Posts Tagged ‘computer grading’

How to Save Time Grading Essays

Canned Essay e-Comments

Essay e-Comments

Good teachers learn to work smarter not harder. We also learn how to prioritize our time, especially in terms of managing the paper load. Most of us would agree that we need to focus more of our time on planning and teaching, rather than on correcting. Here’s one resource to help you save time grading essays, while providing better essay response.

No, this is not an automatic grading program. If you’ve tried a few of these, you already have learned that while computers may do a nice job driving our cars, they don’t do as well grading student essays. Instead, the essay e-comments app is simply a “canned” comment bank which teachers use “as is” or choose to modify to stop wasting time writing the same comments over and over again. Plus, instead of just identifying the writing issue, each Essay e-Comment teaches students how to revise the problem.

If you’re committed to providing detailed comments to help your students improve their writing, but find yourself spending more than five minutes per essay, this app’s for you!

Here’s How the Essay e-Comments App Works

Download the FREE Essay e-Comments App (provided at the end of this article) to automatically add the 438 formatted comments to your Microsoft Word® Autocorrects. Sorry, Mac users, this app won’t work for you. Students write their essays in Microsoft Word® or in Google Docs and share to your Google Drive. Next, batch convert the essays to Word Docs to use the Essay e-Comments and then upload back into Google Docs for students to revise. The Essay e-Comments appear in the Google Docs comment bubbles perfectly formatted (except for the color) and can even include links. It’s easy and takes only seconds to do. Need help? This video shows you how.

Let’s See an Example

Let’s say you’ve been encouraging your students to use more vivid verbs in their writing. Your students are using too many “to be” verbs, so you’ve been teaching them How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs in Writing. In Tommy’s essay, he uses eight “to be” verbs in one short paragraph. Yikes! Simply highlight a section of Tommy’s text, right click to “New Comment”, type in e80. That’s the alphanumeric code for this comment. Look at what automatically pops up into a comment bubble in the margin or the reviewing pane if you prefer:

Revise: Too Many “to-be” Verbs Consider limiting use of is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been to one per paragraph. To replace “to be verbs” 1. Substitute a more active verb or 2. Begin the sentence with another word from the sentence or 3. Change one of the words in the sentence into a verb form.

Notice how the comment both identifies the problem and provides suggestions for the solution. Now that’s effective essay response!

I’ve developed 438 of these e-comments for these categories of essay response: 1. Essay Organization and Development (Introduction, Body, and Conclusion) 2. Coherence, Word Choice, Sentence Variety, and Writing Style 3. Format and Citations 4. Sentence Structure and Types of Sentences 5. Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics 6. Conventional Spelling Rules.

Can I Add My Own Comments (and Links) to the Essay e-Comments Bank?

Absolutely. You can also revise my comments to use the essay terms you prefer. Here’s how: How to Add in e-Comments to Microsoft Word Autocorrects. Each Autocorrects entry accepts a maximum of 255 characters if you type them in; however, if you copy and paste comments (including links ) and click “Formatted text” radio button, you can exceed that limit.

Before You Download the FREE Essay e-Comments App

  1. Windows Defender may pop up with a scary warning not to proceed. Click “More Info” and “Run Anyway.” The file has no viruses; it simply adds to your Microsoft Word® Autocorrects. Also, your school network settings may block your access. If so, you have two options: Download the app on your personal PC desktop or laptop or cut and paste the Essay e-Comments into Microsoft Word® Autocorrects on your school computer. I’ve done both to cope with my school district’s administrative network settings. It takes about an hour to cut and paste in all 438 comments. Yes, I’m an ELA teacher just like you! Important to note because the comments include the language of instruction found in the Common Core State Standards…

    Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

    Teaching Essay Strategies

  2. If you want the resource links and lessons which connect to these Essay e-Comments, purchase my comprehensive Teaching Essay Strategies program. The program includes 42 essay strategy worksheets, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 Common Core State Standard informative/explanatory and 4 Common Core State Standard persuasive), 64  sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, editing resources, and, of course, the Essay e-Comments App.

    Essay e-Comments

    The Pennington Manual of Style

  3. If you don’t need the resource links and lessons, but want the full version of all 438 Essay e-Comments and the Quick Reference Guide (also included in Teaching Essay Strategies) to be able to copy and paste, as well as revise with your own essay terminology, purchase The Pennington Manual of Style.
  4. If you don’t want to purchase either program, you should download the Quick Reference Guide to be able to easily copy and paste selected Essay e-Comments and their alphanumeric codes to create a specific cheat sheet for an essay response (a smart idea, because you probably won’t use all 438 comments for any one essay :)). I’ll send this file to your email.


Get the Quick Reference Guide FREE Resource:

FREE Essay e-Comments App Download

As a reader of the Pennington Publishing Blog, I want to you have this app absolutely free. Download the Essay e-Comments App: to start working smarter, not harder with your essay response and grading. Make sure to watch the Essay e-Comments video to see and hear exactly how to get the most out of the Essay e-Comments App. Oh, and forward this article to a colleague.

