Bob Mayberry calls for sound, student-centered feedback strategies in his article, New Books on Handling the Paperload: When Research Contradicts Practice. As I dug into this piece, I found myself nodding in several places. We all understand the importance of feedback and how it influences student growth, but aligning our curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices in ways that allow us to manage the process without overwhelming ourselves continues to mystify most teachers that I know. Revisiting our assumptions about grading practices and what constitutes effective feedback can help us devise strategies that meet the needs of our students better and allow for daily writing opportunities across all content areas. What follows are the strategies that informed my own classroom practices and provided the space that I needed to allow for timely feedback. This and hefty doses of chocolate worked wonders when it came to adjusting my attitude toward “grading papers.”

Planning to Provide Feedback While Managing Paper Load:

*      It makes sense to begin by determining the enduring understandings and essential questions for your unit of study.

*      Next, define WHAT must be assessed, HOW it must be assessed, and WHEN it must be assessed. Consider defined areas of need and consider how the nature of feedback might shift in response to assessment type and purpose.

*      Finally, determine where your verbal feedback will influence student learning and performance MOST as well as where your written feedback will influence student learning most. Then, consider implementing the following strategies in a BALANCED fashion.

Strategy One: Increase Opportunities for “Ungraded” Writing and Reflection

“Ungraded” pieces can be used to inform instruction in powerful ways. “Ungrading” does not imply passivity on the teacher’s part. In order for this strategy to work effectively, teachers must engage students in dialogue, skim their work, and draw conclusions that ultimately inform and CHANGE their instruction as necessary.

*      Student journals can be used to activate background knowledge, check for specific understandings, engage students in active reading, and push their thinking around essential questions.

*      Think, Ink, Pair, Share and Question requires students to reflect independently and capture their thoughts on paper. Next, students partner with others, share their work, question and challenge each other. This may evolve into a full-class discussion.

*      Free Write and Revise challenges students to respond critically to a piece of new learning within a given time frame by free writing. As learning continues, students are required to revisit, rethink, and revise their written understandings. They may then share their work in small or large group settings. Optionally, teachers may have them reflect on their thinking processes.

*      GIST Summaries require students to write about the central points of a lecture or a piece of text. These can be used as a “ticket out the door”, skimmed, and used as a check for basic understanding.

Strategy Two: Tap into Peers, Parents, and Authentic Audiences as Sources for Feedback

Teachers are not the only sources of feedback for students, and at times, they aren’t even the most appropriate sources. Training students to have an awareness of audience and to write authentically FOR that audience is vital. Seeking out members of that audience to provide feedback can be incredibly powerful.

Students who are trained to provide criterion-based feedback to their peers may strengthen their own understandings and processes as a result, and involving parents in the feedback process encourages a strong home-school connection while capitalizing on the opportunity to clarify your own expectations.

*      Collaborate with students in the construction of criterion-based rubrics.

*      Train students around true peer-review processes.

*      Identify individual student strengths and require them to rely upon their exclusive use when coaching their peers.

*      Before peer editing, survey students to determine their strengths as editors. Leverage these strengths by assigning them aligned editing tasks. Do not ask them to edit for things that they are weak in.

*      Train students to identify those components of their work that they desire the greatest feedback on. Expect them to frame their needs in the form of a question that can be addressed with depth AND efficiency. Refer to the rubric as a tool for prioritizing needs. Help them identify the members of their learning community who will be best able to help them.

Strategy Three: Require Self-Assessment

Cultivating metacognition requires teachers to engage students in reflective practice and self-assessment on a DAILY basis. Helping students realize that THEY are truly in charge of their learning means putting them in charge of defining their own needs, setting their own goals, monitoring their progress, and advocating for themselves.

*      Ask students to reflect on their progress and evaluate their performance PRIOR to receiving feedback from you or from anyone else. Remind them to use their rubric as a point of reference and clarity.

*      Require students to revise goals and create action plans as learning progresses.

*      Compare student self-evaluations to your own over time. Reflect together on whether or not your results compare and possibilities that explain this alignment or misalignment. Inform your practice as necessary.

Strategy Four: Refine Your Feedback Processes

It is very easy to veer off-course when providing verbal or written feedback to students. Use rubrics, checklists, and time limits to assist you and focus on leveraging student strengths to improve upon weaknesses. Streamline your process by considering the following strategies.

*      Spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes should be identified and corrected prior to submitting work through peer-review and peer-editing processes. If they show up on final copies, point them out in a manner that is least time consuming and require them to correct their errors before you will consider the work complete. Train students to rely upon all of the resources that they have at hand to correct errors: their peers, adults, reference materials, and online sources.

*      As students complete rough drafts, provide plenty of verbal feedback, opportunities for peer review and editing, and include the expectation that an additional adult will offer feedback as well. Consider editing rough drafts, if necessary, but require that the final copy attended to your feedback and corrections in order to receive credit.

*      Focus intensively and evaluate critically around ONE skill of import.

*      Rather than marking individual errors, track frequent errors made by full groups of students on a tracking sheet and attend to high-frequency errors by reteaching.

*      Set reasonable time limits for providing feedback. Commit to devoting no more than six minutes per essay, for instance.

Strategy Five: Stagger and Sample

It isn’t necessary for all students to complete the same assignments at the same time. Nor is it necessary for you to “grade” every recurring assessment that students complete.

