7 Strategies to Simplify Classroom Grading

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Over and over again I hear from teachers that grading takes up so much time.  Or that they have to bring home so much work to grade off the clock.  What if we could simplify what we are doing in grading to make our lives easier?  

The only papers I ever brought home to grade were essays.  It didn’t bother me to bring them home because I only had a couple of batches to grade each year since they are longer projects.

Here are my tips on how to get more time back for yourself after 3pm.

1. Grade on the Go

It’s social studies and my students come into the room with their homework.  On the screen I have directions to follow.  It’s really routine, but the directions are there because even after 4 months there are still confused kids.  Students are now seated, starting their assignment with their homework out on their desks.

I have some choices on how to check and grade their homework.  Here’s the system that works wonders.

I bring a small class list with me.  On the side is the date and the assignment.  There is space next to their names to write their grade and any comment I might want to enter into my computer.  I write their grade on my paper with any needed comments.  I also write their grade on the assignment in case there is a computer error. They can show me the grade and I can fix it.  There is no question on if it was done or late or incomplete.

Benefits to grading on the go

It can take some time, but there are many benefits to grading on the go.  Since the kids are in their seats working on an activity there are less disruptions.

  1. I am not calling out names of students who need to come show me their work.
  2. They are not interrupted by classmates around them walking by.
  3. There are less students wondering up to come ask questions because they know I am coming to them.
  4. Students ask more questions because it’s less intimidating when I go to them to check in and we are not at my desk.
  5. I can give kids immediate feedback so they can fix errors.  Or we can talk for a minute and clear up confusion or I can adjust the lesson plan for the class.

2. Grade on Effort and Directions

On most homework, but especially in intimidating math, I grade on students’ effort and ability to follow directions.  My students know this and will actually read all the steps of the directions several times to get a good grade and ask me questions.  It’s amazing.

Mistakes on homework are good because they show us where students are confused and what we can do to clarify a topic.  It can show us how to change our lesson for that class. 

I also make sure to think about the individual student because success for one student does not mean the same thing for another student.

I look at three things when I grade homework like this.

  1. Did they follow all the directions?
  2. Is the work neat for that student?
  3. Is the work that student’s best effort?

Spelling is the exception.  Their spelling homework should be spelled correctly because they often have the words right in front of them.  Spelling words correctly is the point of spelling homework, to practice correctly. They can also look up word in a spelling sentence that they don’t know how to spell.

3. Have Six Grades Students Can Expect

In general there are six grades my students expect to get from me.  This is not a new system, but I feel that my students understand the expectations well.  I will often give grades in between based on effort, directions, and neatness.  However clear expectations for the students helps them reach for their goal.

  • Check Plus (100%) means the work is neat, organized and done exceptionally well.  I have had many students ask me about a grade on an assignment that was done.  I go back to this grading form and point to it. I ask them, “Was it done exceptionally well?”  Oftentimes the student will say no and thank me for explaining it and showing them the expectation.   
  • Check (85%) means it was done well and directions were followed.  It was a good effort, but it could have been more.  My early finishers are often happy with their minimum effort work.  The truth is it could be better and they could make it more.  And I expect them to try.
  • Check Minus (70) means the work was done with errors.  It was complete, but messy.  It was far from great effort and more along the lines of the student just rushed to finish it asap.
  • Zero (0) – They didn’t do the work or turn in anything.
  • Incomplete (I) – They turned in the work, but it was not finished.  I will often give this back to them.  If they are a student who always does their homework and it is always done correctly I will give them a warning with a little grace.  “Next time this will be considered late, but today you can just finish it up.  It will be on time because you always do your work and do it well.”  If it is a student who is often missing their work I will give it back to them to finish and it will be considered late and their grade will be reduced.  They can get between 50-70%.
  • Late (50%) – Late assignments generally start at half credit unless a student contacts me ahead of time to self-advocate or explain.

Your system may not be the same as mine. Whatever system works for you try to keep it simple.  Keep it clear. Keep it consistent.  

4. Do NOT Grade Everything

In my first long term teaching position I felt I had to assign a lot of papers and grade a lot of papers and assign more papers.  I was under a pile of papers I thought my students needed to complete and I needed to grade.  If I could get through all the papers then I was a good teacher.  I was wrong.

Do not grade everything.  Some assignments are just class participation.  Some papers are just for practice.  Do not add extra work for everyone.  It’s okay to not grade everything.  It’s okay to assign less work. Grade the most important things that will really help you see what your students understand.  Grade the work you value the most.

Let the rest go.

5. Prioritize

If you have a planning period to work on grading prioritize what needs to get done first.  I have often fallen into the trap of I am going to grade this spelling assignment really quick, because it tends to be fast and then I will get to the other stuff.  The truth is spelling is easy to grade.  I can grade two papers while I wait for art class to wrap up.  I can grade two more while students get their snacks out.  I can grade two more while students trade their books for the next class.  

Use your planning period that you set aside to grade the math tests that will take some time, but you want to finish asap. Or another assignment you had to collect and couldn’t grade on the go.  Finish that first.

6. Pick One Day A Week to Grade Late Work

One of the most time consuming things to grade is late work.  When students turn in their work late I have to find the answer key, grade it, pull up the assignment online, enter one grade and return to the task I was actually trying to get done.  This process is not efficient.  

Pick one day a week to grade and enter late work, so you are not completing this process several times each period.  Maybe you get the assignment from five students by Friday, so instead of going back and entering the grade five times you only have to do it once.

Communicate with parents and students that this is the process.  If they turn in something late they will wait to get their grade.  Let them know you grade late work on Mondays or Fridays, (whatever works for you.)

As a general rule, I only accept late work until the end of the week. Students know this is a deadline and if they need to I let them make-up work during recess.  Life is a little different during the Covid -19 pandemic.  I might make it for two weeks.  After that, it’s a zero and cannot be made up.  If you decide this is a good policy, communicate it with parents and students clearly.  Spend some time training your students. Then enjoy reducing your pile of work to grade. Enjoy that students are turning their work in.

7. Allow Redos and Resubmissions

If a student comes to you and asks to redo an assignment they did poorly on, let them.  They are advocating for themselves.  They are willing to try it again.  Self-advocating is a hard skill to learn.  It’s scary to ask a teacher to redo work.  Praise them for self-advocating.

Make students try it again. In my math class if you get below a 70% on a test you will try it again.  We will have some reteaching and math games for a day.  Students who need to take it again will try the problems they missed.  Say they got a 10/40 on the first test.  I had them try the other 30 problems again and they did better.  This time they got a 30/40.  I average the two grades and they get a 20 out of 40.  Not a great final grade, but it will help them at the end of the grading period.

There are some assignments I do not let them try again, like multiple-choice tests.  It’s okay to say no to assignments like this, but make sure you recognize their initiative to self-advocate.  Maybe offer extra credit before the end of the grading period.

Your job is hard enough.  Think about how you can adjust your grading to make it easier on everyone.  As you implement new policies about grading be sure to communicate your new expectations clearly.

Is there a tip you just loved and can’t wait to try?  Or do you have a tip you’d love to share?  Please comment below.

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