Reimagining Assessment
Reimagining Assessment

Educators are rethinking the purposes, forms, and nature of assessment. Beyond testing mastery of traditional content knowledge—an essential task, but not nearly sufficient—educators are designing assessment for learning as an integral part of the learning process.

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These 6 tips can help teachers prevent grading from piling up and give students the immediate feedback that helps them learn and improve.

It’s the end of the day. You’re exhausted and hungry. You don’t have tomorrow’s lesson posted. You still need to make dinner, help your kids with their homework, and do laundry. Grades are due tomorrow. You swore you would stop working late and create stronger boundaries between work and home, but there’s no way you’re going to finish all your grading by tomorrow’s deadline unless you finish it tonight while your family watches TV and relaxes. You hate that grading takes over so much of your time. You’re not even sure that any of this makes a difference. You can feel the burnout seeping into your bones. How did you get to this point again?

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. This used to be me at the end of every quarter. Fortunately, I discovered a method that has saved me all the hassle and stress: grading students’ work on a daily basis. It sounds impossible! But, I have a few simple techniques that make it manageable—and make my evenings at home much more enjoyable as well. I’ve almost forgotten how bad things used to be.

Before I explain how I do this, a word about the way I teach. As a Modern Classroom Educator, I run a self-paced classroom. In order to monitor student progress and keep everyone on track, I need to grade everything they pass in on a daily basis. At first, this was an intimidating task, but it turns out that timely feedback improves student performance and helps me guard against end-of-quarter teacher burnout. Because I know I’m going to be grading every day, I spend a lot more time thinking in advance about how to make my assignments easier to grade...and the work never piles up. Taking 30 minutes each day to grade efficiently beats weekends spent under piles of papers.

Here are some tips to consider as you create your own daily grading routine.

1. Make a strong personal commitment to the practice of daily grading.

It is important that you know why you are prioritizing your grading every day and the positive impact that it will have on your students. Studies have shown that students who receive timely feedback make bigger gains in their performance. This is what we want! You’re going to grade those assignments eventually...why not do it in a way that benefits students? Plus, you avoid those big stacks of assignments. Win-win.

2. Know what you’re going to grade before you release a unit.

When you release a unit, you want to be in execute mode in terms of grading. You don’t want to be spending your one hour of planning deciding what to grade when you can spend that time grading and providing feedback! This has the added benefit of letting you see how much you’re assigning over the course of a unit and adjusting it before you release it. You don’t need to grade everything by hand! I try to provide students with practice work that is graded automatically by programs like Edpuzzle or Quizizz, but spend my time giving detailed feedback and suggestions for improvement on their written work.

3. Know how you’re going to grade each assignment before you release it, including rubrics and points.

By moving this step to the unit planning phase, you’re freeing up time during the unit that you can reserve for grading. It also helps you identify exactly what you are looking for from students which will help you better articulate assignments to students. Posting rubrics with assignments on your LMS (learning management system) is another way to save time when you’re grading. Rubrics don’t have to be complicated or time consuming to create. My school has adopted a 4.0 grading scale and we are all working from the same basic rubric that we can then tailor to our specific needs.

4. Organize your online gradebook before you open your unit.

Okay, this is where we need to talk about grading in a traditional versus a self-paced classroom. It is different. I used to grade one or maybe two things at a time and was all annoyed when students turned in things late because I couldn’t find the rubric. In a self-paced classroom, the work is spread out because students are on different lessons. This makes grading less monotonous and also prevents big backlogs of a single assignment. You will usually be accepting four, five, or six different assignments and mastery checks every day! You need to be ready to grade all of them which means you need a way to easily access your rubrics and grading keys. Set up columns in your gradebook for all of the assignments up front, before you open the unit, and have copies of rubrics/keys on hand so you’re ready to grade whenever a student turns in their assignment.

5. Make lesson planning and grading your number one priority.

In a self-paced classroom, you’ve fully planned out your unit when you release it to students. This opens up your time to focus on timely grading and feedback during the unit. We’ve already established how much this helps students so I want you to feel empowered to prioritize grading during the day. Put a 30 or 60 minute chunk of time on your calendar and don’t let anyone or anything distract you. Personally, I like grading with headphones while listening to upbeat music. It helps me block distractions, lets others see that I am focused, and puts me in a better mood. I usually listen to Classical for Studying Radio on Pandora to get into a good flow.

6. Hustle some mornings/evenings when you get behind, especially when you’ve been absent.

Okay, it’s not always easy to get your grading done daily, but I hope seeing students improve motivates you on the days you might have fallen behind. Grab some time in the morning or the evening if you’ve been absent and need to catch up. As you’d surely tell your students, it’s better than putting it off until the weekend before it’s due.

Ultimately, daily grading is a practice that is good for everyone. It’s faster and less painful for you and your students will appreciate the feedback. Be kind to yourself by creating a routine that works for you. Remember that you don’t need to be perfect. You are attempting something that’s new and hard and some days you might not hit the mark. That’s okay! Even if you miss a few days, it’s easier to catch up and you’ve still given more timely feedback than you otherwise would have. Just like our students, we are a work in progress!

Photo at top by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Moira Mazzi headshot

Moira Mazzi

Teacher, West Potomac High School

Moira Mazzi teaches science at West Potomac High School in Alexandria, Virginia. She is a 2019 Modern Classrooms Fellow.