Grading tips for ADHD teachers

Grading makes me feel bad. When students don’t get it, it is too easy for me to get stuck thinking about how I should have communicated better. It’s the last time I want to give them discouraging feedback. Feeling bad is a problem when your ability to start tasks is tied to your dopamine processing. Then there’s the task itself: grading is usually repetitive, detail oriented, communicative, and subjective – all of which are big executive function challenges.

But I’ve been grading student research papers as a person with ADHD for more than 10 years. So even though I still have some big areas for growth, I’ve learned a few tricks that help me get through it. And since my Google search only turns up results for how to grade students with ADHD, and no grading resources at all for educators with ADHD, I thought I’d try and start the conversation.

Tip 1: Complain loudly

The “grin and bear it” approach to discomfort probably really works for some people, but for me, all it does is guarantee a slow crescendo of distraction until I can no longer even read the words on the screen. It is the discomfort itself that demands my attention.

But if I can text a friend, or whine in my alt social media accounts, or – best of all – announce aloud that this is actually the Worst Thing Ever, it now has the coveted position of my whole attention. Which means it is now subject to distraction itself. And since, of course, it is not really the worst thing ever, my attention is easily caught by all of the newer and more interesting things that are being communicated in the student essay I’m reading.

This may or may not work on the same principal as fork theory.

Tip 2: Time your tasks

Show me a person with ADHD, and I’ll show you a person who already knows this.

The Pomodoro Method is old reliable, but when I’ve got major grading tasks (like I usually do at the end of the year), I like to do a little more math estimating how long each grading event takes so that I can compete with myself. I think of it like the swim meets I did growing up. Intermix sprints and distance, but make sure you leave time to hear the cheers and get a breather between events. I gamify as much of my work as I can (and I love physical games).

The breaks of the Pomodoro method are great because they help disrupt the problem of diminishing marginal returns, but there’s nothing magic about 25 minutes. I find that disrupting mid-assignment is usually unhelpful – I just need to make sure I’m leaving enough time to be my own cheerleader.

Tip 3: Don’t grade in the Learning Management System

As a professor with ADHD, I’ve worked in Canvas, D2L, and Blackboard, and all of these have wonderful options for automation that everyone with executive function challenges should be maximizing. But sometimes even my super helpful grading rubrics in Canvas sometimes aren’t enough to get me on task.

If I’m worried that students are going to feel bad about their grade, sometimes it helps to open a separate document where I can privately write out my initial thoughts and assessments without the pressure of fearing my kneejerk reactions to a student’s heartfelt work will accidentally crush them. (I spend a lot of time thinking about the critical feedback I receive, and even though I realize my students may never even glance at my notes, my concern is a significant barrier to starting the task.) Iterating in a “draft” takes the pressure off needing to organizing the right words to say. Iterative notes also help with a weak working memory. Of course, I’d rather work in the Canvas Speedgrader, but sometimes it’s just not happening, and slow is infinitely better than paralysis.

If I’m overwhelmed by the scale of the task (“next up, 40 student papers”), I might switch to a more relational approach. I always allow students to submit work late, which means I’ve got a lot of random re-grading, so I will often go student by student (much fewer tasks, all delightfully different) rather than “batching.” Added bonus is that I feel much more connected to each student’s learning trajectory and will occasionally write a final email to that student as a reward (for myself) for finishing up with them.

Tip 4: Co-work

I used to grade in coffee shops, but since pandemic I often join Zoom co-working sessions. Check in at the beginning of the co-working, set check-in times and an end time.

When I have students who seem to have executive challenges (e.g., struggle to get work in on time), I will sometimes see if they are interested in being invited. I have hosted a few Zoom co-working sessions that are just me and some students. Mostly it helps with self-monitoring and self-control (ie., executive functions). In a pinch, I’ll co-work via text with a friend.

Tip 5: Prioritize your regular self-care

When the pressure is higher, it’s easier to drop the strategies you already know work well for you. For me, that’s moving my body (dancing to raucous music, walking the dog, attempting TikTok fitness challenges), meditating, and making sure to end your work day at a consistent time. Ice cream, alcohol, and all-nighters are pinch hitters who are always pushing for a chance at bat in stressful moments, but I do much better work if I can set times for the really helpful stuff at the start of every work session.

When my mood is already low, none of these strategies will turn me into the paragon of efficiency I’d love to be. In scenarios where paralysis looms, self-care builds momentum for valuing my own contributions (which is, at the end of the day, what my students need from me).

Tip 6: Stop writing random blogposts

But commenting on someone else’s random blogpost would be a great 5 minute break! Tell me what works for you!

5 thoughts on “Grading tips for ADHD teachers

  1. I think I can apply these tips to the task I put off the most running a small international charity— balancing the bank statements and ledgers. May sound nonrelational but actually it is as any missing expense notation connects to one of my on the ground team thousands of miles away in a different culture. Thanks for the tips!

  2. When you mentioned how searching for resources only turned up links for teaching students with ADHD, I thought, “Yes! Exactly! Why is that?” We absolutely need more resources for TEACHERS with ADHD. My biggest struggle is responding to emails and other messages in a timely manner. For some reason, even the idea of looking at them gives me paralysis, and I don’t really understand why. I’ll end up glancing at one, marking it as important, and then forgetting about it, if I open my email client at all.

    One thing that has helped me with both the email and other work-related tasks (when I can get myself to sit still and do it) is writing tasks on the tiny sticky notes and attaching them to the bottom of my monitor. Each type or category of task is separated by sticky note color, and each one has a limit on how many can be added to my monitor at once for that day. For example, class-related tasks might be in pink, while my creative endeavor goals are in yellow and my general life tasks are in blue. I try to keep a running list of things I think of in a Microsoft To-Do set of lists and pull from those lists when I am choosing the tasks for the sticky notes.

    • I forgot to include that when I finish a task, I can then take the sticky note off my monitor and place it face-down on my desk. The more tasks that are finished, the bigger the mini-pile grows, and it can be pretty satisfying to add another sticky to it!

  3. This post is amazing. I’m so glad you started the conversation for ADHD educators! Grading in a timely manner is one of my worst skills as an educator, and all of these tips are super relatable and helpful!!!

  4. I really appreciate seeing this. I’m a high school English teacher who struggles with grading work, and I have grades due every three weeks. I’m grateful for some new strategies to try so this stops…ruining my life? Joking. Kind of.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s