When I was a first year teacher, I took home work each night and every weekend. That lasted three long years. I probably would not have every stopped but one day I put the collected classwork in my teacher cart, along with my bottle of water. By the time I arrived home, the water had leaked and all the papers were soaked and I was unable to grade them. And the Earth did not stop spinning, students never asked and no one noticed.
Since then, I have mentored many teachers and the first thing I explain is that they NEVER take home work. I do not care the circumstances. And the reason has less to do with those water soaked papers than the need for teachers to take care of themselves and respect boundaries.
Teachers and Increasing Work Hours
I recently read an article that teachers work an 11 hour day. (See article here https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/teachers-work-nearly-11-hour-days/ ) The article cites that teachers spend an average of 90 minutes before or after the normal school day to support students, attend meetings and collaborate and another 95 minutes at home grading and planning lessons.
I am not going to suggest that attending meetings, collaborating or supporting struggling students should be eliminated (or could be) but taking work home needs to be restricted. Especially if teachers have a family. Even if a teacher is single and lives alone, it is important to have a break from work and relax. Engage in hobbies, exercise, have some fun. The grading will still be there waiting at school.
Why Do We Grade
What is the purpose of grading and do we need to grade every single assignment? The longer I teach, the more I struggle with this concept. I think that one representative assignment is more valuable that 4-5 assignments on the same topic. So I now give fewer assignments and make those assignments directly related to the concepts we are learning. I try to maximize the time spent with students and try to develop quality lessons that further their understanding.
In several Facebook groups, teachers have posted that they are required to update their gradebook with at least 2 new grades each week. My district does not do this, but often parents are concerned if they do not see new grades each week. It gives the impression that nothing is happening in the class. Parents equate grades with learning and also equate grades with quality teaching.
I do a lot of formative assessments (warm-up, exit tickets, quick quizzes) and I already know which students are struggling. I look at their work, because I am looking to see where they are confused so I can address those points. I take problems that have not been completed correctly, remove the name and have students find the error and correct it.
I think most of the practice (and I assign no homework) we do in class is just that. I give credit for doing it, not whether it is correct or not (please, no hate mail). How can we grade learning? Do we penalize students for taking some time to understand? In my classroom if a student turns in practice, then they receive that credit. If they do not turn it in, zero credit.
So I have simplified grading for classwork, either it is done or not. In my district the assessments (quizzes, tests and final exam) are worth 80 % of a students grade, so those practice worksheets or projects are a small part of a student grade and much needed to assist with learning.
Correlation Between Practice and Results
Every year despite the grading scale and number of assignments (practice, classwork) the students with the highest test grades are those students who consistently turned in all the practice. Anything we can do to encourage students to turn in practice will ultimately help them be successful.
Students and parents do not understand this concept. They believe if they can just turn in missing work (and it will be wrong) they will magically pass. But those missing assignments were a learning process, not just paper. It served a purpose.
Multitask During Class
When students are working in groups and not needing my help, I can use that 5-10 minutes to look at papers and check them off. I use a few minutes to take care of small tasks. I do not log into the gradebook until later when I have checked off several classes of work so I am not logging in and updating until later.
By looking a papers during class I can also identify those misconceptions on the spot and provide feedback to students in the moment. This type of feedback is valuable for students. They need the feedback early in the lesson, as they are learning.
Batch Your Work
I do similar tasks at one time. I collect all the papers at the end of the period and check them off at one time. I wait until I have all the check lists done before I log into the gradebook and enter grades. If I have papers with no names I save them in a folder and put them on the bulletin board at the end of the day.
Funny story: A teacher friend used to post her no-name papers on the bulletin boards so students could identify them. It was a large display, and marked in red pen on each one it said “no name”. But an admin walking through the class one day, saw all the papers quickly without realizing the purpose and congratulated the teacher for having a great display of student work.
How Assignments are Graded
An assignment is a worksheet, activity, notes with examples to be completed, project or digital activity. It is practice and I do not dock points if the assignment is not correct.
I grade full credit if the work is substantially done and turned in. If it is, I quickly scan the papers, looking for common misconceptions and use a roster of the class to check it off. A class of 36 students, even if every single student turns it in, takes less than 15 minutes to scan and check off.
If students turn in work late (up to a week) I do not assess any penalty, just scan and check off as with other students. But late work is noted in the gradebook because if it is repetitive, it indicates a problem and needs to be mentioned to the student.
Rubrics are useful for projects and certain assignments, not necessarily math papers. However, having a rubric for even math notes, assignments and worksheets can be helpful. If you include exemplars of math problems with explanations, grading is simplified.
Exemplars can provide students examples of excellent work. Include explanations, reasonings, all the steps. These exemplars should be provided for most assignments so students understand what is expected and have some model.
One thing I learned from virtual teaching was to use digital self-checking activities. I used Boom Cards, IXL, Google Sheets Picture Reveal Activities, and Google Forms Task Cards. All students had to do was take a picture of their finished work and turn it in. Same policy as before, they did it and got full credit. Didn’t do it, it was a zero.
Have students check their own answers. I know some of you are thinking that they will cheat and some will. But I do not worry about what a few students do, especially when their assessments will dictate their grade.
Post the answers to worksheets/assignments by QR Codes. After students finish the worksheet, and the work is shown, have them scan to see if their answers were right. If they were wrong, let them fix their mistakes.
Have students switch papers and their partner can check the answers with a pen/highlighter. They then give the paper back to the student to fix the errors. They can also collaborate with each other to fix errors. The goal is for students to understand their mistakes and correct them.
Check as They Go
As students are working, walk around the room and check answers as they complete problems. An X if the problem is wrong and the misconception can be corrected immediately. If students finish early, let students walk around an check as well. Students make excellent peer tutors.
Exit Tickets, Warm-Ups and Quizzes
I use either google forms or a school provided assessment platform to give these items. They are automatically graded. Exit tickets and Warm-ups are used to see how students are progressing in their learning and to review prior lessons. They typically consist of 1-2 questions, often multiple choice or multiple correct. Google Form results are saved to a google sheet which can be sorted by period, student or even score.
Quizzes are often created by the district on an assessment platform, and sometimes created by the team in Google Forms. Quizzes have 4 questions.
Because I focus on assessing students, reviewing the misconceptions and continually reteaching, students have the opportunity to see the same material several times in many different ways. One of these ways will resonate with a students and will help them understand the content.
My students are not honors students and yet we frequently outperform those honors classes. I think this is because we are frequently reviewing and expanding our understanding.
I hope you will rethink why you grade and think about reducing the amount of grading you do. More graded assignments do not mean students are learning more. I would love to hear your thoughts on grading as well as comments on some of the ideas I’ve discussed here. Leave a comment or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org