Keyboard Shortcuts for Grading Writing Assignments

We’ve made it to the end of the semester! Before you take a deep breath in anticipation of the onslaught of student essays you will receive over the next few days, I’d like to share with you a few tips and tricks for streamlining the grading process. Earlier in the year, I described how you could use podcasts to communicate with your students. In this entry, I will show you how just a few keyboard shortcuts can save you time and give your students more useful feedback on their writing assignments.

Within the last two years I have required students to electronically submit their writing. I had traditionally graded and annotated student papers in ink. However, in trying to minimize printing, I began requiring students to submit (via Blackboard) their essays. In so doing, invention became the mother of necessity. Students now can upload their documents in a .doc or .docx format, and I can grade them directly in Microsoft Word using keyboard shortcuts, which allow me to perform tasks without having to use the mouse and navigate menus and submenus. (The instructor can also grade directly in Blackboard, providing even more convenience. If you’ve experimented with that technique, please share your insights below!)

First, create an official assignment on the course’s Blackboard page: click Assessments (in a content tab from the far left menu) followed by Assignment (see below).

Creating Assignment on Blackboard

Students can upload their writing assignments to that location, where you can download all of them at once and eventually upload your subsequent graded and annotated document too. After you’ve downloaded your students’ essays, change the name of the document (click File -> Save As) so that you acknowledge that this is the one that contains your comments and corrections; e.g., change “Pat Smith COMM 264 Research Essay.doc” to “Pat Smith COMM 264 Research Essay GRADED.doc.”

After you have downloaded the student’s file and renamed it, click Tools -> Track Changes -> Highlight Changes

Highlight Changes

and activate all four options; by clicking “Track Changes While Editing,” Microsoft Word will keep track of all the edits and comments you make for the student to see. Once you have activated Track Changes, you are ready to grade and annotate the student’s essay.

I primarily use three shortcuts: highlight, strikethrough, and new comment, through which I can emphasize student errors, cross out superfluous words or phrases, and comment directly, quickly, and legibly on what the student has written.

To create these keyboard shortcuts, which fortunately you do not have to recreate every time you open up Word, click on Tools -> Customize Keyboard. Once that window opens up, scroll all the way down in the Categories section and click All Commands. In the Commands section of this window, find the word Highlight and assign a keyboard shortcut to it.

Highlight

You may want to use “Control” and “H” (for highlight), so that every time you want to highlight student’s text, you can use the cursor to select the passage in question and press Control and H simultaneously. Of course, you may wish to use a different combination of keys or even change the color of the highlighted text (my default color is yellow), which you can do by using the pull-down menu in the toolbar next to the italic and underline tools (see below).

Changing Highlighting Color

You can then create more keyboard shortcuts, such as Strikethrough. Again click Tools -> Customize Keyboard, select Categories -> All Commands, locate the Strikethrough option, and assign Control + S for Strikethrough.

Strikethrough

Do the same to Insert New Comment (I use Control + C), where you can write marginal comments for your students to read.

New Comment.

If you type faster than you write, this offers a great opportunity to provide useful feedback. Furthermore, this is a wonderful solution for those of us who have poor penmanship, so that students don’t waste time deciphering what we have scribbled on their pages.

Because you created an official assignment through Blackboard, you can avoid having to email each student his or her graded assignment. You simply click on Grade Center -> Full Grade Center -> Assignments and upload the “GRADED” file where you enter the student’s grade.
NOTE: Students probably cannot read your marginal comments in the Word document on their smartphones. You might wish to advise your students to download the graded document to a computer, where they can read what you have written.

Grading papers often feels like a challenging, neverending task. Keyboard shortcuts can help you to save time and offer more constructive criticism to your students. Do you grade essays electronically? If so, do you have any tips or tricks or shortcuts that you’d like to share? Have you used Blackboard’s new features that allow you to grade student essays directly in that program?

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2 responses to “Keyboard Shortcuts for Grading Writing Assignments

  1. I was thinking of going all-digital with paper submissions next semester. These tips will help. Thanks, Todd!

  2. Hey Todd, did you know that there is a document viewer and editor incorporated into Bb now that allows you to do almost all of this without having to download the documents? You can get to it by viewing the student submissions within the Grade Center, rather than doing an “assignment download.” If we can figure out keyboard shortcuts in this system, that would really speed things up.

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