Digital resources have transformed the way my students learn, interact, and create in our physical classroom. On our end, we create engaging multimedia lessons, share them with ease through our digital classroom, and then…we collect hundreds of assignments that stare at us from their digital classroom home. For the teacher, digital grading largely is still grading: strenuous, timely, and burdensome, and in some cases, it’s worse. Staring at computer for hours on end isn’t really my idea of fun.
I know this frustration all too well. As an English teacher at a 1:1 high school and a part-time professor in a blended learning university, I have had years of experience teaching (and grading) through distance learning. I also am a part-time technology coach at my school and a certified Google Trainer, so I am fortunate to have been given a fast-track to digital grading breakthroughs. Little by little, I learned and adapted strategies to lessen the burden of digital grading and enrich the feedback for students.
1. Assess your assessments
When I was new to virtual teaching, I started assigning work just as I would in a regular classroom, only with a digital version. However, I quickly found that traditional classroom activities that would be informally assessed through classroom participation turned into tons of different documents to grade in the virtual classroom. I needed a new strategy.
The idea came from Carol Jago’s book, Papers Papers Papers. In reference to burden of grading essays, Jago, an English teacher and professor and former president of the National Council of Teachers of English, challenges teachers to assess your assessment to lighten the grading load. In her chapter, “Alternatives to Essays,” Jago provides examples to showcase student mastery and growth without writing essays. For example, she suggests having students present their work rather than writing about it so that you can assess their knowledge and real time. Reading this chapter helped me realize that the same concept applies to the virtual classroom.
By assessing my assessments I realized I was creating more work for myself by assigning way too many different documents with way too many written tasks. To streamline this process, I developed a distance learning eLesson template, a collection of 40 slides that represent different virtual learning tasks. When I’m ready to create a lesson, I choose the template slides (e.g. Bellringer, Article, Discussion Board, Web Activity, and Exit Ticket) and then customize it to create an eLearning lesson. Now, rather than grading so many different documents for one lesson, all I have to do is open one document and all of the students’ work will be that one document. Plus, the lesson is very organized and clear for students so their work is more organized and therefore easier to grade. When you create your lesson with the assessment in mind, you’ll be able to set up yourself for less grading in the end. If you’d like to use my distance learning template, you can find it here.
2. Use a discussion board format
Using the advice from above, you may be able to reassess your use of documents and slides, which require you to open up a different document for each student. Instead, try a discussion board format as a submission method. One of my best secrets for grading and giving feedback is to use a discussion board format in Google Classroom versus a Google Doc or Google Slides. (This idea works in other Learning Management Systems too.) This underutilized option gives you the ability to ask a question for students to answer in paragraph form. Then, you can provide feedback directly on each student response without opening up any separate windows.
3. Create a Google Form
With this option, you can ask multiple questions or give multiple prompts and ask students to answer in the Google Form. Now, there is a new function in Google Forms that lets you view all student responses to one question in the same screen. This means you won’t have to toggle between students for feedback. Here is where to find this option:
- Open the Google Form.
- Click on Responses.
- Then, click on the Question tab.
It’s a good idea to ask students to complete the assignment in Google Docs first (especially if it is a long assignment) because Google Forms may not save their progress. There are options in the settings of your Form that will give students access to editing after submission, but I found it safest to complete it first and then copy it in.
4. dictate comments with voice to text
Don’t feel like typing a long, personalized comment? Use Voice Typing in Google Docs to leave a comment and all you have to do is speak while the computer dictates your response. Remember to say, “period,” at the end of each sentence so that you don’t have one long run-on sentence. Follow these simple steps to add a voice comment:
- Click on Tools > Voice Typing.
- Click the microphone popup to speak.
- Allow the document to use your microphone.
- When you’re done, click on the microphone to end your comment.
Microsoft 365 Word and OneNote:
- Go to Home > Dictate.
- Allow the document to use your micro phone.
- Once the microphone appears, start talking.
- Exit dictation with Close (X) in the Dictation toolbar or pressing the button in the ribbon again.
- In your search bar on your computer, search “Speech Recognition.”
- Click “Setup Speech Training.” This will walk you through the voice training so your computer can understand your dictations.
- Open your document, then, in your system tray, click the microphone.
5. Record a voice comment
If you like the dictating idea, you’ll find this next idea to be a great personalized alternative. A voice recording comment is a great way to leave feedback verbally without having to worry about dictation typos. Plus, your students will be able to hear your voice which is a nice personalized touch, especially during full distance leaning.
