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Laura Randazzo


Identifying the problem 2

Coding to the rescue 4

Coding in action sample essay page 6

Stop repeating yourself 8

Content rubrics 9

Essay corrections process 11

Keeping track grammar error tally sheet 14

Beyond essays conquer the daily paper load 21

Closing thoughts 25

The contents of this e-book and accompanying materials are the property of Laura
Randazzo. You have purchased a license which allows for the use of these materials
by one teacher with his/her own students. If other teachers in your department would
benefit from these materials, please send them to my store:


Your colleagues will receive a 50-percent discount on the materials if they purchase
additional licenses via the original purchasers account instead of buying their own
Do not post these materials on the internet.
Please dont steal. Its lame.
Laura Randazzo

Its Saturday morning. Ive been up since before the sun, working my way
through three sections of essays on The Scarlet Ibis, a gut-wrenchingly sad short
story by James Hurst. For the 22nd time this morning, I read clumsy attempts of
freshman brains trying to symbolically connect the crushed red body of a tropical
bird to the broken body of our narrators beloved little brother, Doodle. For the
22nd time this morning, I furrow my brow and scribble my thoughts in the margins.
Finishing the essay, I drain the remains of my coffee cup, sigh deeply, and glance
at Essay #23, glaring from the top of the pile.

I glare back, thinking there are many other things that need to be done on this
weekend morning. Laundry is piled in the hamper, the dishwasher needs to be
emptied, and the bathroom could
Disclaimer certainly use some attention. Thats
This ebook details what Ive learned over the past when I decide, Yes, Ill go clean the
16 years as a high school English teacher. What
works for me may not work exactly the same for
you. And thats cool. Teaching, as we all know,
is a highly personalized experience, as we bring Then, it hits me. I would rather
different backgrounds and styles to our delivery scrub a toilet than grade another
of instruction. The best teachers take good ideas
and make them excellent by modifying them to
work in their own classrooms. To encourage you
to do the same, Ive included editable versions of Toilets over essays? Whoa. This is a
the forms so you can modify everything to best problem. I set down my grading pen
suit your needs.
and start thinking. There has to be a
If you dont like one of my strategies, please just better way. Now, I know there is.
set it aside and move on to the next idea. I know
that not everything in my system will work for Before we get to the meat of the
every teacher with every student population no
solution, lets do a little math. I know
program could do that. I remain hopeful, though,
that youll find enough bits of awesomeness in English teachers tend to prefer letters
here that youll be able to significantly shave over numbers, but Im fairly certain
down the time you labor over student writing. youve scratched out figures similar
to these (especially when you were
So, grab a cup of coffee (or, if its summertime,
a glass of iced tea dang, look at you reading trying to do anything, anything, other
a book about grading essays on your summer than grade the next essay on the
vacation), and lets get to it. stack.)

Laura Randazzo

Lets say youre an average high school teacher with a full-time load of classes. In
my world, that means you have five sections and each class has 34 students.

34 students
X 5 classes
170 students

Now, lets suppose you assign each class an essay and it takes you between 15-
and-20 minutes to grade an essay. That is, if no one interrupts you and youre in
the zone.
170 students
X 17.5 minutes per essay (I split the difference)
2,975 minutes (or 49.5 hours!)

Finally, lets suppose your school, like mine, requires each English teacher to
assign and grade one full essay each nine-week grading period. So, thats four
essays per kid, per year. Many teachers in my department, including myself,
assign a lot more writing than this each year, but for this purpose lets just use the
conservative factor of four essays per year.

49.5 hours
X 4 essays per year
198 hours

What? Can this be right? The typical English teacher spends nearly 200
hours thats five full, 40-hour work weeks grading essays every year.
And thats on top of our regular teaching day and additional prep time. No
wonder were all so tired!

Look, grading papers is part of the gig. We signed up to be English teachers;

theres no getting around the fact that were going to have to spend some time
with the grading pen. The amount of time we spend on those papers, though,
needs to provide a fruitful yield of learning for our students without breaking our

I love my students. I love the works we study. I do not love grading papers. In fact,
Ive yet to find an English teacher who says that grading papers is his/her favorite

Laura Randazzo

part of the job. That person could never be my friend, anyway.

So, I started thinking. If I wanted to teach forever (and I do), I needed to find
a way to give students the focused feedback on their writing that they need to
improve while also building a system thats manageable on my end.

