Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Tactics for Tackling the Grading Dilemma

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

Exhausted from a day of teaching, managing projects, and lunchtime detention, you head home, knowing a stack of ungraded student work awaits your arrival. You ask yourself, "What would happen if I didn't grade those papers?"

What would happen? Most likely, there wouldn't be a direct consequence other than the guilt teachers often feel for not keeping up with grading. With everything else on your plate, guilt is the absolute last thing you need! I'd like to offer some grading suggestions that might make life easier:

The Power of Peer Assessment and Self-Assessment

Students grading and assessing each other goes far beyond lightening the load for the teacher: It allows students to learn from each other and practice being fair and impartial and gives the kids a chance to really get to know the assignment and expectations -- inside and out.

I have found that students are often much tougher on each other -- and themselves -- when it comes to grading. Which brings me to self-assessment. Why not let students help you develop a rubric, or a criteria chart, for the assignment and then allow each student to grade herself? When you go to check a stack of papers that have been self-scored, don't be surprised if most students have faithfully followed the expectations and graded themselves more than fairly.

Before I go any further, I'd like to throw in a quick disclaimer: As a former secondary school teacher, with five class periods and nearly 150 students, I can speak only from my own experience. I have a hunch that elementary school teachers might have some different approaches for dealing with the grading load. (Teachers in grades K-6: Please contribute your comments below!)

The One-in-Four Rule

My second year in the classroom, an education professor told me that the key to longevity is to grade only one in four assignments. That strategy means that three are perhaps assigned only for credit or no credit, while the fourth gets your undivided attention -- a grade and comments. This rule saved me.

The rule allows you to keep up the rigor and keep your sanity at the same time. You know there is something not quite working when the teacher is carrying a larger workload than the students. And if you are an English teacher, as was I, that stack of essays can get quite daunting pretty quickly. (By the way, Carol Jago's book Papers, Papers, Papers: An English Teacher's Survival Guide is a must-have grading-survival guide for all language arts instructors.)

The Stamping Method

Go to a crafts store and buy a selection of ink stamps, or go online and design your own. I had stamps made that were self-inking and read "Exemplary," "Accomplished," "Promising," and "Developing." I used these four stamps for the papers I chose to assess, not grade. I could spot-check a paper and stamp it with the appropriate stamp in less than two minutes.

In my grade book, I would assign points -- or not. What does that mean? Some of the work I would just stamp with a generic stamp, such as a smiling daisy, and return. Ask yourself this question: Would it benefit my students more for me to fiddle around with inputting that measly assignment in the gradebook, or should I spend that valuable time developing a dynamic lesson instead? Exactly.

Student Journals

Ever lost or misplaced student work? (I think we all have, unfortunately.) This suggestion curtails that possibly, and, more importantly, places a high level of accountability on the students and teaches them organization. Also, crafting all of one's assignments in one notebook or journal is powerful stuff. It serves as a comprehensive artifact of one's learning.

Require students to follow a specific format for their journal -- one section for daily journal writing and class work, and another section for homework, for example. Students can keep a running table of contents in the front, and write "Didn't do" on the line where they are missing an assignment.

Collect notebooks every other week, and decide which assignments should be the one of the four to assign a grade and give teacher comments. For the rest, do quick assessments. (Hopefully, you will have a few of the assignments already graded by self-assessment or peer assessment.) For secondary school teachers, be sure to stagger the days and weeks you collect notebooks from different class periods.

Finally, consider assigning the overall work in the journal one grade, and writing it with the date on the inside front cover. This works as a carrot for students every two weeks. They know it's a weighty grade, and they know it is in their hands. For As and Bs, I would put a sticker -- a glittery dolphin or a smiling sun, for example -- next to their grade, and students would often proudly show it off to their tablemates (and these were high school kids!)

Let's face it, many of us spend valuable minutes and hours, even days, grading assignments that probably don't need such attention. (Teachers are as slammed in their day as the busiest waiter or emergency-room physician is. It's true -- we are.)

Consider shifting some of that precious time from grading to developing your already awesome lessons into even more dynamic and relevant learning experiences for students.

How have you tackled the grading dilemma? What creative and effective ways have you involved students in assessing their own learning? Please share your ideas.

Comments (36)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Chris Hendricks's picture
Chris Hendricks
5th grade elementary teacher in Green Bay, WI.

I think it is important to note that when I use stamps and stickers in my classroom it is for a younger audience. The stamps/stickers give me a chance to go back and look at packets of multiple subjects that I had to go through, throughout a single day. For some assignments, a grade goes directly into my grade book as part of a larger percentage, while others simply get "checked-in." As an elementary teacher, and like many of my colleagues, using a systems like stamps, stickers, and initials are a simple way of doing an initial check to make sure work is completed on time. It is just another way to organize.

I like the idea of using a hand held devise to take quizzes, tests, etc., but like many of you, my school district is crunched for cash...so, hand held devises are not making their way into my room quite yet.

