Tyll Zybura

Read. Think. Write.

5 Notes on time management

Tyll Zybura – 3 Nov 2017

Part 5 of the series on appreciate responses to student writing. Appreciative responses are not more time consuming than other forms of feedback, if the lecturer sets certain priorities.

Writing these kinds of responses seems like it would take a lot of time, but I found it quite doable by effectively managing the time I spend on it and – as always – prioritizing.

First of all, I read the late-stage drafts I receive in one go without a pen so that I am not tempted to leave reactive remarks or corrections in the margin, which have little use for students in a draft stage (‘grader droppings’). What I read for is the scholarly communication of ideas, i.e. the time I spend thinking about the paper while reading is spent on understanding how the research question is tackled and how the argument is constructed to support the thesis. Simply refusing to read for mistakes and insufficiencies (while still registering them in passing as a lower-order concern) makes reading student papers easier, faster, and actually – interesting, because it automatically becomes more than an object of evaluation. 1

With this reading stance, I need no more than 15 minutes to read a ten page paper. I then quickly go through my assessment rubric, tick boxes and make preliminary draft comments before I type up my response according to the scheme presented in the previous sections, going back to the text as needed. This takes, at most, another 45 minutes. I do this with a clock, which forces me to economize and to prioritize what I want to say, and to simply let go of the need to be completist about my feedback.

With practice, I now manage to write about one to one-and-a-half A4 pages in complete sentences during this time – but I don’t think it really is about length: A response can be just one paragraph long and still fulfil the basic function of what I have outlined above, i.e. show my understanding of communicative intent, take the student seriously, provide a critique and suggestions for revision. To shorter five-page essays, I usually give a hand-written response in one paragraph, which (together with reading the essay) takes 20 minutes.

Also, as a general rule, the clearer my formal assessment criteria are to students, the less work I effectively have with checking for conformance: Investing a little time at the outset to clarify expectations, and handing them out to students, saves a lot of time at the end.


  1. Sometimes colleagues are bemused when I tell them that I don’t ‘correct’ papers because they think that we have a responsibility to teach students proper use of language. But I made the choice that my time is too precious to engage with students over English comma rules, word choices, or German L1 interference. In my responses I do point out their systematic mistakes (“don’t use contractions”, “look up comma rules”, “beware German interference”), but I don’t take responsibility away from them for finding and fixing their own mistakes. 


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