Do Student Papers Breed in Your Briefcase? 4 Methods of Managing the Paper Load

Do Student Papers Breed in Your Briefcase? 4 Methods of Managing the Paper Load

Stacia Levy
by Stacia Levy 4,414 views |

Papers tend to pile up when you’re a teacher.

This is especially true for the English teacher or other teachers in the habit of assigning multipage essays throughout the term. Just when you’ve finished one stack, another one appears. (I used to swear they bred in my briefcase.) This can not only be a challenge for the teacher in keeping up the paper turn-around, but also a problem for the students as they wait for the feedback on their papers. It can also be hazardous to the teacher’s health, as she sits up late grading. Still, teachers want to give thorough feedback to help students improve their writing. So what are some methods of managing the paper load, while maintaining your health and still giving students useful comments on their work?

4 Reasons for the “Breeding” of Student Papers

  1. 1


    The first most obvious reason student papers tend to pile up is simple overload: if an instructor is teaching multiple composition classes in one semester, each class with approximately 30 students, this will result in hundred of papers to mark within a month, a daunting task for any instructor.

  2. 2

    Level of Difficulty/Time of Turn-Around

    Another reason for the way student papers can quickly snowball is the time it takes to return papers to students: if an instructor is taking more than a week with a set of papers, the work can quickly pile up as other sets of papers come while the instructor is still marking the first group.

    The turn-around time also relates directly to the level of difficulty in marking papers. The longer papers are not necessarily more difficult to grade. Rather, shorter, poorly-written papers can take much more time as the instructor tries to find her way through butchered syntax, rambling organization, and faulty logic. Both number of papers and difficulty in grading them relate to paper load.

  3. 3

    Procrastination and Poor Time Management

    An issue related to this paper load is procrastination. It’s a universal tendency to put off a task that seems overwhelming, and instructors are no different in this matter. Sometimes indeed the instructor may not even know how to even get started with the process if the task of reading the mountain of papers is daunting enough.

  4. 4

    Lack of Grading System or Method

    A final issue connected to procrastination is the lack of a system for grading. Again, the task can seem overwhelming if there is no plan for how to approach that heap of papers on the desk or on the desktop, and therefore it becomes difficult to approach and execute the task.

7 Methods for Managing Student Paper Work Load

  1. 1

    Consider Assigning More and Smaller Assignments

    This makes more pedagogical as well as assessment sense. Not only is a two-page reflection on the reading easier to read and score than a ten-page paper with citations, it develops writing skills more to write simpler and more frequent assignments than one or two huge papers in a semester. It is also better for the students’ grades and anxiety levels if there are numerous chances for success through a variety of frequent small assignments rather than a couple of huge papers that, if executed poorly, may result in a failing grade.

  2. 2

    Early Rise

    Start early—the day students turn papers in, in fact. Otherwise, it’s too easy to procrastinate, forget what the paper topic was, and lose a sense for the steps in the process.

  3. 3

    Transparent  Grading

    Develop a rubric or standard method for assigning grades. If there is a standard rubric with the criteria clearly laid out, then the instructor need only glance down the list of qualities needed for an “excellent,” “average,” or “below average” paper to get an initial sense of what the paper’s grade should be.

  4. 4

    Develop Standard Comments

    Some computer programs, like, even have a system with standard comments already loaded and ability to create your own that can be posted on students’ work with a click of the mouse. These standard comments might note both positive feedback such as “good transition” as well as editing errors, such as “v.t.” for “verb tense error.”

  5. 5

    Set a Limit on the Number of “Passes”

    One general read for more global concerns and then a finer line edit read seems reasonable. This limits repeated going back and reading and rereading in an effort to construct meaning or catch every error—in any case, if a paper is forcing so many additional reads, it’s a clear sign that the paper is probably not a passing paper.

  6. 6

    Set a Limit on the Number of Comments

    Some student papers have multiple problems in every line. It’s impractical for the teacher to mark every one and of limited use for the student, who can only process or revise so much without becoming overwhelmed. Remember the students’ goal is to improve their writing, not to publish, and writing can only be improved incrementally. Picking out several global areas to work on per paper is probably most appropriate

  7. 7

    Set the Timer

    If the teacher has 30 students per class, and three composition classes, that is nearly a hundred students. If students turn in a paper each week, clearly a half an hour cannot be spend on each paper. Limiting yourself to 10 minutes per paper seems more manageable although still a lot of time.

There are a number of reasons that student papers can pile up and snow ball over an instructor, most often related to the difficulty and size of the task as well as the instructor’s own time management skills. But by both setting limits in the number of papers and the time spent on them, as well as developing skills in marking and grading papers, the instructor can prevent the deluge effect related to a massive number of student papers.

How do you prevent student papers from breeding in your briefcase?

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