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Essay Comment Excuses

Many teachers take a great deal of personal pride in their essay comments. A community college colleague of mine made a life-long practice and ritual of grading his freshman composition papers every morning from 6:00-8:00 a.m. He provided extensive feedback and his students appreciated his dedication to developing their writing craft.

Now, I realize that I have lost a number of my readers after that opening paragraph. When we hear about such examples, we feel a mixture of aspiration and guilt. We want to have a similar impact on our students. Teachers are idealists. We want to make a difference in the lives of our students, and we believe that reading and writing are key ingredients to living a meaningful and productive life. However, most of us fail to measure up to our own expectations. Guilt sets in. No one likes guilt, so we conjure up essay comment excuses.

Excuses to Avoid Writing Essay Comments

I would, buts.

  • I would, but I already work a 60 hour week. That community college professor described above teaches fewer classes and does not have adjunct duties such as dances, football games, etc.
  • I would, but “they” cut my teaching days/salary.
  • I would, but my colleagues don’t have the same commitment as I do, so I follow their lead. We sometimes do read-arounds, so I have to grade as they do so as not to spoil their objectivity.


  • My students don’t/won’t read my essay comments anyway. They glance at the grade, skim the comments, and trash their papers.
  • I use a holistic rubric or a 6 Traits +1 matrix so my students get a general feel for what they did well and what they need to work on. More detailed comments might draw students away from the “big picture.”
  • I have to grade the way students will be tested. Their standardized test uses a four-point rubric with no comments. Teaching has become test-prep.

Working Smarter, Not Harder

Let’s face it. We’ve all used one or more of those excuses to avoid the hard work of commenting on student papers. But we know that specific comments are the keys to writing improvement. Commenting throughout the writing process is simply a necessary component of effective writing instruction. We know that essay comment excuses are just that-excuses. Please comment on this post to add on more. I’ve just given you the excuses I’ve personally used over the years.

So, how can we do a great job with essay response and still maintain some semblance of a life outside of work? Canned comments. Ones to cut and paste from your computer. But… really good ones. Prescriptive ones that that define the writing issues and provide examples… Ones that target specific writing style, grammar, usage, organization, evidence, spelling… everything. Ones that you choose and are not chosen for you by some automatic grading program. Ones that you can easily personalize and are truly authentic. Ones that allow you to insert links for content references or even writing practice. Ones that allow you to differentiate instruction. Ones that students will have to read and respond to… Ones that will save teachers time.

My professor colleague came up with 438 such essay e-comments. You can use them to grade online or paper submissions. The comments are included in a style manual for you and your students-sort of an interactive Strunk and White.

I’m the professor. I’m now teaching English-language arts to seventh graders. With these canned comments, I now grade from 7:00-8:00 a.m. and I do a much better job interacting with my students throughout the writing process than when I was spending two hours per day hand-writing the same comments over and over again.

For those teachers interested in saving time and doing a more thorough job of essay response and grading, purchase The Pennington Manual of StyleThis style manual serves as a wonderful writer’s reference guide with all of the writing tips from the author’s comprehensive essay writing curriculum: Teaching Essay Strategies. Note: The Pennington Manual of Style is included in the Teaching Essay Strategies curriculum.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies


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Why Using Essay e-Comments Makes Sense

Good teachers know that students need detailed, prescriptive, and personal comments on their essays throughout the writing process to make significant improvement. However, the process can be time-consuming and frustrating. It would not be unusual for a teacher to spend 15 minutes to red-mark and write comments on the rough draft of a five-paragraph essay, then repeat the process to evaluate the final draft. Even with that significant amount of time, comments would have to be concise and rely upon abbreviations and diacritical marks. The focus has to be limited to identifying what is wrong, not explaining why it is wrong. No time for examples or suggestions as to how to improve the writing. Maybe a quick positive comment. Exhausting!

Additionally, frustration mounts as the teacher has to write the same comments over and over again throughout a stack of student papers. Only to be exacerbated when, after receiving their graded essays, students simply glance at their final grades before cramming the essay into the bottom of their backpacks. There has got to be a better way… Read more…

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How to Add Essay e-Comments to Your Computer

Ever feel like a talking stuffed animal? Pull the cord and get one of thirty pre-recorded comments: “Needs more evidence.” “Your thesis statement does not respond to the prompt.” “Subject-verb agreement problem.” Instead of talking stuffed animals, teachers use their favorite red pens. Every teacher of writing knows what I’m talking about. The common student writing errors…

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if teachers could type and save their commonly-used “canned” writing comments to automatically insert into student essays without all the bother of copying and pasting? What a time-saver this would be! It’s easily done and you have the tools you need right on your desktop or laptop in Microsoft Word®. Plus, you don’t have to be a computer programmer to get the job done. Read more…

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How to Use the Computer to Grade Essays

Thought I’d share how I started using computers to grade essays and offer fellow teachers a great resource to provide better essay response and cut grading time by half. Years ago I played around with the Insert Comments feature of Microsoft Word® and learned how to put in and format the bubble comments. I started using these comments to respond to and grade student writing submitted by email. At first, I only assigned a holistic rubric score, made a few comments, and patted myself on the back for learning how to insert audio files for brief summary responses. Students loved this paperless process. Read more…

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Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences

With Writer’s Workshop, teachers typically organize a one-hour workshop so that at least half of the time is devoted to writing, peer conferences, and writer-teacher mini-conferences. Properly managed, the writer-teacher mini-conference can be a key ingredient to the success of developing writers.

