Our society can be pretty wack in some ways. For instance, our obsession with being busy. In my own life I have always thought “better busy than bored!” (Excuse this either/or logical fallacy. I didn’t realize until I began teaching AP Language how stupid I really was…)
I wear my busyness like a badge. A typical response to the question “How are you?” will likely be met with an “I’m good. Busy, but good!” Everyone is busy, and everyone is getting busier! But knowing that we are dealing with a major teacher shortage in our state, and also knowing much of it can be attributed to burn out, I’m starting to wonder how we might shift this thinking? What if we re-frame this to: perhaps we need help, more efficient strategies, and support for our beginning teachers, so they don’t feel quite so overwhelmed and helpless. I don’t have all the answers, but I can say that the changes I have made this school year have really helped me keep my (semblance of) sanity.
I will not take grading home with me anymore. Period. No grading in the evening or on the weekends for this gal. I’ve got way too many other fun things to do with that time!
Teaching is just one aspect of my very full life. I have to spend time on other things I love: Traveling, hiking, going on adventures with my husband and kiddos, and even writing this blog. If I spent all of my free time grading, none of those things would happen. And that’s not going to work for me.
By ensuring that I plan my planning period, I don’t fall into the trap of sipping coffee while I mindlessly surf the internet and before long my entire hour is gone and I haven’t accomplished anything so I have to take home all of my grading. I used to grade constantly. I made this rule for myself this year after realizing I was getting burnt out, and deciding I needed to keep my own health and happiness a priority in order to continue doing this demanding job. We are no good to anyone if we aren’t good to ourselves first. Take care of yourself. Make that a priority.
- The Writer’s Notebook
My philosophy about grading has made it absolutely essential that students know why it is they have earned the grade they have, and how to improve on the next go-round. This means for their daily work (formative assessments, prompts, journals, etc.) I will simply ask students to maintain a writer’s notebook which they bring to class every day. The notebook is for their own thinking, learning, and questioning. I do not grade these for quality, but for completion (participation) and the natural consequence for not taking quality, detailed notes is not having anything to reference in discussions, seminars, debates, or essays. I will go around and check writer’s notebooks while students are engaged in some other reading or writing task and give them points for participation. If they’ve done the assignments, I give them the points. This is done during class and takes me less than 10 minutes. I can also use these formative checks for what they are meant: to gauge where the class is with a certain concept, idea, or learning.
- The Trade-and-Grade
When students take a formative quiz, we trade and grade. This means we can review our choices, discuss responses, clarify misconceptions, and give each other immediate feedback. It also means I need to trust my students to be thoughtful and careful when grading a peer’s assignment. I emphasize the importance of grading accurately, and I will skim each assignment to make sure there are no mistakes on the grading, just to be sure. It still takes less time than going through and grading each of them individually. If a student has made an error on a classmate’s assignment (which I know because whoever is grading puts corrected by & their name on their partner’s work) I will then have a private conversation about the importance of accuracy. If it happens a second time, I take those points off of the student’s own work instead.
- Student Self-Assessment and Evaluation
On summative assessments, particularly essays, I grade based on set rubrics, and circle my feedback on the rubric instead of writing individual comments. Before students turn in the essay, we spend time in class preparing to turn them in by doing a self-assessment on the rubric. They need highlighters and different colored pens or pencils and we go through a checklist together.
Here is an example:
This particular checklist is for an argumentative essay, so numbers 3 & 5 are specific to that type of writing. I modify this checklist for explanatory, narrative, research, synthesis, and literary analysis essays as well, but I always use this step of the writing process. Sometimes I have students trade with a partner or in groups of three or four and ask them to provide specific feedback for each other.
Finally, students decide after we’ve gone through this process whether or not to take home their essays to make edits and revisions, write a summary paragraph of what steps they’ve taken to improve their essays, and to turn them in the following day with no late penalty charged. Writing is a process. I want students to know this, and to use the process in order to improve.
If I spend hour after hour painstakingly marking their papers for every comma splice, misused homonym and organizational error, I wouldn’t have time to do all of the things I am passionate about and that make my job and student learning so much fun! By focusing on what I want them to see and conducting their own evaluation of their finished products, they find and fix their own errors. Less frazzled teacher, students who understand why their finished product either meets the standard or not, and we are all able to get more done, with timely feedback. Everybody wins.
What are your favorite ways to streamline the grading process? Please share them in the comments section below!