No matter how hard you try, staring down the piles of ungraded assignments on your desk will not make them go away any faster. There’s no possible way for any human to grade everything — the bell-ringers, homework assignments, journal responses, exit tickets, essays, projects, and presentations — so you shouldn’t feel too guilty if a pile of worksheets magically disappear into the recycling bin every once in a great while. But for the most part, you want to assess your students’ mastery of the material and reward them for their work, but how can you possibly do that in addition to the hundreds of other tasks on your to-do list? Here are seven tried-and-true strategies that you can use to help you grade more efficiently and get out from under that stack of ungraded assignments.
1. Organization System
Every teacher needs an organizational system when it comes to grading; however, what works for one teacher may not work for you, so it is important for you to devise an organizational system that aligns with your schedule, preferences, habits, etc. This system could include having one centralized location for students to turn in all assignments, alphabetizing assignments as you collect them (or having a student help!), waiting until the end of the week to grade all the bell-ringers at once, having certain days where you enter grades, etc. You could also set a goal to grade just a little bit each day, such as commenting in five student notebooks every day after school or grading quizzes during daily silent reading. Organization and routine will help you streamline your grading process.
2. Batch Your Tasks
While we think we are great at multitasking, it turns out that we are really not. The time it takes to switch from task to task eats away precious minutes and brainpower, so make it easier for yourself by batching your grading. Instead of grading each packet individually, one student at a time, grade every student’s first page & flip to the next one; when all the first pages are graded, then go back through each packet and grade page two, and so forth. Grade only the multiple-choice section of an assignment for each student; then, go back and tackle the short answers, for example. By structuring your grading this way, you will create a rhythm and find yourself flying through that stack of papers much quicker and with much less headache.
We often think of grading as a solitary practice done after the school day is over, but it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, we might be missing out on important instructional and relationship-building opportunities if we only grade by our lonesomes. Try grading assignments as they are turned in, even if that just means skimming for overall progress, giving a stamp for completion, or only checking the more advanced problems on a worksheet. Having the student by your side while you grade gives you the perfect opportunity to provide verbal feedback or even to quickly re-teach. Better yet, grading work as it is turned in allows you to readily identify any common mistakes and address them with immediate, whole-class feedback. This idea can even include students grading their own papers. Using a different colored writing utensil, students grade their own work while you go over the answers together as a class. The students get immediate feedback and you get immediate free time.
4. Give Students the Choice
Another way to cut down on grading is to have the students choose what is graded. Sounds crazy, right? Students love being given a choice, whether it’s where they sit, what colors to use, or how they demonstrate their learning. This idea can work particularly well with assignments that have rubric categories. Tell the students to circle two categories/areas on the rubric — one that they struggled with (for example, “Complete Sentences”) and one at which they succeeded (for example, “Vocabulary Usage”). Then, only grade those two areas of the rubric. This not only forces them to self-assess their strengths and weaknesses, but it provides them the chance to show growth in specific areas… and saves you tons of time!
5. Teacher’s Choice
What you assess can be your choice — you don’t have to grade every single aspect of an assignment. Writing an essay, for example, includes spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, logical organization, thesis statement, sentence structure, paragraph structure, supporting evidence, citations, introduction, conclusion, and cohesive ideas. But you don’t have to judge all those aspects. If your goal during instruction was for students to form a solid thesis statement and use it to organize their ideas, then only grade that aspect on this draft. Maybe you don’t grade usage and mechanics until their very final draft. If your goal in a lab report is to have students demonstrate writing an accurate claim supported with evidence, then don’t worry about how the hypothesis is written. Identify what specific skill(s) you’re assessing and focus only on that.
6. Grade for Completion
While grading for completion of an assignment might feel like a cop-out, it helps to remember that formative assessments shouldn’t be scored in the first place — that kind of work is to give students practice, not to test them on their mastery. So, unless it’s a summative or performance assessment where their achievement of a certain standard or skill is to be judged and scored, it’s okay to just give full points for full effort on the practice assignments. This system works especially well when students grade their own work. If it’s the students’ responsibility to get the correct answers on their papers while going over the assignment as a class, then all you have to do is check that it’s complete. These types of assignments don’t even have to go in the grade book, but they can; this is a great way to reward those hard-working students who always give it their best even if they don’t score high on assessments.
7. Implement Grading Stations
Depending on the age and maturity level of your students, one surprisingly excellent option to grade more efficiently is by having the students do it themselves through grading stations or answer stations. This strategy works particularly well on formative assessments with questions that have only one right or wrong answer (multiple-choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, matching, etc.). Print out multiple copies of the answer key and place them in a designated area by your desk along with a cup of red (or other colored) pens or markers. When students complete their work, they bring their paper up to the “grading station,” use a colored writing utensil and grade themselves under your watch. Of course, students are human, and there’s always the chance that one or more might make an error in grading or maybe even cheat; therefore, this strategy is best when used for low-stakes formative assessments where your goal might be for students to see their own progress.
As teachers, we are not miracle workers. We cannot do it all. So get past any of those feelings of guilt for not thoroughly grading every piece of paper that is turned in. Not everything needs to go in the grade book, and sometimes students are just as happy receiving a sticker or stamp than actual points. By finding an organizational system that works for you and by using creative scoring and grading strategies, you will find that you can grade more efficiently by grading less altogether.
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