Here are two options that work well if you’re using Google Chrome or Google Classroom:
- The first one that I recently learned about from my friend, Shana from @Helloteacherlady, is called Moot. Moot is a Chrome extension that seamlessly connects with Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets. As a bonus, you can also add voice comments within Google Classroom’s Stream and private comments! Check out Shana’s full post here.
- The other Chrome extension that I’ve had success with is called Talk and Comment. This app is great if you’re using a learning management other than Google Classroom. It lets you add a voice comment to any website or app.
If you’re using a Windows PC, there is a built in app called Voice Recorder. This is a great option if you’d like a downloaded file of your voice recording that you can send via email or attach to a document.
On a Mac, you can open QuickTime and then go to File > New Audio Recording. Like the PC option, you can send this audio file.
6. SEND A SCREEN RECORDING
If you’d like the audio recording option, but you’d it to be more personalized, you might want to try a screen recording or screencast, a digital recording of your computer screen. With a screen recording, you open a students’ work and record your screen and voice as you talk through feedback on their assignment. As you can imagine, this is a great option to give more personalized and detailed feedback. This option works really well for providing feedback for essays. As you scroll the essay for example, you can record your activity on your computer screen (scrolling and highlighting, for example) and record your voice as you explain the feedback. Screencastify is a great option if you’re using Google Chrome and Screencast-o-matic is a good option for any PC. Both options have a limited free version and a reasonable paid version to unlock all features.
7. Comment bank
Do you ever find yourself typing the same comment over and over again? Well, not anymore! You can create stock comments to reuse with a quick click. There are several ways to do this:
If you’re using Google Classroom, there is a Comment Bank built right into the platform. Open an assignment that a student has turned in. Then, on right side of the document before the comment box, you’ll see an icon that looks like a speech bubble with a bookmark. When you click it, it will open and you’ll an option at the top to add to comment bank. When you’re ready to use a comment, you’ll click the three buttons next to the comment, click copy, and then paste it into the comment box.
If you’re not using Google Classroom, you can use Google Keep to drag and drop common comments into any document, app, or website. Google Keep is a note-taking application that you can use for creating notes (in our case common comments), like text replacement. However, with Google Keep, you can drag and drop comments into a document that’s in suggesting mode and the comment will be added to the document. This process saves so much time and effort, and you don’t have to type or remember anything. Here’s how to do it:
- Go to www.keep.google.com.
- Create a new label, and call it grading.
- Create notes for each stock comment.
- In your document, click Tool > Keep Notepad.
- Drag and drop comments from your sidebar into your document.
If you’re working with a Google Doc or a Microsoft Word document, you can create a text replacement for your comment and insert them right into your document with a simple keyword. I suggest making your text replacement words simple so you can remember them without looking. To prevent text replacement from replacing a word that you don’t want it to replace, you can add a number or special character at the end. For example, topicsentence1 would be replaced with “Use a topic sentence that connects back to the thesis statement to begin this paragraph.”
- Click on Tools > Preferences.
- Add your text to be replaced and the text you want to use as the replacement.
- First type your comment.
- Then, select the text.
- Press Alt+F3.
- Fill out the information in the Create New Building Block dialog box for a unique name and description makes the AutoText easier for you to find and use.
- Then, go to Insert > Quick Parts, > AutoText, and choose the entry you want.
8. Emojis and Bitmojis
Sometimes the best way to communicate what we’re feeling when we’re grading is to show it! 🤪 Admittedly, this type feedback isn’t really the rich feedback I mentioned in the intro, but if you’re looking to make connections and perhaps elicit a few laughs, Emojis and Bitmojis can do just that (while also communicating your approval)! You can create a personalized Bitmoji and then add the Bitmoji Chrome extension which allows you to copy and paste a bitmoji into a comment box. Similarly, you can copy and paste emojis from right from the Emojipedia website, or you can download the Emoji Keyboard Chrome extension, and treat it like the Bitmoji option. If you’re looking for more ways to connect with students online, check out Emily from @readitwriteitlearnit’s blog post, 12 Create Ways to Connect with Students Online.
Bonus: Distance Learning Slides
With distance learning as a reality for many teachers right now, I have loved using distance learning slides to create an eLearning template. What’s great about this option is that you can design an eLearning lesson quickly and efficiently, AND grading is even easier. All of students’ work is organized in one place making grading and giving feedback so easy. You can check out my exact template here.
To get the most out of these tricks and tips, my best suggestion is to find your favorites, combine them when possible, and always plan ahead with grading in mind. The key is finding what works for you. I would love to hear what you found! Tag @drjennacopper!