It was fun when I was 10 years old playing “School” with my sister. I’d give an assignment to my imaginary class consisting of stuffed animals, including my big, grey, velvety elephant. The animals would magically obey, and I’d collect the papers to happily grade while my little friends would silently watch. Within 2 minutes the entire stack of papers (all 9 of them) would be graded and handed back. Easy.
Well, fast forward just a few years, and it’s not quite so magical or easy in the real world of teaching. With a class of 24-29 (sometimes more) and 6 different subjects on any given school day, the papers add up faster than I could have ever imagined.
Getting the paper grading mountain tamed is not an easy task. Just ask any new teacher, and they’ll tell you that in addition to classroom management and discipline, paper grading is by far one of the toughest things to get under control. Three weeks into her first teaching assignment, one new educator posed this plea for help in a private teaching forum: “Does anyone have any suggestions or strategies for grading? I am a new teacher 3 weeks in and I come home with a tall stack of papers to grade every weekend. Is there anything that has worked for you all?” I am sharing the advice I gave her, along with some added insights, with you today.
Here are 5 ways to cut back on the Mount Everest-sized piles of papers:
- First, ask yourself “What is the purpose of giving this assignment?” every, single time you hand out a paper, worksheet, or project. It wasn’t until I had been teaching for a few year that I had a very honest moment with myself and realized that some of the work I was assigning students was purely to keep them busy. Many of them had already mastered the skill being taught, so the exercise was a little pointless. Yes, practice is necessary (we’ll get to this in the next tip). However, the main purpose of most assignments is to see if the student has mastered the concept. If the paper you are handing out doesn’t serve that purpose, think twice about it. There are other ways to keep students busy. Once you realize that every time you hand out an assignment to your students, you’re also handing out an assignment to yourself, your approach will most likely change.
- Cut the number of problems in half. If it is an assignment that is just for practice, then it’s not necessary to have students spend an hour solving 20-30 problems. Goodness sakes! Have students cross off the even numbered problems and just solve the odd numbered ones. Guess what happens when you do that? Your students are elated and think you are the BEST teacher EVER, and you have just cut your grading time in half. Win-Win, for sure!
- Take a stack with you. Every time you take your class to recess, to lunch, or even to the restroom, take along one set of papers that need to be graded. Put them on a clipboard and check as you go. For this strategy, choose an assignment that will be easy and quick to grade, like a spelling test or multiple choice worksheet. You can zoom through those on the go quite easily.
- Use an alternative method of checking for student understanding. All work does not have to be done using a traditional worksheet or pencil and paper, and it doesn’t have to receive an assigned grade, either. Try having students solve math problems on dry erase boards or write spelling words with sidewalk chalk. Other ideas include task card Scoot (see how to play this fun game HERE), partner and small group work, and exit tickets. You will find that students are more engaged with a variety of practice methods, and you won’t have nearly the mountain of paperwork!
- Go in 10 minutes early and stay 10 minutes later. Close your door and grade. If you do this, and consistently use the time wisely, you will find that 20 extra minutes a day really does make a difference. If you cut down on the papers you are grading, as I suggested in the previous tips, you will have a lot less grading to do, and this 20 minutes could truly make a substantial change in the amount of papers you have to take home!
Personally, I do not have students correct each others’ work. I take this approach for a few reasons. First, I do feel that it can be embarrassing to some students who struggle when peers see their mistakes. I try to establish a classroom environment where students feel safe to make mistakes. I feel that having students check each others’ papers defeats this goal. Additionally, with today’s issues of confidentiality, I just feel like I have all my bases covered if anything is ever brought into question. Finally, by checking students’ work myself, I have an opportunity to analyze types of errors they are making and to see where they are having difficulties. This is often valuable to me because once I see the types of errors a specific student is making, I can quickly meet with him the next morning and show them him to do the problem correctly. With that said, I do realize this is a personal choice, and at the end of the day a teacher must do what works for his or her own situation.
Now, go tame that paperwork mountain! You’ve got this!
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