It’s already difficult to keep writing while you are teaching and doing all the other things that need to be done in the main part of the academic year. You probably look forward to the end of teaching as an opportunity to devote more time to it. But then you have all the end of semester grading to do…
Although you probably assign work to students throughout the semester, there is likely to be some kind of end of semester assessment that needs grading to a tight institutional deadline. It might be an exam (the date of which you don’t control), an essay, or something else. The period between the last week of teaching and the date you need to submit semester grades is what I’m referring to as “grading season“.
The question is, can you write in grading season? Or, do you defer your hoped for writing time until you’ve finished?
Grading is a priority but does it need all your time?
For this few weeks every semester, grading is one of your top priorities. You’ll have grading for every course you teach come in during a short period. You may also have other work being submitted that you granted extensions on earlier in the semester. Even if you have TA support, you still need to moderate their grading and engage in other related work. You have a hard institutional deadline for submitting grades. While the time you used to spend in the classroom is now available for this work, you may also feel the pressure to prepare your teaching for next semester.
Many people find it very difficult to find and protect time for anything else. You may think it’s impossible to keep writing during grading season, even if you have writing deadlines. I’ve written more about why it’s okay to make that time anyway in When Priorities and Boundaries Feel Like Cutting Corners.
In this post I want to challenge the assumption that you have less time for writing, or that you have to devote all the time available to your grading.
Writing and grading as complementary.
One April, I noticed that at least one person (let’s call her Christine) was coming to A Meeting With Your Writing more often once classes had finished at her Canadian university. Instead of once a week, she started coming both Monday and Thursday. I asked her how she does it. Christine recognized that she can only grade so many essays before she is exhausted. She limits the amount of time she spends grading essays each day and makes time for writing.
By limiting the amount of time she spends on grading, Christine is able to give her best grading self to that task. The time she is devoting to writing is time that would not be well spent grading. She’s not compromising the quality of her teaching – but optimizing it.
I also suspect that devoting time to writing may even energize and rejuvenate her. I don’t know many people who enjoy grading. Doing a lot of it to a tight deadline can be demoralizing and stressful. Switching between a stressful task and one that you find more meaningful (and possibly enjoyable) is a good way to manage your energy.
You may still find that having the grading “hanging over you“, as another Studio member put it once, is distracting. I’ve talked about how to manage that kind of distraction in Writing and Focus in Grading Season.
What might work for you?
To decide whether you can combine grading and writing during this period, you need to look at the specifics.
- What kind of grading do you have?
- What do you know about your daily grading capacity for each type?
- How much of each type of grading is there?
- When is your hard institutional deadline?
The answers to these questions will enable you to figure out what your optimum amount of grading each day is. I suggest you figure this out without considering what else you might do with your time. You’re looking at the energy and cognitive capacity required to do the grading well.
You can then consider how much you need to adjust that to make your institutional deadline for submitting grades. You have choices here. Do you do more grading each day, knowing the quality and possibly the amount you can do in an hour, will go down the more you do? Or do you make decisions now about how you do the grading given the time constraint, your cognitive capacity, and your general energy level? (See When priorities and boundaries feel like cutting corners: Grading Edition and So tired you could cry? Enable Low Power Mode for ideas on how to do that.)
Now that you’ve worked out how much grading you can do in a day, and have a sense of what kind of cognitive capacity that’s going to require, you need to look at the specifics of your writing.
- What projects are on your radar?
- What kinds of work do they need to move them forward?
- What do you know about your focus when you do those types of writing work?
Something might jump out at you as a good complement for the kind of grading work you need to do. Think about how you want to organize your days to accommodate the grading and the writing.
- Do you want to write something meaningful and intellectually engaging first and then go do some grading?
- Do you want to get some grading out of the way first, then turn to your writing?
- Can you alternate between writing and grading, perhaps giving yourself 90 minutes on each with a break for a short walk or yoga practice in between, and a proper break for lunch midday?
- Or do you want to divide the day so one part is focused on writing and the other on grading?
I do not recommend setting product based goals for your writing. Your goal is to write for a certain amount of time each day. Your project will move forward. It may also energize you or intellectually engage you, in ways the grading does not.
Just because you are making time for both, doesn’t mean that time needs to be equal. You could give more time to one than the other. You might also want to work shorter days as a way to prioritize rest.
This post has been added to one of my themed Spotlights all about Grading Season. Click for the introduction and all associated posts.
Juggling 101: elements of a good plan has more on priorities, boundaries, and planning for multiple tasks
Start By Noticing says more about tasks that are energizing or draining
This post was originally published in May 2015. It has been substantially revised.