*      If possible, stagger your curriculum. This ensures that your entire population isn’t completing the same lengthy assessment at the same time.

*      When using formative assessment, consider collecting data on a carefully constructed sample group. This group must be representative of your larger population in order to validly inform your work.

*      Rotate due dates for different groups.

*      Consider collecting a random sample of papers to grade.


When I was in the classroom, I taught five sections of English Language Arts in a grade-mandated environment. All students completed eight essays within one semester. They worked through all phases of the writing process in the development of these pieces, received various feedback from myself, peers, and parents, and they arrived to class with their completed copies on the assigned due date.

However, they knew that not ALL of them would be submitting their papers for a grade.

Rather, I collected TWO class periods’ worth of essays at a time to provide grades and  written feedback on. The other students self-assessed, received participation credit for completing their work, and their pieces were added to their portfolios. At the end of the quarter, students received grades on 4 out of 8 essays. If they had perfection participation grades, they were invited to submit another essay for credit, and this piece was averaged into their “essay average” to enhance their quarterly average.

This approach was accompanied by another. Any student who received less than the equivalent of a “B” on these pieces was required to revise their work. They were not able to do so, however, without conferring with me first and attending an extra help session. This prevented students from failing to invest themselves on the first draft intentionally, abusing the opportunity to rewrite simply because they planned poorly.

This process works well when purposeful feedback is provided through the writing process from a variety of sources, including the teacher. Much of this feedback can be provided verbally, and students can be expected to capture recommendations from those conversations by practicing good listening skills.

Perhaps the key to managing paper load is balance. It would seem that relying on one strategy alone or all of the strategies without intention can result in practices that contradict what we’ve learned about good instruction, meaningful assessment, and feedback that helps students grow.


The Center for Faculty Development. Handling the Paper Load. Retrieved 10 Sept. 2008 from

Mayberry, Bob. New Books on Handling the Paperload: When Research Contradicts Practice.Composition Studies.  Retrieved 10 Sept. 2008 from





  1. It is refreshing that the ownership/responsibility is shared with other\ students. I am a bit freaked out about “staggering curriculum” At first glance trhat strategy seems to create more work for the teacher, just as our current paper load does. AHHH! Also, what about feedback, will it come often enough?

  2. Lauren Alessi Reply

    I agree with the section on journaling. I begin most of my classes with short journal prompts, usually addressing the essential question of the day. This helps to activate students’ background knowledge or focus them in on the idea, topic, or issue we will be reading/duscussing in class that day. They also help students to begin class by refreshing their memories from last class.

  3. Michele VanIderstine Reply

    The idea of grading for one area of focus at a time lends itself nicely to the 6+1 traits. It’s important that our students self-assess in 8th grade in order to give them the tools necessary to be successful writers as they move on to high school. Our learners need to be able to identify their own strengths and areas for improvement if they are ever going to be independent of the teacher. While I will forever be skeptical of ELA teachers having a light grading load, the rubrics and peer-evaluation processes do seem to help. I look forward to trying some of these strategies and seeing if it really is possible to shift the way I assess and provide feedback to a more efficient (and less time consuming!) process.

  4. Lauren Alessi Reply

    I agree with the section on journaling. I begin most of my classes with a journal prompt as my students enter the room. This prompt poses either the essential question being addressed, asking students to connect to an event or issue, or activate their backgroung knowledge on a topic. This helps to focus them in on a reading or writing topic. It is also a great way to help students illustrate changed preceptions over the course of a unit.

  5. Angela Reply

    I think you may have actually staggered your curriculum for different purposes at one point–teachers sometimes do this when resources are short. In these cases, you may be exploring a particular text or set of texts with one class while another is doing something different. This influences the work that they are engaged in and paper load as well. Feedback might actually be provided in a more timely fashion if your “heaviest” paper load is coming from one or two class periods rather than all four or five at the same time. That said, if the idea of this overwhelms you, how might some of the other strategies be useful?

    Your use of EQ as a journal prompt nicely supports everything we’ve been discussing around teaching with EQs rather than merely writing them. Using a similar approach at the end of class as a ticket out the door can be revealing too.

    As I was planning for our day, the Traits automatically came to mind. I think focusing on one element allows us to teach around with greater depth too. Good points.

  6. When planning our lesson we began discussing the difference between feedback and evaluation. In the article from “Academic Leadership online journal” Vol 4 Issue 4 ” Providing Students with Effective Feedback”, one section compares feedback and evaluation. It describes evaluation as placing a value- a grade to one’s work whereas feedback is “value-neutral”. It describes what was done and not done. It is objective and descriptive about the learning goals. I think that often the two are interchanged in our minds and students’ minds possibly restricting their growth in learning. I wonder how we can distinguish to our students the usefulness of feedback. Also if effective feedback is provided, is grading necessary?

  7. Brandee Hernik Reply

    I like the idea of having the students edit for spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes before they peer edit. When we peer edit in class, or even assess for the 6 Traits, some students are solely focused on these “mechanical” things. This week when we evaluate our persuasive writing piece, I will ask for each student to come with a draft already edited for these things. My question is, how astute will the kids be? I will encourage them to seek someone to review their piece for these things, but will they do this?

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