Next to planning, grading students' work is probably the most time-consuming aspect of teaching. Yet there aren't many other ways to hold students accountable for their learning. Plus, the information you gather when you grade papers helps you gauge your effectiveness as a teacher from one lesson to the next. Here are some ways to make sure the time and effort you put into evaluating students' work is meaningful to your middle schoolers.

  • When correcting papers, use green ink instead of red. The color red is often associated with negative feelings and may have an impact on the students' perception of your feedback.

  • Develop a code to use in the margins of papers to signal errors in paragraph style or grammar. Students learn more when they must locate an error themselves than if you circle their misspelled words or insert correct punctuation for them. Be sure to write the code for the error on the line in which the error occurs. Make a list of your codes and distribute it to each student. Post one on the bulletin board as well. Here are some sample codes:

    • sp - spelling error

    • p - punctuation error

    • ss - sentence structure (confusing, poorly constructed)

    • wc - word choice (incorrect use of a word)

    • ro - run-on sentence

    • fr - fragment (incomplete sentence)

    • sm - see me (this correction requires further instruction; see teacher for discussion)

  • Strive to return graded students' papers within 2–3 days. Research shows that the more time that elapses between completing a task and receiving feedback on that task, the less meaningful the feedback becomes.

  • Before returning graded assignments, give a brief overview of the positive aspects of the assignment as well as areas that need improvement. This gives students a better idea of what you were thinking and looking for when grading their papers.

  • Grading papers as a class (with the exception of tests and subjective essays) can save hours of time that will be better spent planning and developing your lessons. It helps students more because it allows them to review the material another time. Students are also able to receive prompt feedback. Make sure students' names are not visible on papers that will be graded by peers. Instead, use student numbers to protect the privacy of your students. Having students sign the papers they correct helps make them more responsible. Let students know that you will be checking papers to ensure they are being graded accurately.

  • Keep in mind that your written comments on a paper mean a lot to students, often more than the grade at the top. Be positive and constructive. Here are ten examples of encouraging comments on students' essays:

    • Your first sentence grabbed my attention!

    • You support your argument with very strong evidence.

    • Your explanation is clear.

    • I am interested in knowing more about . . .

    • I can actually "see" what you describe.

    • You helped me consider this from another point of view.

    • Please expand on this idea. I can't wait to hear more!

    • I am convinced!

    • Your thoughts flow smoothly from one paragraph to the next.

    • Good for you! You used one of our vocabulary words here.

Homework and Other Assignments

What will you say when students ask, "Does this assignment count?" It's a loaded question. If you say, "Not really, it's just practice to prepare you for the test, which does count," some students will not make their best effort. They may interpret your well-meant response to mean "No, this does not count, so don't worry about doing it."

Even if the activity will not be graded, students need to know that their full participation is expected. Many teachers give participation points each day to account for hands-on activities and cooperative group work. You may use your seating chart to put checkmarks next to students' names as they take part in class activities. You may have students self-evaluate their participation as part of their grade on group projects and other information activities that you routinely do in class.


This article was adapted from The New Teacher's Complete Sourcebook: Middle School by Paula Naegle (© 2002, Scholastic, Inc.).