Raise your hand if you have a pile of assignments that still need grading.
Raise your hand if that pile is giving you anxiety.
Perfect, let’s tackle this head on.
Commit to being organized
I’m sure you’ve learned or know about time management, but are you actually implementing it? We get so caught up in teaching and life that after a while, many of us just try to put out as many fires as possible in a haphazard way.
You have other priorities, and grading takes a backseat to more urgent matters. I get it – I’m a full-time teacher, beginning teacher mentor, a mom, a wife, and a budding entrepreneur.
Sometimes we just need a reminder to reorganize and revamp our methods, especially at this time of the year (it’s almost the holidays as I’m writing this). After teaching for so long, I realized that I just became good at managing the chaos rather than having a plan and a system.
I was sacrificing my sanity because I was too lazy to be organized!
Stop. Adding. Assignments.
Last week I wrote a blog post about how to grade less while still improving student outcomes. One of my main points is that you don’t need to grade EVERYTHING you assign to the students. If you have a clear picture of what you want your students to accomplish and ONLY grade a few assignments and standards at a time, you’ll be able to get through grading faster.
However, if you’ve already committed and collected the assignments, or you made a promise that “yes this DOES count on your grade,” do NOT exacerbate your grading problem by adding even more assignments! This is counterintuitive, and will only ensure that your anxiety intensifies and the quality of your feedback diminishes. Just stop the bleeding now.
Reconsider how you will grade the assignment
Take a look at those stacks of assignments (for those of you using technology, these can be virtual stacks), and as yourself this:
How much of this assignment gives me a clear picture of my students’ level of proficiency?
If, after scanning it, you realize that it was only practice and probably shouldn’t be worth much, you can either 1) grade one small part of it that demonstrates learning (maybe one or two questions), or 2) only give them a check or some indication of credit for doing it.
While I believe that any assignment worth grading should have some kind of rubric connected to it, sometimes you realize that you’re just checking for understanding or doing a formative assessment. Therefore, your feedback doesn’t need to be elaborate, and you can often just visually scan and know how a student is progressing.
Set aside blocks of time
I’m lucky enough to have a school on block schedule, which means that classes are 105 minutes long. While I only have my planning period every other day, I still have large chunks of time that I can take advantage of.
Compared to my previous site where I had 6 55-minute classes a day, I get so much work done in a block, and often finish at least two classes worth of grading. Think about it: once you’ve settled in, organized your assignments, pulled out your gradebook, half of your planning time is gone!
Larger blocks of time equal more productivity!
If you don’t have this option due to scheduling or otherwise, all is not lost. You just have to commit to setting aside blocks of time and not getting distracted by everything else in your world. I can attest to the fact that this is difficult, especially since I’m addicted to checking my email, people often want to come and talk to me about various issues at school, and I have after-school activities with my family.
However, I’ve decided that, as a teacher, I owe it to my students and my own sanity to just get it done. Which also means blocking out distractions while I grade.
Figure out the when and the where
You know your schedule better than I do, but the key is to set aside a minimum of an hour and a half for grading each time. For me, sometimes this happens only during my prep, other times it happens after school, and often it happens at home. Either way, make the choice that makes sense in your life.
During those two hours, you need to communicate verbally and/or nonverbally that you CANNOT be interrupted. This is so difficult if you have young ones in your house, so you may have to come early to school or stay after school to accomplish this.
If you stay at school, your colleagues may constantly interrupt you with questions or concerns. In this case, you may have to put up a sign, turn off your lights and lock the door, hide out somewhere where nobody can find you, or maybe go to Starbucks and grade. I’ve even gone to the nice and quiet public library to do this. You get my point.
Get down to business
Once you’ve set this time aside and you’re ready to start, turn off your ringer or set it to vibrate, close out of ALL social media and email, and get a timer ready.
Be sure to have everything you need within arm’s reach so that you don’t have to stop the workflow, whether it’s rubrics, pens, pencils, your online gradebook etc.
Mimic the way you’d expect your students to be prepared for class.
There are different methods for attacking projects, such as the Pomodoro Technique or Getting Things Done method. When grading, I use Pomodoro to keep me motivated throughout the process. Here are the basics:
- Decide on the task. In this case, it would be grading. Set a goal for how many classes worth of assignments you will grade in that block.
- Set a Pomodoro for 25 minutes (a Pomodoro is that 25-minute window)
- Grade for 25 minutes without distractions
- Take a short 5-minute break doing something mundane, like getting a bite to eat, getting up and stretching, watering the plants, etc. I do NOT check email or social media at this time.
- For every 4 Pomodoros, take a longer 30-minutes break.
Since my prep is only 105 minutes long, I don’t get through 4 Pomodoros, but I do get quite a bit done. I used to just trudge through as long as I could stand it, however I found that the quality and speed of my grading diminished past the one-hour mark.
With the Pomodor method, I found that every time I came back, I was fresh and ready to go.
Streamline your feedback
I previously discussed the importance of feedback in a past post, as well as held a webinar on how to use technology to speed up the process. In my last post, I also mentioned how you should give more detailed feedback in person and in a timely manner as opposed to only when grading an assignment. If you decide to try this out, you’ll find yourself with fewer stacks of assignments to grade!
In any case, since you’re behind, you’ll need to streamline your feedback. Here are a few tips:
- If you’re grading on paper:
- Quickly scan about 5-10 assignments and look for common errors.
- Write these down on a piece of paper, and assign them a number or letter. This will be a code that you’ll write on their paper when the error comes up.
- When you return their work, display or disseminate a key to all of the codes and the corresponding feedback.
- If you’re grading online:
- Use apps such Google Keep to do a digital version of the codes and feedback.
- Simply copy and paste it wherever you would normally leave feedback.
- You can also leave voice feedback through Kaizena or use a rubric for grading with the Orangeslice add-on for Google Docs.
One caveat: if you’re not going to give them the opportunity to DO something with the feedback such as revise or direct them to apply it to the next assessment, then don’t bother leaving feedback at all. Seriously. They won’t read it, and you’ll save yourself so much time and trouble.
Perhaps your method of organization needs a makeover.
I remember purchasing an expensive Happy Planner, with accompanying planner stickers, flair pens, and washi tape, a fancy Leuchtturm bullet journal, as well as various planner apps for my phone and computer.
You know what?
No matter how pretty or slick the tool is, if you don’t use it, then it’s worthless. Luckily my daughter has confiscated my washi tape and is putting it to good use, but she definitely loves to joke about my addiction to notebooks and planners that I never use.
If you decide to try a new method to stay organized, be sure to keep at it for at least a few weeks to see if it sticks. Be purposeful in your implementation, and give it a chance before you completely give up.
After researching productivity methods, I finally settled on the Pomodoro Technique. I’ve been using it for a little over a month with great success! If you’re willing to give it a try, click on the link below for my FREE editable Pomodoro checklist (it’s a fillable PDF!).