Teaching can be a rewarding profession. The joy of seeing a child understand something that used to be challenging…the satisfaction of helping students meet high expectations…these things can make the job worthwhile. But, as anyone who has spent time in the classroom knows, one thing that can bury that joy is burnout from grading and assessing student work. It can seem like a never-ending task at times. So, what can be done to reduce the paper load so the joy of teaching can resurface? The following five suggestions may help.
Assign Meaningful Work
My first tip may seem obvious, but one way to reduce the paper load is to only assign meaningful work. If it’s not helping students move toward mastery, don’t assign it. Nobody likes busywork. Students don’t like doing it because it feels meaningless. Teachers don’t like scoring it because it doesn’t provide valuable information or data about understanding. Assign work that matters. It could be a long-term project and you evaluate steps along the way. This not only teaches time-management skills for students, it also provides them with a goal to work toward. They feel more engaged because they are not doing meaningless practice problems (I know there’s a time and place for practice work…see below). Teachers feel better because they are scoring steps toward a goal. Scoring steps along the way could be as easy as using a simple checklist to determine if the student is on the right track.
Don’t Grade Everything
At times, students do need to do practice work to solidify concepts. I know that this can’t always be avoided. When practice work is needed, remember the purpose of it…for practice. Is it really necessary to score every practice problem? If the practice work is meant to move students toward mastery, should it really be given point value towards the student’s grade? Perhaps practice problems can be “graded” with a completion grade. Students get points for simply doing the work. Teachers walk around the classroom and mark in the grade book if the student is finished with the work. The student’s actual grade comes from the assessment given later, after the practice work. Don’t let practice work bulk up the paper load you need to tackle.
Allow Students to Grade Their Own Work
Often times, valuable learning happens as students review work that they have done. After the teacher has marked whether or not the student completed the assignment, the class can take time to go through the work together. Students can mark their own work for accuracy and understanding. Sometimes teachers shy away from allowing students to score their own work, but consider this…because it was just practice, and it was already marked as complete or incomplete by the teacher, there is no benefit for students to “fudge” their scoring. They need to understand that the work was meant to help them gain mastery of concepts. They need to take ownership of their work. As the teacher reviews the work, students can circle/highlight/fix errors that were made. Understanding increases and students view the work as meaningful, not just work that the teacher “made” them do.
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Only Grade Certain Problems
Another way to reduce the paper load is to only score certain problems. If an assignment is being used as a formative assessment, then it may be important for the teacher to do the actual scoring. Formative assessments are meant to guide future instruction and remediation. It only makes sense, in these situations, that the teacher has eyes on the work. He/she needs to use the data and information from the scoring for instructional purposes. However, this does not mean that the teacher needs to score every single problem on the page. If an assignment was meant to provide practice and assessment on five concepts, then the teacher can choose a representative sampling of problems to gather data about those five concepts. Suppose there were forty problems in the entire assignment. Perhaps the teacher could score three examples of each of the five learning concepts. This would lead to scoring fifteen problems for each paper as opposed to forty. Solid data is still gathered. Sounds like a win to me!
Set a Goal to Grade “X” Minutes Per Night
Almost every teacher I know spends time grading at home. For me, it is after my kids are in bed. I will admit…after a full day of teaching, after school activities and homework with my own children, dinner, bath, and bedtime, I am often picking up my grading at 8:30 at night. By this point, I am exhausted. Trying to tackle 100 persuasive essays in this state is not a good situation. I have learned that my own time management is key. If teachers can set a goal to score for “x” number of minutes or “x” number of papers per night (based on their own situations and personal needs), the scoring still tends to get done in a timely manner. For my own example, if I set a goal to grade ten essays per night, I am still finished with scoring in a week and half. Not bad for 100 essays, if you ask me. When scoring is needed for summative or formative purposes, when it cannot be reduced or shifted to the students, then use discipline and time management to avoid overload.
Teaching can be extremely rewarding, as I mentioned earlier. But it can be tough, too. Grading and scoring the paper load can sometimes seem like a mountain with a never-reachable summit. It can feel like a race with an ever-moving finish line. I hope that these tips and techniques can help to bring the summit, or the goal line, in sight for you. I hope they can provide you some relief in a challenging, exciting, sometimes frustrating profession.
Best of luck, and if you have any additional tips for reducing the paper load, please let me know. I will add them to the list and we can all benefit!