Teachers work very hard to give all students as much feedback on their work as possible. Unfortunately, there are limits to how much time a teacher can spend grading papers, writing notes, and encouraging students. For example, each day, students often complete warm-ups, sponge activities, or some other pre-lesson assignment while the teacher takes roll and sets up for the day's lesson.
When I began my educational career as Spanish teacher, I quickly discovered that when some students realized the "sponge" work was rarely graded, they stopped doing it. My first reaction was to make it a graded activity. "Turn in all the warm-up papers" became less and less appealing to me as I realized that every time I said those words, I just doubled my pile of grading. Add this to all the other grading, and it becomes a daunting task to give timely feedback.
Being a creative teacher and having great mentors to teach me, I learned that I could save some time by having students switch papers and grade each other's, but some students quickly developed a "scratch my back" mentality that circumvented the honor system. "OK, I can solve that," I thought, "I will just make everyone use a red pencil to correct the papers!"
Potential cheating diminished, but keeping thirty red pencils sharp became a chore. Even still, it took time from the actual learning, and I remember being frustrated some days that I never really did get to complete the regular lesson because the warm-up seemed to eat all the available time.
I also learned that, discipline-wise, skipping the warm-up was never a wise option and that students needed the "let's get busy" structure. Every time I thought I could skip the warm-up for time's sake, the class never seemed as productive -- even with the extra time.
Checking for Understanding
The best solution to this conundrum evolved from a suggestion by my department chair when I voiced my frustration one day. He suggested that while students were doing the warm-up, I take my grade book with me as I walked among them. I tried it out and found that I could give more effective feedback in less time -- and I didn't have a pile of papers to grade.
While I walked about the classroom, for those students that did the homework, I could glance at the work quickly and assess their level of understanding and application. I would then put a mark on their paper and in the grade book.
I gave partial marks to those who tried, and to those who did not have the homework, I could confer with them for a moment (and also note zero points in the grade book). As I checked each student's work, I also was able to make supportive comments and corrections. It only took about five minutes to do the whole class, and I was able to jump right into the lesson.
The Efficiency of Rubber Stamping
Then I stumbled across this magical feedback tool: a happy-face stamp. Yes, I am serious. I thought I could do the same thing with the warm-up that I did with homework. After I had taken roll and the students were completing the warm-up, I walked between the tables and looked at each student's warm-up journal. If the work was quality, I gave it a happy-face stamp. If it wasn't, I turned the stamp upside down and reiterated the expectation about how the student could change the frown to a smile.
At the end of the week, I would record journal scores as they showed me the week's worth of happy-face stamps as a score on their weekly quiz. At first, I didn't think the students would respond, but boy was I mistaken. Students would quickly do their work just to get the happy-face stamp, and if I missed them, they were insistent that I come back and give their work the stamp. I did this with middle and high school students with the same results; they loved it.
The rubber stamp has other time- and energy-saving uses. From the same department chair, I had learned about a simple extra credit system using sticky notes. I rubber stamped an image on one inch sticky notes and handed them out to students who were performing at high levels, doing excellent work, following instruction, volunteering, or participating enthusiastically.
The students could use the notes as one point on a test. It was great! I didn't have to keep track of extra credit in the grade book, and the students loved it. Periodically, so that students wouldn't simply attach large numbers of sticky notes on a quiz, I had them use the notes to bid for school supplies and little goodies.
New teachers especially want to provide effective and timely feedback to their students, but quickly see their own limitations of time and energy. Students need feedback, and for both myself and my students, using rubber stamps provided visible and immediate proof of student progress. How do you save time and energy and provide effective feedback to students in your classroom? Please share in the comments section below.