Making Grading Manageable, Efficient, and Purposeful

As all teachers know, the amount of paperwork that piles up on your desk is overwhelming. It seems the assignments come in at a faster rate than you can grade, record, and return them. Grading can easily become an obligation, a nuisance and even a dreaded task. This does not have to be the case.

Make Grading Manageable
Your time as a teacher cannot be consumed with grading. You have other important tasks on which to spend your time, such as lesson planning, teaching, and communicating with students and parents. In order to effectively manage assessing your pupils’ work, consider the following tips: 
  • Give yourself goals, quotas, and breaks. It is unrealistic to think you are going to sit down and grade 130 essays on a Saturday morning. Set quotas and schedule breaks for yourself such as 15 essays this hour, followed by a 30-minute break, then another 15 the next hour. Breaks are necessary, otherwise you may start to lose focus, provide unauthentic feedback, or miss certain aspects of your pupils’ work. Give the last essay you grade as much time, attention, and effort as you gave the first one. 
  • Do not grade every single piece of work. It is okay to have your class complete assignments that they will not turn in. However, make sure that this work has a specific purpose behind it, otherwise it becomes busy work and has no benefit.  Instead, think of purposeful assignments such as pre-writing and brainstorming journal entries or concept and thought-maps.  While such activities get your class activating their prior knowledge and preparing to do a subsequent assignment, they don’t necessarily need to be formally assessed. 
A key way to make your workload manageable is to utilize your time efficiently so that grading is a smooth and seamless part of your workday.  
Make Grading Efficient
There is always more work to be done than there are hours in the day, so you must find a way to quickly, yet thoroughly, complete your grading. Here are some suggested ways to do just that:
1.    Create systems: Have a system for all parts of the grading process:
    • Collecting the work: Have a specified place in your room, designated by class and/or period, for your pupils to put completed work. This can help minimize the time you spend simply organizing the assignments before your grade them.
    • Grading scale: Decide on how you want to grade your work. There are many options beyond the standard A-F system. You can use a 1-5 or 1-10 numeric scale, with 10 being great, 7 average, 5 below average, and 3 failing. Some teachers utilize pass/no-pass, and require learners to redo no-pass assignments. Popular in the elementary levels is the plus, check-plus, check, or minus system. This can also be used for smaller assignments at the secondary level. Regardless of the system you decide to use, choose one, explain how it works to your class, and stick with it. 
    • Recording the work: Instead of recording each individual assignment after you grade it, wait until you have several assignments, or multiple classes’ work and enter it all in to your computer and/or grade book at the same time. 
2.    Rubrics: These are wonderful tools and there are many great ones already created. Check out RubriStar for a variety of rubrics on a range of subjects and projects. A key to being efficient is not recreating the wheel, so use these resources that have been shared by fellow educators. However, make certain that your chosen rubric fits your assignment, precisely and effectively measuring each element you want to evaluate.
3.    Peer review: A lot of time can be spent reading multiple drafts of written assignments. Minimize grading and teach your students writing conventions and editing habits by scheduling a peer-edit session before every final draft is due. Give your classes specific elements to look for as they grade their peers’ essays. A great tool to provide is the actual rubric you will be using when you grade their work. You will have to teach the art of peer editing; however once you do, your learners can be valuable assistants to you in the grading process. This way, once you receive the last few drafts of your pupils’ work, you can spend time editing the larger content and structural issues. 
The last key to making grading manageable is to ensure that you are assigning assignments that have a direct purpose to the standards you are teaching. For each piece of work you give, you should have a specific outcome you desire to see. 
Make Grading Purposeful
1.    Don’t assign busy work: Nobody likes it. Students hate it and can see right through an assignment that has no direct purpose. Keep in mind that if you are giving classwork or homework just to keep your class occupied, and for no other reason, you are going to end up spending time grading piles full of worthless work. Such assignments often are worksheets, and add no academic value. 
2.    Have an objective: Just as each lesson you teach should have an objective, so should your assignments. As you create or assign each piece of work, verbally express to your class why it is they are being asked to do this specific task. It helps to even write down the objective on the white board or on the individual handouts. Your grading should pertain to this objective. For example, if your purpose of the assignment is correct comma usage, you might not look for, or grade, incorrect spelling or capitalization. If you are looking for theme identification in a social science chapter notes, you might not mark down for small factual errors as in wrong dates and places.
Implement these tools and strategies to lift the burden of grading off of your shoulders. Not only that, but your feedback will become more authentic, thus producing more improvement and better results amongst your pupils. It’s truly a win-win for everyone! 

Lesson Planet Resources:

Great tips for utilizing effective rubrics in the classroom. Learn how to use a simple, standards-based, student-friendly and consistent rubric throughout the year to help you establish an objective grading system.
Rubrics make life easier. They take most of the subjectivity out of grading, and they give more feedback than just a number or check mark could. Unfortunately, not all rubrics are created equal. Rubrics are a communication tool between teachers and learners, which means they need to be written with the students as the audience. There are a number of problems a teacher can encounter when creating a rubric, which is why it’s important to keep the following in mind.

