REVIEW: The Graide Network

The old piles were paper with staples that snagged, red ink that annoyingly jumped from the margin of page one to just the edge of the page behind it.  The new piles are digital: lists of essays to score, paragraphs to mark up, a notification that appears on your device to tell you that you have 30 new items to grade.  It's like "You Got Mail!" from hell.

Google Classroom announces that your students are "done," so now it's time to digitally grade their work.

Google Classroom announces that your students are "done," so now it's time to digitally grade their work.

Like many high school English teachers, I often engage the complaint culture and express to my colleagues just how onerous grading and assessing student writing can be. We commiserate. We exaggerate. We go back to our "to do" holes.

Canvas wants you to know these items are STILL ungraded. 

Canvas wants you to know these items are STILL ungraded. 

We thought that going digital would make assessing and improving student writing faster and more efficient. This thinking, turns out, was wrong, at least for me.

As I sought ways to improve my feedback on student work, I tried everything: audio recordings of myself speaking as quickly as possible; Snagit screencasts of my play-by-play essay reading; annotations in Google Docs; narrative responses sent through email; rubrics uploaded to Turnitin; paper and pen.

And then something happened.

At ISTE 2016, I met one of the co-founders of The Graide Network, which "connect[s] middle and high school teachers with qualified teaching assistants to grade and provide feedback on student work." This semester I was determined to pilot their service in my AP English Language & Composition classes. I teach two sections.

The Graide Network teacher dashboard.

The Graide Network teacher dashboard.

When the service launched in September, I posted to The Graide Network an assignment for two periods of English: an upcoming 40-minute rhetorical analysis essay based on a prompt from a previous College Board administration of the AP exam. I uploaded the prompt, the rubric, essays already scored by the College Board with score rationales, and my notes to the Graiders ("Please spend 5 minutes on each essay, note two areas of strength and two areas for improvement"). The Graide Network offers packages of 20, 50, and 100 hours that could be distributed, for example, among members of an English Department. I figured this first double-set of essays would take around 5 hours or so. It did.

The Graide Network allows a teacher to post an assignment, provide explanatory context and protocols for grading (including rubrics and points of interest), and specify the amount of time the Graider should spend on each student work. Here I asked the Graiders to use the College Board 9-pt. scale to evaluate a 40-minute timed rhetorical analysis essay.

The Graide Network allows a teacher to post an assignment, provide explanatory context and protocols for grading (including rubrics and points of interest), and specify the amount of time the Graider should spend on each student work. Here I asked the Graiders to use the College Board 9-pt. scale to evaluate a 40-minute timed rhetorical analysis essay.

The Graiders, undergraduate students who might read and evaluate my students' work, post mini-resumes, so you can seek a Graider who is interested in becoming a teacher in your content area.  The Graide Network can also use its matching formula to pair you off with a Graider, too. Within a day or two, I was matched with a Graider for each section of my course.  Five minutes. Two positives. Two negatives. By Tuesday, please and thank you.

My notes and instructions for the Graider along with supporting documentation.

My notes and instructions for the Graider along with supporting documentation.

On a Thursday, my students handwrote essay responses to the prompt. That afternoon the copy center took each stack of essays and scanned them into single PDFs. I uploaded these PDFs on a Thursday afternoon. By Monday morning, I had reports from my two Graiders that were astonishing in detail, accuracy, and care for my students. One Graider generated a Google Sheets report in which each student had a dedicated tab of feedback. 

The Graider's macro comments on the entire class helped guide my future direct instruction.

The Graider's macro comments on the entire class helped guide my future direct instruction.

This view allowed me to quickly scroll through student performance and the Graiders' individual comments.

This view allowed me to quickly scroll through student performance and the Graiders' individual comments.

This invidual student report could be easily printed and distributed to the writer. I attached this to the handwritten essay and returned it to the writer just two class periods after he wrote it.

This invidual student report could be easily printed and distributed to the writer. I attached this to the handwritten essay and returned it to the writer just two class periods after he wrote it.

The other Graider wrote 25 invididual letters to my students. The effect here was intimate and direct. Narrative feedback shows care for each writer's development.

This Graider began with statistics and then introduced some trends across all student writers.

This Graider began with statistics and then introduced some trends across all student writers.

Here is one letter my student received. I anonymize essays using student IDs for student privacy.

The individual letters of feedback lead to silence in the room while students entered into a moment of introspection while reading the specific and actionable feedback from the Graider.

The individual letters of feedback lead to silence in the room while students entered into a moment of introspection while reading the specific and actionable feedback from the Graider.

REVIEW: My first experience with The Graide Network was very positive.  The feedback was of high quality; it matched my expectations and specifications; it was way more timely than I have ever been with feedback on writing; and it showed my students how many people are invested in the shared mission of education.

My plan is to use The Graide Network once per quarter for two AP sections. I may run out of my 20 hours of allotted time, but the money in my view is well spent. Students can write more and receive more (and varied) feedback, and I can spend a bit more time planning great lessons. The Graide Network is no panacea for the great woes that overflow the English teacher's digital tote bag, but it provides another layer of feedback and some relief from that grading grind.