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Three Ways Teachers Can Cut Down on Grading Time

No matter how much you love teaching, nothing will burst your bubble of enthusiasm more than a stack of ungraded papers sitting on your desk at the end of the day. In the virtual education landscape, often that means an overflowing inbox of assignments to check as well.

3 Simple Ways Teachers Can Spend Less Time Grading

One of the top five changes I made in order to keep teaching was how I graded. Grading papers and projects, assessing students in general takes a lot of time and energy. It is the “side hustle” if you will of being a teacher - you teach the kids when they are in your presence, and then, often after they have gone for the day or for your planning, you are left the task of reviewing and providing feedback on their work.

It is the never ending story. It takes up a lot of your life and energy, especially when that energy has to be expended on getting students to turn work in and students and parents who aren’t happy with the grades that have been earned. That is the reality of it. I believe in being positive, but I’m also a realist - and restructuring and creating shifts in our thinking about grading have a great impact on your outlook about being in the classroom. It's one of the greatest steps you can take to prevent and comeback from teacher burnout.

Want to listen to this message instead of read? You can hear the audio version in my podcast or click the Mp3 below.

So let’s unpack this by taking a few steps back. Why do we grade and what do those grades represent? Grades are meant to - emphasis on mean to - show student progress and be a snapshot of their performance in that moment of time. Ideally, that report of progress through grades includes feedback from the teacher, although in the essence of time and all the other things teachers are tasked with doing, speaking from my own experience, that doesn’t always happen as much or as effectively as it should.

So that letter, number, percentage, what’s it worth? As a teacher, you may feel as if your success or effectiveness is tied to your students’ grades. When they don’t do well, you may feel it’s a failure on your part. Or maybe you’re frustrated that your students don’t value the need to not just do their best so they truly show what they know, but just getting them to turn the work in so you can grade it! That to me was the most distressing.

Create shifts about how you think about grading classroom assignments.

Theres also the stigma of what a “bad” or poor grade on something means. Some kids and parents deeply internalize it when they don’t do well. And there goes your teaching stress through the roof, because the finger points at you for the child’s lack of success, in their eyes. The Honor Student mentality if you will.

Please vote in the poll below:

How Much Time Do You Spending Grading Each Week During the School Year?

  • Less than 1 hour

  • 1-2 hours

  • 2-3 hours

  • At least 3-4 hours or more

It’s hard, near impossible to get across to others that grades only show so much or just one side of who a child is and what they know. That the world really isn’t about to implode over this one moment in time when you earned a C-. And it also has become quite the battle, even more so in the aftermath of the pandemic, to get students to complete work on time, to find that balance between not taking the final outcome or grade so seriously but having the work ethic to just complete the task at hand.

So what are the answers? Well, I don’t have them all, but I do have a few, for dealing with stress that comes with grading. Here are three simple ways teachers can cut down on grading time.

3 Ways to Spend Less Time Grading as a Classroom Teacher

#1: Teachers can cut down grading time by grading fewer assignments and focus on quality over quantity.

The first thing I did was look at how much and what I was grading. You may have a set number of grades you have to take per term or subject, but do you go way beyond that in order to give your students enough “chances?” Focus on quality assignments that are tied to skills and standards you need to teach, and less on the quota. A high volume of grades, while maybe it appears so, doesn’t equal a higher amount of learning. Use what you gain from monitoring student learning in class formatively instead.

And a word about extra credit. I use to tell my students I didn’t know what that was - because I did not give it.

Grades are a snapshot of what you know in a moment in time. Padding a grade with extra credit that creates extra work for the teacher sets a precedent that just snowballs - because then everyone wants it.

Not having the option of extra credit just makes it that much more important to do your best. Also - I would gladly give extra practice if requested, even self checking, just not a grade boost.

#2: Teachers can automate grading by creating self checking assessments to cut down time spent grading.

The next thing is to automate as much as possible. To me this means a few things. One, how can you use the technology and program available to you to create assignments that can be automatically graded? Sure, you may still need to provide feedback and direction, but things that you can eliminate being physically done by you, even if it’s some up front work, save you more time in the long term.

Another aspect of automating if you will is having ways for students to check their own work. This may depend on the age of your students, and sometimes the maturity and trust level of your class. This also allows them to see their results faster than waiting for you to grade their work.

#3: Teachers need to set boundaries for the time when they will grade, post, and accept work from students.

The third things is, my favorite word, boundaries, especially around accepting student work. Have set days that you grade, or perhaps set days when you grade certain things. You can also have a set day or time that you will upload grades to make them available for viewing. Along with that is drawing a line regarding when you will take late work. This is my opinion, but I feel when students know there is a deadline, that if they don’t make the deadline, the consequences go into effect, there is more heat to turn things in when they are due. You may not be able to do that, but sometimes when the harsh reality of a zero hits them, it’s enough to make them try harder to adhere to the rules next time. Make sure you communicate your boundaries to students and parents about when you grade, when they can expect grades uploaded, and what the consequences are for not turning in work.

Grading less work as a classroom teacher

A word about communicating to parents about grades...

And lastly, what to do about parents and caregivers - and their expectations for what grades should represent regarding their child? I would recommend listening to episode seven about parent communication, because many of the things detailed there about setting boundaries and monitoring emotions can be applied to communicating about grades. The most important thing is to keep conversations about grades tied to student learning and student responsibility. It’s about what they have shown progress wise, and their effort to reasonably complete their work.

To recap, here are three things you can do to make grading less of an albatross:

Tie your graded assignments to skills and standards and cut the extra chances and the extra credit.

so that the computer and your students can meet you half way on calculating their grades.

Make sure to communicate these with students and their caregivers so the expectations are clear.

Podcast on How Teacher Can Cut Down on Grading Time

Grading takes time and giving feedback is important to the learning process, but it shouldn’t overrule your life. Streamline and keep the focus on student progress and work ethic so you can use your time and talents to teach - and live your life.


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