Monday, September 10, 2012

Secrets Buried Amidst Piles of Papers

It's Monday, but I am happy to report that I am home this week enjoying my fall break. My district has a pretty sweet calendar where we have a one week break at or near the end of each six week term. It means that we start school at the beginning of August (teachers report in July!), so we have a short summer. But it also means that I get a week off in September, November, February, and April in addition to the typical winter break. I think it's been really helpful in fighting off teacher burnout in my district, and I wish more districts had that type of calendar.

But really, I didn't decide to post today to brag about the fact that I have the week off.

Instead, I wanted to share this:

That is my dining room table covered in papers to grade and planning materials for term 2. While my darling fourth graders are off to vacations at the beach and circus day camps, I'll be spending most of my break grading their end of term tests and assignments, writing report card comments, and planning lessons for when they get back. I'm grateful to have the week to try to catch up, because, really? These piles are kinda out of control. (And they don't include the pile of papers that I still have in a bag in my trunk...)

I hate grading papers.

There, I've said it.

I love so many things about teaching. I adore lesson planning and coming up with creative ways to get my students to master concepts. I love working with small groups or one-on-one with students. But hand me a pile of 25-30 papers, and I will put them off as long as possible. I'll glance through them long enough to know which students understand the concept and which ones still need help, but taking a pen to them and assigning a score to upload in my grade book just makes me cringe. Giving the kind of feedback that will help my students improve takes so. much. time.

I know I need to do better with this. Now that I've made it through term 1 and gotten to know my students better, I can force myself to focus more attention on this. But still, if I only spent a minute looking at each paper, that's at least 30 minutes of work. With tests, quizzes, and writing samples, a minute is nowhere near enough to assess and give quality feedback, and if I'm not giving feedback, then what's the point of sitting down and grading it?

So here are some goals/strategies that I have for myself heading into term 2:
1. Decide which assignments will be graded at the start of the week, and only choose ones that can count in multiple categories (e.g., writing about math can be assessed for both a math grade and a writing grade depending on what standards I look at).
2. Try to grade an assignment for every subject at least once a week.
3. Build some Google Forms that can be used during my typical reading and writing conferences so I can use those to give formative grades.
4. Set a timer during 2 of my planning times for 30 minutes and force myself to do nothing but grading during those 30 minutes (no email or other distractions).

Help me out! What are some strategies you use to help you manage grading so you don't get buried under a pile of papers?


  1. glad to hear there's another teacher who dislikes grading! I burned out myself multiple times last year (my first year teaching) from grading. I tried to grade everything, but learned the hard way that it's impossible and ineffective. This year is going much better. The only time the grading piled up on me was during the week I missed 3 days of school from being sick, the week before we sent out progress reports (whew...I was busy those days!) I'll share some strategies I use, though they're similar to yours: 1) Know at the beginning of the week what assignments will be graded and how they'll be graded; 2) don't grade all math assignments, but correct them in class so the students get immediate feedback (this works well with the saxon math curriculum); 3) organize my time after school so some afternoons I plan and others I grade; 4) give myself a 15 minute break right after school; and lastly, 5) use a rubric (1-4 scale) to grade skills, especially in math in ELA. Thanks for sharing!

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