New teachers have a lot to be excited about. They’ve embarked on a fantastic journey of meeting students, creating lesson plans, and beginning an extremely meaningful career. On the downside, one aspect of teaching that causes more dread than excitement for early career teachers is grading.
Grading is a cumbersome task for all teachers, but for early career teachers it can be debilitating. We know we need to give timely and relevant feedback, and we know grading is important, but how can we make the process easier on ourselves? These are some tricks of the trade that may help new teachers struggling with grading.
7 Grading Tips for New Teachers
1. Don’t grade everything: Depending on the curriculum expectations for your school, you may be in a position to determine what is and is not worth going in the gradebook. Use that power. It’s OK to not grade an assignment or to give credit for participation.
After teaching a lesson that required students to complete multiple writing assignments, I complained to a fellow English teacher about the hours I had spent reading the work. They were surprised at my complaints—rather than grade every assignment, they had only graded one.
2. Cycle your feedback: It’s tempting to spend enormous amounts of time commenting on student work. And it’s true that good teachers give good feedback. However, it’s OK to not give feedback to every student on every assignment.
I like to systematically cycle through the students to whom I give feedback. For each assignment I give to my five sections of ninth grade English language arts, I choose a single class for which I’ll spend extra time writing out detailed comments. For the next assignment, I choose a different one.
3. Have students grade other students: Sometimes new teachers forget what an amazing resource students can be. Instead of spending hours grading your students’ work, you can spend 15 minutes of class time having students grade each other.
It’s important to address expected behaviors as a class before letting students give feedback to their peers. Spend time instructing your students about what is helpful, specific feedback versus generic comments or statements that are better left unsaid. As one of my students put it, it’s the difference between “That sucked!” and “You could do better if you....” Once your students are ready to evaluate each other constructively and kindly, let them, and give yourself a break.
4. Use technology wisely: Technology can make the lives of teachers infinitely easier. If you have the available equipment, administering formative assessments like quizzes or exit slips via Google Forms, Edmodo, or Kahoot! can save you oodles of grading time.
Additionally, you can alleviate the strain of grading by giving students the technological resources to do better work.For example, I will regularly give my students the chance to use grammar checking websites like Grammarly or Paper Rater before turning in their writing. Prior to this, my students and I talk extensively about the limitations of these tools—every once in a while, they’re just flat wrong. A caveat to this tip is to consider what you want your students to focus on for a particular assignment. If you want students to check their own grammar (or their peers’), you might not want them using websites like these.
5. Don’t assign busywork: Although it can be tempting to assign sponge activities to fill time, only give students impactful work that develops their skill sets. Just as I want to use my time grading assignments that matter, my students want to complete work that matters. By avoiding assigning meaningless work, you can ensure that everyone’s time is spent optimally.
Ask yourself: Does this assignment enhance the lesson or the students’ understanding of the lesson? If the answer is no, toss it.
6. Use rubrics: Rubrics can be a phenomenal tool when grading. Rather than question your reasoning for your assessment of each student’s assignment, you can take some of the mental work out of it. Did they do this? Check. Did they do that? Check. You’ll make grading easier for yourself by giving them solid feedback that you’ve already considered.
Another perk of this tactic is that you can give your students the rubric before they even begin the work. That way, they know the expectations they need to meet in order to succeed.
7. Grade whenever possible: We teachers know the definition of busy better than most. But there are still moments in the classroom that can be taken advantage of as time for grading. Whenever students are working independently, teachers should be grading.
It’s important to grade wisely: Don’t sit at your desk with your head down, completely unaware of the classroom. Instead, find an open desk, preferably one next to a student who struggles to focus, and grade there. Periodically get up to circle the room, ask if anyone needs help, or give direction as needed. But use every bit of your workday to knock out as much grading as you can.
Grading can be daunting for those of us who are new to teaching. There were many times when I fell so far behind in my grading that I had to devote entire weekends simply to catching up. Since I’ve been using these ideas, my grading load has been significantly more manageable. Hopefully, with these tips in your back pocket, you’ll grade more effectively and with less stress.