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Creative Ways to Grade and Provide Feedback for Students

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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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.

Peer Grading

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.

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Danielle's picture

Thank you so much those helpful strategies to decrease the pile of papers on our desks that need grading. I love the rubber stamp idea! Additionally, I plan to use the strategy you described as "check for understanding" AS the students were working rather than AFTER the students are done working. This also provides immediate feedback to students and keeps them on their toes!

Gisela Delgado's picture

Wow! These techniques sound so helpful. I will start implementing the rubber stamping. I think this will provide immediate positive feedback. Furthermore, the quality of their journal writing will improve as they desire the stamp. Thank you so much and cosider me a follower!

Sue's picture

How do you get through a class of 40 in five minutes?! I have not yet been successful in doing that (history).

Shafattack's picture

I use many options. An excel spreadsheet with all possible tasks with all pupils names on it. A massive rag tracker (red cell is no work green is done. On the whiteboard. Everyone gets to see their progress and comptitove boys focus to catch up with able girls. I can call them up 1 by 1 get them to write the date on slip if paper and then bullet points on arras of weakness. They are released to go back, I call out NEXT and so on. I addition all names on spreadsheet hyperlinked to students area so I don't need to get up! I can add comments on the spreadsheet and electronic stamps on work. Even have a statement bank to copy from. Pupils get a copy to access of the tracker with no links or sensitive data on it and BAM! All marking with one to one feedback done. I'll post a clip of me doing that too.. Co. Uk

Juliet18's picture
Middle grades LA, SS from Southeast USA

First, I type all of the work I want my students to complete for the unit and give it to them up front. This way they can manage their own time and complete the work at their own pace. The catch? I walk around the room each day with a printed list of my students by class on a blank grid. As students complete their warm up or they are doing another activity, I check for completed tasks on the Assignment List. My goal is to check each child's work 3 - 5 times during the unit (units last 1 - 2 weeks) that way I am not under pressure to check the entire class each day. I don't usually check for all the different tasks on the sheet during the unit, but students don't know which tasks I will check , thus they must do them all. By the test day of the unit, I take the 3 - 5 highest grades from the checks and use them as grades for the unit. To motivate students to complete all of the tasks on the Assignment Sheet, I allow students to use their completed work for the last five minutes on the unit test as quality check of their test performance. This may sound like students don't need to study for tests, but on the contrary, because most students complete all of the tasks on the sheet because they want a test-aid, they are actually studying through the work completion and rarely ever use their work to change a test answer.
Basically, it serves as reassurance tool and relief for test anxiety. Only work I've checked (has my signature purple ink and initials) can be used for the test and I take both up at the end of a test, thus no one can lend their work to a friend in another class. Basically, I've tweaked the concept of a flipped classroom. Parents love the fact that all work for a unit is pretyped and distributed in advance. Students who use their time wisely at school get much of it done at school. Students are learning to manage their personal time more efficiently around their personal hobbies and families and still get their school work done. I'm taking a lot less papers home to grade and students are getting feedback more often and are often able to reflect on their own performance before I even give feedback because they know the standards of the assignment and my expectations and realize they are rewarding themselves if they complete their work because what they produce is what they get to use the last five minutes on a test. Since more students are actually doing their work and with improved quality, I'm able to construct more rigorous tests with higher depth of knowledge because the students are prepared. I hope this all make sense. It sounds complicated, but it really isn't once the system is in place. It takes about 3 weeks at the start of the year to train my students on how the Assignment Sheet works and how I grade. Once in place, everything runs so smoothly and the students explain the system to new kids during the year. Additionally, absenteeism is no longer a legit excuse for not completing work because students already have all their work pretyped up front.

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

I am glad that you have tried it out. Wow 40 students is a lot. Anything you do with them will take time. The time for stamping obviously varies each day, but once you have established that you will come around to view their papers, if there are other pressing things you want to do, you may consider two additional options: 1) Scan rather than read their work. It will make the stamping go faster. 2) Occasionally allow a trusted student to stamp the papers if the qualifications are met- i.e. they have written a paragraph or they have answered the question "I think this means" etc... Good luck
Ben Johnson

Jeff Utz's picture

You can use clickers (electronic devices that let students select multiple choice answers) or to do the same thing. There is a record created, so that you can use this as a quiz grade.

amy's picture

I like to use online formats for my warm-ups. Edmodo is currently what I have been using. I can set up and Edmodo "quiz" with the warm-up questions and when they submit they get immediate feedback. The scores are recorded for me as well as each student's answers.

I too, check homework for understanding. Students place their homework in one of four trays in the back of the room before class begins. I can quickly scan through homework and determine who needs to fix or finish their assignment. I place a check or write fix or finish at the top of their paper. I have my laptop with me so I can just record the grades as I look through them. I can quickly hand back the papers because the tray they place their homework in corresponds to the row they sit in. The first person in the row takes their paper and then hands it back. The quicker I can get through the homework, the faster I can start answering questions on the warm-up!

DaveRos's picture

Research is very clear that when external motivators are provided, they wash away whatever internal motivation existed (aka curiosity). These sticker and stamp motivators always work in the immediate time but I worry about creating citizens who don't do anything unless there's a carrot. I strive to harness natural human interest in the subject and reflect with students on the inevitable motivational mess that comes with it!

Kathleen's picture

I have found conducting a writer's conference an effective and successful way to give feed back to students. Yes, this does take time - but no more time, really than to add comments to each work students produce. If students are required to produce a narrative writing, for example, I take a short amount of time with each individual while others in the class are engaged in centers or quiet reading. This allows each student to feel special, heard, and prepped for a few comments from the teacher. I usually make 2 positive comments and 2 helpful comments as a model for when they do peer editing. I can tell you this method has been very helpful for writing improvement in younger students grades 2 and 3.

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