Comments on Commenting on Papers

On the lower east side of Paragraph City is a tunnel under the river to the Community College English blog, where I found a set of questions about grading papers. The questions come from Michelle Perry via Julie Meloni, who writes No Fancy Name ( Here are the questions: Michelle is gathering responses for her San Jose State comp theory class. A few of them have prodded some thinking, so more on that later.

  1. How many years have you been teaching?
  2. During those years has your grading system or method changed? If so, how?
  3. How would you describe your current grading/feedback system on composition papers? Comments? Grammar? Endnotes?
  4. How many papers do you grade per semester on average?
  5. How much time to you spend, on average, grading each paper? (If your time grading varies depending on the type of essay please provide examples)
  6.  Does your grading method on papers differ based on the type of essay presented? Descriptive vs. analytical or Final version vs. Draft? If so, how?
  7. How do your students react to the type of grading/commentary you provide on their papers? (please provide specific examples if possible)
  8. In your opinion, how does your grading process affect your student’s writing? Do you see improvements? Are these improvements consistent?
  9. If you had more time and a lighter teaching load would you change your grading style? If so, how?

Anyone wanting to yak on these some can zip over to No Fancy Name or email Michelle Perry directly

Number 3 is the meat of the issue, 7 is the gristle, and 8 is the great mystery of the gods we sacrifice numbers 3 and 7 to. So I will write on those in a later post. The quick stuff now. I’ve been teaching at Jamestown Community College for 30 years, and grading is an on-going experiment that is always changing, though sometimes only at the molecular level. Depending on the course load, I will grade from a 300 to 500 or more papers a semester. And it’s better to not know this, so I’m forgetting it immediately.

I spend from five minutes to a half hour per paper, because naturally papers come in all different lengths and degrees of complexity. Let’s say fifteen minutes is the most common time commitment. Given a lighter teaching load, I might extend my comments some, but probably not much. A student can get overloaded with feedback; it’s best to address the most important items and let them clearly stand out head and shoulders above the rest, both good news and bad.


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