Reduce grading. Save your sanity! Just take two simple steps. First, grade strategically. Second, assign less. Save time and do what you were meant to do – teach!
Poor Ms. Sneed!
Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, was sitting home on Saturday night. What was she doing? Grading papers! Unfortunately, she toted a stack of assignments home on Friday night – three inches thick.
As she flipped through the kids’ worksheets on possessive nouns, Ms. Sneed groaned. Just then, she noticed a text from her teacher friend, Ms. Ivers.
Ms. Ivers: Whatcha doing? Wanna go out?
Ms. Sneed: Can’t. Grading.
Ms. Ivers: What? Coming over.
Tip #1: Reduce Grading Strategically
Ms. Ivers didn’t live far away. When she arrived, she sat down next to Ms. Sneed and grabbed the stack of papers. “Here. Let me help you with these.”
“But —” stammered Ms. Sneed. Too late. Ms. Ivers was already separating the papers into stacks.
“Let’s see. Practice worksheets and more practice worksheets. These you can grade together. If you want to take a grade, you can collect them afterward.”
“But what if they cheat?” asked Ms. Sneed.
“Ha!” replied her friend. “Some probably will. But what do you care? You gave the paper to them to practice. And they did that. Then you went over it in class for an extra layer of reinforcement. Sounds like learning to me. If they cheat, they’re just cheating themselves. And it’s just one more reason not to record a grade. Seriously, a few representative grades are all you need. It’s time to reduce grading.”
Help Is On Its Way
Ms. Ivers pulled a folded sheet of paper from her purse. “Here, I got this at a workshop. I think you need it more than me.”
Ms. Sneed unfolded a flyer:
“This flyer doesn’t list everything, but it helps,” said Ms. Ivers. “The speaker explained how to reduce grading:
- Do not check – Don’t even look at it. The teacher doesn’t have to see everything. I don’t look at first drafts of student writing anymore either.
- Check – For these assignments, you don’t need to take a formal grade. You may just eyeball it. Or maybe you’ll decide to give a participation grade. Will you make note of it? Yes. But it’s more like plus-check-minus or a scale of five simple points. This stuff helps you keep your finger on the pulse of the class – and each individual student.
- Check in class – Huge time-saver here! Grade together, like we just discussed.
- Self-check – Kids can use a rubric, brief checklist, or even an answer key. (I just tape the answer key up on the wall. When they finish, they walk up, check it, and record their scores on a sheet I provide.)
- Use rubric – This is formal grading. The criteria clarify why the student received a certain amount of points. Sometimes you can simplify the rubric too. Here’s how. Choose four or five specific criteria. Give each student ten points, then subtract one point for each criterion that’s missing.
- Grade – Whenever it’s an indication of whether a student has mastered a standard – something they’re doing after they’ve practiced – you should take a formal grade.”
As Ms. Ivers talked, she finished sorting the stack of papers. “Oh look! Only one assessment. Why don’t you get those graded? Then we can go out!”
Maintaining Accountability and Parent Communication
As Ms. Sneed began grading the math test, Ms. Ivers chattered away. “Attending that workshop really helped me with my grading. You know what the presenter said? Let learning guide you. In other words, focus on learning instead of accountability. When we check together – or kids check their own work – I know they’re learning more than if I graded it myself.”
“I still think kids need to be held accountable,” countered Ms. Sneed.
“Sure they do; that’s why you check certain assignments. When I quit grading so much, I started walking around a lot more. Now, as students work, I visit every desk. Sometimes I just spot check one tricky question. A clipboard lets me record what I see. And I also walk around as we check together. That keeps everyone on the straight and narrow.”
“Yeah, but what about the parents? Don’t they want to see more grades?”
“I’ve found that parents are fine with less grading. But with this comes a greater need for communication. If a child isn’t completing his work, you need to let the parent know. And if a student is struggling with something, you must contact them as well.”
Soon Ms. Sneed finished grading the tests. She organized everything else into two stacks. “Tomorrow I’ll do a quick check on these,” she said as she tapped one stack, “and the rest we’ll check together on Monday. Thanks for your help. Let’s go!” The two teachers put on their coats and headed out the door.
Tip #2: Limit Worksheets
A few weeks later, Ms. Sneed stood at the copy machine. “This is nuts,” she said. “How many trees have given their lives for all of these worksheets?”
As the machine kept clicking away, copy after copy slid onto the rack. Ms. Sneed’s mind wandered. “I wonder if I could find a way to use fewer worksheets,” she said to Mr. Thompson, who was waiting to use the copy machine next.
Assign Fewer Worksheets
“I’m copying less this year,” he said. “An article I read inspired me. It said that teachers should only assign a worksheet if they could see a clear educational benefit. That made me think – hmm, some of the worksheets I assigned were just to keep kids busy.” Mr. Thompson looked a little sheepish.
Ms. Sneed’s eyes widened. “Er . . . I guess I do that too.” She paused for a few seconds. “And at the same time, I complain about how little time I have to get everything done. I guess you could say I have a bad worksheet habit. Maybe I can kick it.”
Over the next few weeks, Ms. Sneed tried Mr. Thompson’s suggestion. It worked! Ms. Sneed calculated that she was copying 25% less. This was a great way to reduce grading – and save trees. (As an added bonus, she spent 25% less time at the copy machine!)
Use Worksheets in a Different Way
At lunch one day, Ms. Ivers handed Ms. Sneed a second folded paper. “Here. I thought you might want to see this. It’s also from the grading workshop I was telling you about.”
As Ms. Sneed unfolded it, she recognized the crisp blue style.
“The presenter made three main points,” continued Ms. Ivers. “Collaborate, convert, and use alternatives. To tell you the truth, I enjoy teaching so much more when I use these ideas. Let me explain:
- Collaborate – You can see two examples on this page: partner work and parent work. Basically, you just let kids work with other kids or their parents to complete a worksheet. Then you don’t have to grade it. It’s great reinforcement. And you know how kids love anything that’s social.
- Convert – This just means turn your worksheet into something different. Really, the sky’s the limit. Just look at the worksheet and think about how you could change it into something more engaging. Two examples the presenter gave were learning games and Quizlet. I’ll send you the links.
- Use alternatives – Sometimes you can ditch the worksheet altogether. Here you see a few ideas. Kids could create a poster or mind map to explain the concept.”
“Hey, thanks!” said Ms. Sneed. “Stuff like this will be more engaging for my kids. And I like the less grading part too!” A big smile spread across her face.
Reduce Grading to Simplify Your Life
Teaching can take its toll. Instead of giving in to its many demands, look for ways to simplify your life. When you reduce grading, you’ll have time for other things. Are you looking for more time-saving ideas? Try this: Display. Don’t decorate.
Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.