATs), the strategies listed below can help you streamline the grading process in meaningful ways.
Guiding Principles for Assessment of Students' Learning
Incorporating Universal Design for Learning in Disciplinary Contexts in Higher Education
Effective grading is transparent and consistent
Ensuring that grading is a transparent, consistent process involves clearly articulating the purpose(s), strategies for successful completion, and criteria for each assessment task (Winkelmes, 2019). These points should be openly shared with students as well as with Graduate Assistants Teaching (GATs) who may be involved with grading.
Students’ lives are complex, and challenging circumstances may impact their ability to submit assignments on the given due date. Consider implementing a ‘late bank’ policy (Schroeder, Makarenk, & Warren, 2019) which allows all students some flexibility to submit late assignments with no explanation and no penalty. You will want to carefully consider which assignments this will work for and how to balance the students’ need for flexibility with the importance of them receiving timely feedback on their learning.
A rubric is an assessment tool that describes achievement criteria across a range of components and levels. Rubrics can help with grading consistency, accuracy, and speed (Stevens & Levi, 2013). They can also be used for peer feedback and self-assessment.
- How to create a rubric
- Overview and examples of rubrics
- Review Examples of discipline-specific rubrics that you can share and modify.
If you create a rubric in D2L, you can also grade assignments using that rubric in the D2L site or app.
Providing clear assessment criteria helps students develop a stronger sense of what ‘good work’ looks like in your field. Rather than thinking they need to guess each instructor’s idiosyncratic preferences, students can refer to the descriptions provided in the criteria. When criteria is further elaborated in a rubric, students also develop the language to understand and describe their own learning progress. Consider taking the time to discuss each element of a rubric with your students so that they can ask questions and seek clarity.
While it is not a time-saving strategy, you may also want to consider the additional step of co-creating a rubric with your more experienced students. Discussing the elements and considerations of ‘good work’ can further support students’ self-efficacy (Fraile, Panadero, & Pardo, 2017).
See 'Annotated examples of assignments' for a related strategy.
Grading along with teaching assistants can lighten the marking load and be a meaningful learning experience for all. Start by reviewing the assessment criteria and/or rubric and discussing how you will use the tool as a team.
If you have a GAT or team available to grade a set of exams or assignments, consider one of these strategies:
- Pick 3-5 random papers from a class set and have each grader assess them individually. Then discuss and compare your grades. These conversations are essential to help calibrate the grading expectations of all markers.
- For a less time-intensive approach to the above strategy, invite the grading team to review the mark and feedback on an assignment from a previous term to help establish grading norms.
- Find examples of excellent, good, passable and poor test responses or assignments to discuss as a group. Clarify why each is an example of that level of achievement, and use the exemplars for comparison when grading.
- Have each person mark the same section for all exams. For example, GAT #1 marks page 1 or Section 1 for all students.
- If all graders are working independently, encourage individuals to set aside idiosyncratic or challenging papers/exams and bring those to a meeting for pair or group assessment.
- Consider having GATs provide audio or video feedback in D2L. It may be faster than providing written feedback, and some studies also show that students find video feedback more valuable than other forms of feedback (Espasa et al., 2019).
According to the International Center for Academic Integrity, integrity in academic settings is a fundamental component of student success and growth in the classroom. Foster appropriate student behaviour by discussing academic integrity with your class and reminding students of their responsibilities for academic integrity.
For more details, see the University of Calgary Statement on Academic Integrity as well as online resources for supporting academic integrity.
Effective grading is efficient
Effective grading is a time-intensive activity. In order to make the grading workload more manageable as well as to provide students with timely feedback, you will want to consider how to incorporate strategies that are time efficient.
- Look at the number of assessments you have overall. Are they reasonable in terms of workload for both you and the students? Is each assignment necessary to assess one or more learning outcomes? If not, consider reducing the number of assessments. For example, if you are using the discussion board in D2L, do you need to use it every week, or does it make more sense to use it selectively during the courses?
- Consider whether each assessment item can be graded in a reasonable timeframe to give students feedback on their learning. If not, can the assessment be smaller in size, such as an annotated bibliography instead of a paper (Aparicio-Ting & Squance, 2021)? Or can the assessment format be adapted so it is quicker to grade? For example, you may be able to replace a written assignment with student presentations (or group presentations). Use a rubric to grade student work as they are presenting. If appropriate, classmates could provide feedback to the presenters.
- Once you have scheduled the assessments for a course, block off time in your calendar for grading and/or create a grading schedule with GATs. This will allow you to get timely feedback to students while ensuring you have the time set aside to grade assignments (Cohan, 2020).
- Grading student work using a rubric can cut down on the number of repetitive comments that you find yourself making (Aparicio-Ting & Squance, 2021). Simply highlight the appropriate description in the rubric.
- Consider having a ‘comment bank’ for common feedback which you can copy and paste for students as needed. For example, you might have a couple of go-to resources for students who have not formatted their references properly.
- Keep comments global where possible. For example, rather than correcting every error in citations and referencing, tell the student they need to work on referencing and provide a resource on it (Smith & Palenque, 2015).
