The Grading Policy That Saved My Life

It’s no secret that teachers have no time. There are only so many hours in the day yet the to-do list for teachers is endless, especially if you are at a school that requires you to fully clean out your classroom each year.

There are ways to simplify your life but not every method will benefit you just because we are all different. Being that teacher who has the most beautiful teacher planner that is color-coordinated and highly decorated while at the same time is also very helpful is not me.

My graduate school experience was really phenomenal and I attribute my success to how well organized and thorough that program was. One thing stands above the rest.

The Grading Policy That Saved My Life

Agree or disagree, it doesn’t really matter. This was my philosophy when I taught and I would use this again if/when I go back to the classroom:

I only get as long to grade something as I gave students to complete it.

Grades are feedback. Grades are supposed to be constructive. If a student isn’t grasping something, they need the work back so they have time to adjust and possibly relearn. There is nothing more disrespectful in teaching methods than teachers who hoard their turned-in assignments and grade them all en masse during the in-service day. It happens too much and it needs to stop.

How it works

If students were given a class period to work on something then I graded it and returned it the next day.

If students were given a week to work on something then I took a week (sometimes – usually sooner) to grade and returned it the next day.

One day = one day

One week = one week

One month = one month

For particularly long assignments (involved projects, research papers, etc.) I would remind students to not expect an immediate turnaround. They got used to my method of quick turnaround times.

But I teach honors or AP

So did I. It didn’t matter. I showed my students respect for their work by returning graded work WITH COMMENTS in the same time it took them to produce.

I graded bellwork and classwork every day, entered it into the system, and returned it the next day. I wrote comments, made suggestions, and responded to questions on the work. Just because I graded it in one day didn’t mean I could give meaningless grades. Everything I did had to show it mattered and that I respected their effort.

How do you meaningful grade everything in one day?

The first step is narrow down the assignments. If I don’t want to grade it or take it seriously then why am I assigning it? Because it is trendy? No thanks. Something that I quit early on was exit tickets. It’s a good idea in theory and maybe you have an awesome method but I didn’t. I’d be willing to bet that most of you reading now if you are honest, don’t have an amazing exit ticket strategy either.

So really think about what you are assigning. Does it showcase what students learned? Does it help reinforce the concepts? Will it help them on the test? Did the assignment emphasize what you wanted it to? Will it prepare them for tomorrow? Will it prepare them for the next unit? Determine your own criteria and focus on creating assignments that meet them.

Now figure out what doesn’t work for you. I also eventually gave up bellwork although I wasn’t supposed to. I did it anyway. Sorry administration. Bellwork is another tool that can be useful but it was a drag on my classroom. I didn’t need a transition piece to get the student’s attention.

No more bellwork. No exit tickets. Those two things were a lot less paper floating around and I only collected bellwork and exit tickets once a week as it was. I also eliminated homework in my regular and honors classes. Honors still had research papers but no daily homework. More grades I didn’t have to worry about.

You haven’t actually mentioned what you did grade. Did the students have to do work in your class?

They sure did. We did a lot of writing exercises. Short answer, long answer, essay-type writings. Students did writing stamina assignments. We had A LOT of discussions. We did a lot of notetaking which I did actually grade. I simulated the exams (it was a test-heavy school) so most of my exams were multiple choice only. When I taught AP I added writing prompts to their exams. Quizzes of course. And games. I liked simulations and games.

I entered fewer grades than most teachers though. Students had fewer opportunities to earn a grade but the grades they did earn were more meaningful than some stupid bellwork assignment was.

Preplan the entire grading period

This took extra effort on my part but I found that as long as I knew exactly what my grading opportunities were going to be I could stick to this method. I planned out my entire grading period, wrote an assignment sheet for students, and stuck to it. I could eliminate assignments but never add. That was my deal with students.

Did you ever get behind?

No. Not to brag but no. Not once. Not even when I miscarried and took time off. I came back and appreciated the fact that I had a system in place. It helped actually.

I gathered all assignments and graded what I could in between classes. We had six minutes. A minute after the bell I was usually alone and students began filtering in a minute before the bell. That was four solid minutes of grading time. Multiply it by six and that is a lot of grading time. You’d be surprised at what you could get done.

Many teachers use their planning period to get work done but I almost never relaxed during my planning. Taking my planning period off was a true luxury. My planning happened right before my lunch period so I had a long break. I ate and worked.

I also graded after school. I am a contract-time believer AND a realist. Twice a week I left at my contract time but two times a week I stayed an extra half hour to an hour. I liked to clean my classroom too.

Once a week, on Fridays, I stayed late. Why Fridays? Because I didn’t have to get up early on Saturday. The campus was empty on Friday nights and no one bothered me. I blasted my music or movie and got to work. Grading never took up that much time though.

In-service days were spent lesson planning/prepping because my grades were done. Teachers were always asking, “will your grades be in by 4?” and I would proudly answer, “My grades were done yesterday.” My stress level was much lower because my work was just done.

Listen. I get it. This method isn’t for everyone. Maybe you like assigning meaningless busywork that isn’t any fun to complete. Or grade. There is a decent chance you work at a school that mandates you assign a certain number of assignments. But hopefully, if you read through this entire blog, you are at least going to ponder this: is your system of assigning work thoughtful or haphazard?


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