Use Your Standards

It seems like a simple concept, but often teachers forget to align rubrics. You don’t need to invent your own qualifications of a good paper or presentation—they are already in the Common Core Standards. The Speaking and Listening standards are especially helpful, as Common Core pays heavy attention to presentation and collaboration skills. For easy use, download the Common Core app and have your standards with you at all times. For the grades in your rubrics, use terms like "proficient" or "advanced" in order to acclimate your class to testing categories. In addition, if students clearly see your standards and objectives in your rubrics, you will spend less time explaining your rubric.

Use Student-Friendly Language

While teachers should be striving for the use of academic language in the classroom, there needs to be a scaffolding of your vocabulary, even in high school. I teach in a Title 1 school, and you cannot just assume your class will know vocabulary like substantive, synthesize, or even words like adequate. Use student-friendly language and build the knowledge of academic vocabulary.
Sometimes the best way to get student-friendly language is for your classes to create and use rubrics themselves. This helps learners become comfortable with rubrics and establishes a habit of self-checking and peer-editing. Use a blank rubric for your class to demonstrate their understanding of mastery, or have the peer evaluations of a debate using a persuasive argument rubric.

Less is More

You don’t have to pack a textbook’s worth of instruction into your rubric squares. Keep your categories limited with three or four levels of proficiency. In your descriptions, avoid jargon that will pad your word count. Middle schoolers (and even high schoolers) will become confused and disengaged if they have to decipher too many squares of options. Longer rubrics are often used in higher education (like in the writing portion of the GED), but in middle and high school, rubrics should be to the point so that learners can create a mental rubric to help with self-checks. This rubric is an example of a rubric that balances rigor with brevity and clarity.

Reuse Your Rubrics

While slight modifications are always necessary, try to keep your rubrics consistent throughout the year. Your classes will be able to anticipate requirements and you’ll lose less time explaining new rubrics. Learners who are familiar with your writing or presentation rubrics can also peer-edit more efficiently. The main point of rubrics is to assist in revision, so if someone is familiar with a rubric, they can develop more independence in the revision process. Even if you can't do multiple drafts of a paper, using the same rubric helps students map their progress as they improve on the rubric. You can even have them track their growth on the rubric over the semester or year.
This is a clear template that can be used in any writing-based peer editing assignment. There are specific grammar rules and conventions that students are to look for to determine if their peer correctly implemented them.  A space for comments allows pupils to provide direct feedback on how each other can improve.
This is a helpful article with suggestions on alternative assessments for the completion of a novel unit. Instead of giving the popular essay or written exam, consider giving a project or technology-based assignment that allows students to demonstrate their knowledge in a more hands-on fashion.
Multiple choice, short answer, or essay? Traditionally, those have been the most common assessment options used at the completion of a novel unit. Although these types of tests can provide feedback on how much a child recalls about a novel, alternative forms of assessments can determine what a child understands, applies, evaluates, and synthesizes.
Throughout a novel unit, teachers delve into all levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, as well as the various multiple intelligences and learning styles. Higher-level questioning, graphic organizers, discussion groups, and literature centers are used to provide opportunities for critical thinking. If students are provided with differentiation throughout the unit, why not provide differentiation in the way the novel is assessed?
Offering a choice and/or varying the form of assessment allows learners the chance to create true representation of their understanding of the novel. If a group of fourth graders read James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, the teacher could provide them with several choices to assess their understanding of the story. Pupils could create a newspaper or magazine article about James' exploration while on the giant piece of fruit. Another form of assessment is to create a collage that represents James from the point of view of one of the main characters. Learners could design a graphic organizer that compares James, or one of the situations in the story to something that they have personally experienced, a topic in history, or a current event.
Alternative testing opens the door to taking assessment beyond recall. Teachers will be able to determine the depth of understanding by how the student connects the text to him or herself, other texts, or the world. Alternative assessments take testing to the highest level, and provide the most valuable feedback.

Alternative Assessment Lesson Plans For Novels:

Henry Huggins: After reading Henry Huggins, pupils will be given a variety of assessment choices, including creating advertisements, designing an aquarium, and creating a collage. Discover a great example of how to use alternative assessments. It includes several options that accommodate different learning modalities. It also shows a perfect balance between traditional assessments and performance assessments.
Charlotte's Web: At the end, learners create a poster that includes pictures and sentences that demonstrate how the book relates to their everyday lives. Assessing pupils on how they connect the text to themselves provides an in-depth look at how well they understood and internalized what was read. There is also a follow-up activity to the assessment. Pupils write a story called "Supername" based on the experiences that are included in the poster. 
Analyze a Character: After reading a novel, learners create a life-size model of a character and include descriptive information about the character's traits. Adapt this resource to other novels and grades 3 and up. It provides a great way to assess whether pupils can identify character traits. 
Literature E-Circles: Teachers collaborate with other schools to read Holes and hold online literature circles for cross-school discussions. Learners are assessed according to their participation in a discussion based on the Socratic Seminar model. This not only offers an alternative assessment, but also incorporates technology into the entire unit and the culminating activity.

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