- Keep comments future-focused: what is already strong in the student’s work? What areas should they focus on for improvement (Getzlaf et al., 2009)?
- Give audio or video feedback in D2L. Some instructors find it quicker and easier: try it to see if it is the case for you. Some studies also show that students find video feedback more valuable than other forms of feedback (Espasa et al., 2019).
- If you are grading final papers at the end of term, there is a good chance that students may not see your feedback. Instead of writing on individual papers, prepare a list of common strengths and areas for improvement that can be posted in D2L or emailed to all students.
Effective grading supports learning
Along with reporting, one of the main purposes of grading is to provide information to students to enhance their ongoing learning. A single number or letter grade at the end of an exam or project may fulfill reporting requirements, but it does not effectively support future learning. To make your grading process more meaningful for student learning, consider some of the strategies below.
Feedback provides students with greater confidence, motivation, and learner autonomy. To be most useful to students, feedback needs to be both constructive and future-oriented (Hine & Northeast, 2016). While formal grades are the responsibility of the instructor, clearly established criteria can provide a basis for meaningful feedback through peer- and self-assessment as well.
While using the strategies for being efficient with student feedback (see above), consider providing feedback that will strengthen students’ skills in the field of study rather than just what they can do to improve on a specific assignment. You may find it helpful to think of ‘feedback’ as ‘feed-forward’: what advice can you give that will help students do better on the next assignment, in the next course, and in their next year of study? What do they need to know about doing well as they progress in this field of study?
Before they submit work for grading, encourage students to use the established criteria or rubric to self-assess their learning both in the midst of the process and with the final submission. Students will develop greater familiarity with the criteria as well as begin to develop autonomy in recognizing and determining quality demonstrations of learning. If you have students submit their self-assessments with their assignments, you will also have greater insight into how to provide meaningful feedback in the grading process.
Design a formal process by which students use the established criteria or rubric to peer review each other's work before it is submitted for grading. Learning how to provide meaningful feedback is a valuable skill both in and beyond academia (Baker, 2016). Software such as Kritik, PeerStudio, FlipGrid, or Peerceptiv can be used to arrange peer feedback partners, facilitate the exchange of feedback, and even allow students to rate the helpfulness of the feedback they receive. Please note that these tools are not formally supported by the University of Calgary, so you will want to carefully explore costs and data security before deciding to use any of them.
Providing anonymized or instructor-created annotated examples of previous assignments can help students avoid misunderstandings about the assignment (Accardi & Davila, 2007) and also help students understand the grading process. Consider sharing and discussing a few different annotated examples of how the assignment can be done well (Catt & Gregory, 2006). Especially in writing assignments, this approach can help students see how they can use their creativity, personal experience, and interests to demonstrate their learning.
Designing new assessments
Developing effective grading strategies begins with designing intentional assessments that align with the learning aims of your course. Regardless of whether you are teaching in-person, online, or in a blended modality, you have many options for assessment design:
Designing online assessments:
Universal Design for Learning
Consider the principles of Universal Design for Learning which encourage including multiple opportunities and types of assessments for students to demonstrate their learning. Allowing students greater choice in the forms of assessment makes it even more important to have clearly identified, consistent criteria for grading.
The Student Success Centre offers in-class support workshops on topics like preparing for your exam, time management, and clear and concise writing. Consider bringing in an SSC specialist when introducing a major assignment.
Integrity in academic settings is a fundamental component of student success and growth in the classroom. Foster appropriate student behaviour by discussing academic integrity with your class and reminding students of their responsibilities for academic integrity.
Before grading begins, discuss examples of plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct with GATs. Ensure GATs understand their role in supporting academic integrity by bringing any instances of misconduct to the instructor’s attention.
For more details, see the University of Calgary Statement on Academic Integrity as well as online resources for supporting academic integrity.
Accardi, S., & Davila, B. (2007). Too many cooks in the kitchen: A multifield approach for today's composition students. Teaching English in the Two Year College, 35(1), 54-61.
Aparicio-Ting, F., & Squance, R. (2021). Discussions about grading: Strategies for efficiency and quality feedback. University of Calgary Teaching Days.
Baker, K. (2016). Peer review as a strategy for improving students’ writing process. Active Learning in Higher Education, 17(3), 179-192.
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Cohan, D. J. (2020, Feb 11). How to grade faster in 2020. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/02/11/advice-grading-more-efficiently-opinion
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Hine, B. & Northeast, T. (2016). Using feed-forward strategies in higher education, New Vistas 2(1), p.28-33. https://uwlpress.uwl.ac.uk/newvistas/article/id/30/
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Smith, V., & Palenque, S. M. (2015, Feb 2). Ten tips for efficient and effective grading. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/educational-assessment/ten-tips-efficient-effective-grading/
Stevens, D. D, & Levi, J. A. (2013). Introduction to rubrics: An assessment tool to save grading time, convey effective feedback, and promote student learning. Stylus Publishing.
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Winkelmes, M. (2019). How to use the transparency framework. In M. Winkelmes, A. Boye, & S. Tapp, Eds. Transparent Design in Higher Education Teaching and Leadership, (pp. 36-54). Stylus Publishing.