I looked to the veteran teachers in my department. How did they manage the
paper load? Some of them were embittered, slavishly continuing to mark papers
for too many hours after school and on weekends, failing half the class and
shaking their heads about kids who continued to make the same writing errors
over and over again. Others were handing back papers that looked as if they
hadnt been graded at all no rubrics, no editing marks on the papers, just a
letter grade at the end and a small accolade, B, Good job, Betsy! I enjoyed
this! These glimpses into my future were not appealing, so I rolled up my mental
sleeves and got to work.

First, you need to know a little about me. Before I became an English teacher, I
worked as a newspaper reporter and editor in my home state of New Mexico
and in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of my writing professors, Dr. Robert
Seligman (Dr. Bob to his students), kicked my butt in that wonderfully terrifying
way that only certain teachers can pull off (think The Paper Chase, the 1973 film
about Harvard law students. Havent see it? Stop reading and go to Netflix. Ill
wait here.) Dr. Bob butchered my writing, covering my papers with so much red
ink they looked like evidence from a crime scene. We wrote all the time in that
intermediate class, usually four or five lengthy pieces a week. He graded for
content and grammar, giving equal weight to both. It was common for me to get
a B+ on content and an F (a zero!) on grammar, and I had thought I was a pretty
good writer. Apparently not. The only way to pass the class was to improve. The
only way to improve was to write frequently, closely examine Dr. Bobs comments,
and apply his advice on the next round. Later, as a young(ish) English teacher
facing my own grading dilemma, I couldnt get Dr. Bob out of my head. He was
the kind of teacher I wanted to be tough, but fair and so loving underneath it
all. He was hard on us because he cared; he wanted to make us great.

Then, like a lightning strike, the solution came to me. Coding. When I
stepped away from the stacks, I realized I was writing, for the most part, the
same dozen or so comments on students papers time and time again. I would get

Laura Randazzo

aggravated, feeling as though I was repeating myself. The teens, though, didnt
know they were driving me to the brink; they were just trying to write their essays,
best as they could.

Once I realized that, to some degree, I could automate my responses, my grading

time was immediately halved. As Ive refined the procedure and memorized my
most commonly used codes, I now can grade an essay in just under five minutes.
(Yes, Ive timed myself, a practice which actually increases my productivity. I
sometimes pretend Im on a game show, Five Minutes to Win It! Im weird like
that.) So, returning to our math, instead of the 10 hours it used to take to grade
one class set of essays, it now takes me just under three hours. It still takes time
to grade essays (it always will), but Ive streamlined the process and used some
other tips and tricks (which Ill share later) so that I am now able to always
return marked essays to my students within one week. Often, they turn in an
essay on Thursday and its returned
Can robots do it better?
to them on Monday. While I do
Maybe youve seen the new generation of spend about two hours grading each
automated essay grading software, as discussed
weekend, I definitely enjoy tons of
in The New York Times.
free-time, having fun with my family
These programs are plagued with problems, and friends instead of having my life
but I am intrigued by the idea of using grading force drained by endless stacks of
software as a peer-editing option. Perhaps
the computers algorithms could help identify
glaring weak spots in an essay, giving the
student a chance to revise (or to decide the Heres how the system works:
computer is completely wrong) before final Each student receives a copy of the
draft submission.
Essay Corrections code sheet for
Could a robot provide more valuable feedback whichever style of writing that this
to students than I do? No way. Could a robot particular essay assignment will cover
be a helpful peer editor? Maybe. Since I plan (Expository/Argumentative, Literary
on teaching for another 20 years or so, I
Analysis, Narrative, or Research/
guess Ill be around to see these questions get
answered. Informational). The sheet is actually
just a key, explaining every grammar
and content element that I will comment upon as I grade the essays. As you
review the sheets (both print-and-use PDF and editable Microsoft Word versions
are included in the product download), youll see that the grammar elements
(explained on the left-half of the page and numbered) are the same for
every writing mode. The content elements (explained on the right-half of the

Heres more glimpses of the 25-page ebook contents:
Detailed content rubrics for:
Literary Analysis
Two formats
PDF (just print and use)
Microsoft Word (editable)
Essay Corrections handouts for students
Literary Analysis
Two formats
PDF (just print and use)
Microsoft Word (editable)
Plus, even MORE
helpful tips, tricks,
and student handouts