Papers, Papers, Papers: An English Teacher's Survival Guide 2005

Grading papers … the paper load… teacher burnout…. Advice honed from thirty-one years in the English classroom and forty-five thousand papers worth of grading… accurately, completely, and with the time you need to give each and every student in your classes the attention they deserve.

Main Points

After more than 30 years in the English classroom, Carol Jago knows a thing or two about managing the overload of assignments that come with the territory of teaching reading and writing. This book offers concrete advice that new and veteran teachers alike can benefit from. Jago also provides specific examples to show how these timesaving strategies actually work in her classroom. Some of her most helpful advice includes:

  • Comment Rather Than Correct: Spend the time to correct grammar and usage. To many English teachers this is an automated response and takes little time. Make note of areas that need revision, but do not write the revisions for students. They can, and should, do this part for maximum learning and time efficiency. Make comments on the writing content and respond to ideas, but do this on early drafts. Final drafts only need a grade.
    • Points of Contention: Red pens and emphasis on making papers "bleed" can create writing baggage in students, creating future road blocks for writers. Helping students take constructive criticism rather than have their papers torn apart can help make students become life-long writers.

  • Using Scoring Guides and Rubrics: Use a common rubric that the department creates together. This heightens and clarifies expectations and skills required of students. Jago also suggests grading papers as a department to collaborate on identifying anchor papers and create fluency between grade levels and grading practices. She also suggests that students should write letters to themselves after receiving their graded papers. Hand these letters back to students while they work on their next paper so the students can remind themselves of areas they struggled with in the past.
    • Points of Contention: Coming to a consensus as a department can be a difficult task, as is taking the necessary professional development time. Careful planning is needed to make collaborative rubric creation successful.


  • Leave it to Machines!: Try computerized scoring to relieve the grading load. Different programs have the ability to focus on different aspects of student computer.jpg
    writing, from thoroughness of content to spelling and grammar. These programs can also provide students with the opportunity to hear an outside perspective on their writings and receive immediate feedback.
    • Points of Contention: By using electronic grading devices, students may end up writing on pre-packaged topics that lack relevance or meaning. Electronic rating devices also fall short in terms of genre and style, lacking the ability to recognize such composition devices.

  • Misery Loves Company: Set up grading parties. Get a group of teachers together and grade together. This helps facilitate common expectations and camaraderie. Young and experienced teachers can brainstorm strategies, share stories, and discuss grading practices because of their proximity, making grading easier to deal with. Plus, teachers have a specified grading time built into their schedules.
    • Points of Contention: Jago suggests Saturday grading parties. This can be a turn-off for many teachers, as the weekend is generally seen as a "sacred" time for teachers. Convincing teachers of all experience levels to take part in such an activity could be a difficult task.

  • Carol Jago's "Uncommon Sense" tips

    • Make students read teacher comments and write a response to them. Otherwise the time teachers spend commenting is a waste!
    • Comment heavily on drafts, but not the finalschedule.jpg
    • Have students keep papers in a portfolio
    • Grade papers ASAP
    • Schedule grading time
    • Use a timer
    • Stretch often

Peer assessment is helpful, but it needs to be guided since students are often afraid to critique one another.

    • Assign partners.
    • Author reads the paper silently and writes questions for the editor in the margin after each paragraph.
    • Author reads the paper aloud to the editor and stops to ask each question. The author records the editor's answers.
    • Switch roles and repeat.
    • Final draft due ASAP so students don't forget feedback


  • Self-Assessment: students need to learn how to assess their own work

    • Highlight the first sentence-is it intesesting?
    • Highlight the last sentence of the first paragraph and first sentence of the second paragraph. Do they transition?
    • Draw lines at the end of sentences-are they all the same length?
    • Scan for overused words
    • Change adverbs to strong verbs
    • Check for repeated sentence openings
    • Check for contractions
    • Examine conclusion-is it significant?

Jago's presentation of peer and self assessment are one of the strongest areas of this book. She brings together the pedagogy of Vygotsky about scaffolding students through a difficult process with the content standard of the Writing Process (

Other Points to Consider

Jago stresses early on the importance of students writing with correct grammar and usage every time they write. When students master grammar usage, they can self-correct faster and more accurately. But does this attention to quality negatively affect content? If students are pausing to spell words and examine punctuation, do they not run the risk of losing their ideas? Should students draft first and correct later? Do the students enter Jago's classroom in the fall heavily armed with a knowledge of mechanics? Or does she find herself reteaching these skills each year? And do her students retain these skills when they leave her classroom in the spring?


Submitted by:Christy McDowellWestern Michigan Universitychristine.doherty@wmich.eduandKyle KrolMattawan High