Here are some tips to make the most out of Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences and some great attachments, links, and free downloads as well. Make sure to pass along this article to one of your favorite colleagues or your department.

Writer-Teacher Mini-Conference Procedures

  • Not every student needs to be seen every day. Use a Status of the Class chart to plan conferences in advance.
  • Walk the room to complete your planned mini-conferences and supervise student behavior. Briefly eavesdrop on any peer conferences as you circulate.
  • Make students responsible for completing the Status of the Class. Students can certainly x-off the box below their names on the Status of the Class chart after they complete their mini-conference. Some teachers use pocket charts labeled with the stages of the writing process (brainstorming, pre-writing, drafting, peer response, revision, editing, publishing) and students are responsible for placing name cards in the pocket that matches the stage where they are working that day.
  • Keep mini-conferences brief. More frequent conferences tend to work better than less frequent conferences, so shorter conference times mean that the teacher will be able to meet with students more often.
  • Establish a focus for your mini-conferences. Traditional Writer’s Workshop devotees favor a student-centered inquiry approach, asking thought-provoking questions such as What are you working on? Can you read me some of what you’ve got? How do you think your writing is going? Can you read me some of what you’ve got? How can I help? These are all fine, but I tend to be more directive, so I announce to the class at the beginning of Writer’s Workshop “I will be focusing my conferences on _________ today, so be prepared to discuss this focus and share a writing sample that reflects this focus in our conference.” The daily focus could be any step of the writing process or any of the 6 Traits of Writing. Often, I tie the focus of the mini-conference into the focus of a recent mini-lesson to get more bang for my teaching and coaching bucks.
  • Establish a system of accountability for your conferences. Let students know that you have high expectations of them. I award participation points for my mini-conferences.
  • Allot some of your mini-conference time each day for students to ask you questions and get your coaching feedback on issues of their own writing. During this time, I sit at my desk and students line up with their writing in hand. Tell your students that only three students can be in line at one time for a student-teacher writing conference. You want students to spend most of their time writing, not waiting in line. Sometimes having writing down the students’ names on the board or a “take a number” system is a good way to manage a conference order and keep the students on-task.
  • Some Writer’s Workshop teachers do not write on student papers; I do. To be efficient (and train students for higher education), I teach students the common editing marks. Download my set of Writing Posters (which include these editing marks), if you wish. I do suggest marking only a few mechanics (punctuation and capitalization) and spelling issues per visit.
  • Verbally explain any content, structure, or grammatical problems. If there are such errors, mark a ain front of the sentence and send the student back to revise.
  • Differentiate instruction. If the focus of your mini-conferences is using speaker tags and quotation marks in dialogue, and a dozen of your students need help, invite the group up to your whiteboard to teach these skills or assign targeted worksheets to be completed individually. Oftentimes, a class mini-lesson will not do the trick for every student, so group or individualized instruction certainly makes sense.
  • Use your school’s computer lab to complete mini-conferences. Computers are ideal for the social context of writing and work well with Writer’s Workshop mini-conferences. Have students submit their online for you and their peers to discuss. Submission options are numerous: Google Docs®, Turnitin®, Moodle Docs®, Viper®, Screencast®, a school network dropbox, or e-mail.
  1. Teachers can respond to their students’ writing during mini-conferences with text, hyperlinks, or audio files by using the comment bubbles feature of Microsoft Word®. For accountability, teachers can require their students to address each comment by using Microsoft Word® “Track Changes.” Students then re-submit revisions and edits for peer and/or teacher review. Just like real professional writers do with their editors!
  2. For those teachers interested in saving time and doing a more thorough job of essay response and grading, check out the The Pennington Manual of StyleThis style manual serves as a wonderful writer’s reference guide with all of the writing tips from the author’s comprehensive essay writing curriculum:  Teaching Essay Strategies. The style manual also includes a download of the 438 writing, grammar, mechanics, and spelling comments teachers use most often in essay response and grading. Placed in the Autocorrects function of Microsoft Word® 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013 (XP, Vista,  Windows 7, 8, and 10), teachers can access each comment with a simple mouse click to insert into online student essays or print/e-mail for paper submissions. Each comment identifies the error or writing issue, defines terms, and gives examples so that student writers are empowered to correct/revise on their own. This approach to essay comments produces significantly more accountability and transfer to subsequent writing. Inserting a comment on the student’s word document like the one in the example is simple. Just type an alphanumeric code, such as M1, and the comment magically appears!

The author of this article provides two curricular writing resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Both are appropriate to help teachers differentiate writing instruction for upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.

The first, Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets (perfect for mini-lessons) corresponding to the Common Core Writing Standards, the e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 Common Core Standard informative/explanatory and 4 Common Core Standard persuasive), 64 sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

The second, Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs, help students learn the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.


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