I also like the idea of using Google Docs to track student writing, and for allowing them to peer edit. I could see this being an applicable method for upper elementary to adulthood. My district is just beginning to allow teachers to "toy around" with various internet resources, but are not quite yet willing to let students use Gmail accounts; which I think you have to publish and edit on Google Docs. Let me know if I am incorrect, since that idea sounds great!

Chris

Tara Minnerly's picture

As a 7th grade language arts teacher, I often feel overwhelmed with grading and am looking for more efficient strategies to use. This discourse offers several valuable suggestions. I like the idea of personalized stamps, especially for quicker assignments.

Although it can be extremely difficult at times, I don't correct every mistake in students' papers. I've implemented the John Collins Writing Workshop model, which includes the use of focus correction areas. Usually, there is 1 focus area for each of the following categories: content, organization/writing style, and mechanics. Students use writing folders to monitor their progress and continue working on a specific skill until they master it. These focus correction areas (fca's)work especially well at the middle school level since students are just learning many of the writing skills. To save time, we can use a piece that has already been written to work on a new skill. This format not only saves time, but also helps students become more responsible for their own learning.

Happy grading,
Tara

Mark Cunningham's picture

We assume that grading needs to be done. I see the practical side to the issue but we need to think about the relevance of grading to learning. Grading does not improve learning; we do it for a variety of reasons, with ranking and sorting children heading the list, and I've not seen evidence that grading supports learning but I have seen much that is impedes it. That a math problem may have one, and only one, correct answer may be true but that does not mean that grading a child's answer improves learning.

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
Blogger 2014

[quote]We assume that grading needs to be done. I see the practical side to the issue but we need to think about the relevance of grading to learning. Grading does not improve learning; we do it for a variety of reasons, with ranking and sorting children heading the list, and I've not seen evidence that grading supports learning but I have seen much that is impedes it. That a math problem may have one, and only one, correct answer may be true but that does not mean that grading a child's answer improves learning.[/quote]

Thanks, Mark, for sharing this. It is a radical notion to hold in our current public education system that functions as a meritocracy. Personally, I know that I am more successful as a learner when I am not being judged, ranked, and critiqued. (Something for us all to consider as educators, administrators and policy makers.)

Best,
Rebecca Alber

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
Blogger 2014

I agree, Katherine. Really being mindful about what we choose to evaluate is key to not running out of steam as teachers. Often there are little tasks/assignments that students need to do as they prepare for the end, or culminating task, or as we call it, formative assessment, that frankly need only be checked off rather than graded.
Thanks for sharing your insights,
Rebecca Alber

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
Blogger 2014

Thank you to those who have so far shared strategies for using this invaluable tool. I can't emphasize enough the amount of time you will save by incorporating ink stamps as a way to quick assess those smaller tasks and assignments!

Best,
Rebecca Alber

Chris Hendricks's picture
Chris Hendricks
5th grade elementary teacher in Green Bay, WI.

[quote]I've implemented the John Collins Writing Workshop model, which includes the use of focus correction areas. Usually, there is 1 focus area for each of the following categories: content, organization/writing style, and mechanics. Students use writing folders to monitor their progress and continue working on a specific skill until they master it.[/quote]

Tara,

Do you use this strategy for a single writing assignment? In other words, do students specifically work on organization for a couple of days, and then with the same assignment work on mechanics? Or do you use one strategy per assignment? I have never heard of this exact strategy, although I do use the main components of it with most of my fifth graders writing assignments.

Thanks,

Chris

Andrew Pass's picture

So, I personally think that it is very important to put comments on as many student papers as possible. It keeps them invested in the conversation and hopefully writing is one significant conversation. That said, I love your idea about sharing the work with students. I'm thinking that it might be very intriguing to ask students to write comments for other students on 75% of the papers on which you do not personally comment. I would also not limit the commenters to students' friends. It might be interested to set up some kind of a round-robin where every student eventually gets to comment on every other student's paper and then the cycle begins again.

Andrew Pass

Jenn Falk's picture

I agree with Mark's comment about grading impeding learning in some instances. I think the primary function of grading should be providing feedback. Positive feedback encourages self-growth.

Kenneth Bedwell's picture

[quote]So, I personally think that it is very important to put comments on as many student papers as possible. It keeps them invested in the conversation and hopefully writing is one significant conversation. That said, I love your idea about sharing the work with students. I'm thinking that it might be very intriguing to ask students to write comments for other students on 75% of the papers on which you do not personally comment. I would also not limit the commenters to students' friends. It might be interested to set up some kind of a round-robin where every student eventually gets to comment on every other student's paper and then the cycle begins again. PassCurrent Events Blog[/quote]

Andrew,

Would it be practical in your situation to set up a class blog where students could post their work under a pseudonym? Fellow students could make comments or suggestions. Then the work you get would already be peer reviewed and edited? I am new to this, but I believe you could restrict access to just classmates.

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.