In my first years of teaching I realized something about this profession: I really hate grading. There, I said it! I know I am not the only one, and in the beginning I was really horrible at it. I let piles and piles of ungraded work sit around for weeks until it was Report Card time. Then I frantically took everything home and graded hour after hour, feeling more and more irritated at myself for letting it go unchecked.
I would grow even more disappointed with myself as I graded papers from weeks ago, realizing that I missed so many opportunities to help my students. I knew I had to change what I was doing...I just didn't know how.
I looked on Pinterest for help in grading, what did other teachers recommend? I found tips on reducing what gets graded. I no longer graded homework, instead I started checking for completion every morning. I stopped grading every worksheet, instead providing master copies for students to self check.
In the end I realized that while I had reduced what I graded, there was still a lag between what I taught, and the evidence for learning that students turned in. Even if I graded an assignment a week later, which was a vast improvement over weeks and weeks (or months, don't judge!), we had already moved on by then, and I lost the value of Right There Feedback. Plus, I kept noticing how surprised students were when they got their Progress Reports or Report Cards back, and I realized: they had NO CLUE where they were in their learning goals.
Finally, I decided enough was enough. I was just going to have to make time to grade student work right then and there, in the moment. This thought came to me when I ran across a blog article on Pinterest about grading tests in the moment, and I had a lightbulb come on, why couldn't I do that for everything?
Halfway through last year is when I made the change. Every Sunday I went through our math lessons for the week and made a Master Exit Ticket for each grade level with the answers filled in, and sentences explaining my thinking. I trained my second and third graders to grab a crayon when they were done and come up to my desk to check their exit ticket against the Master Copy. One star for correct answers, two stars for correct answers plus sentences explaining their work.
The effect was immediate. Students no longer rushed through their Exit Tickets, and instead spent extra time double checking and writing explanations (Second graders!!! Third graders!!!) When they came to check their work they would whoop with joy at their progress, or ask thoughtful questions about errors. "Oh, I see...I didn't add these right. Why do we have to do this step first?"
For reading we used spiral journals to create Thinking Maps (this was prior to me figuring out blank paper and structured notes worked better.) As they completed their reflections I would sit in my rocking chair with a marker to star off work. I would give feedback to each child, mentally cataloging who I would pull the next day for remediation, or extend with a challenge. Again, instant improvement in their effort, and they seemed eager to know how they did, no matter if they struggled or did well (or thought they did well, I had a number of overconfident learners.)
I have continued these practices into this school year with my fifth graders. For every whole group reading lesson I grade them as they start to finish, giving feedback in the moment. Students have stopped being surprised at the end of trimester grades, as they have seen their progress daily since August.
Here is the key to this method: only grade what is vitally important. This will obviously depend on you, and what you feel is vitally important. When I taught math and reading I only took two grades a day, math exit tickets and reading reflections for our whole group lessons. Once a month was a writing grade for a final piece, and I did completion and participation for science. That's it. The only exceptions were module tests and reading tests every few months, and I did the same thing, grade it right then and there so they could see how they did.
Now that I teach strictly reading and writing, I only take one grade a day for each class, and only for our daily whole group lessons. Everything else is participation and completion. Now I have online reading tests with Benchmark that I transfer to Google Classroom, so they see how they did the next day.
Think outside the box when it comes to grading, and give yourself and your students some slack. Unless it is mandated by your district to take a certain number of grades, I would stick to just the essentials and make it meaningful for you and your students by grading and giving feedback as students turn them in. Use that data to push students, or to pull a small group the next day.
If you try this method let me know how it works out in the comments!
Winter Break for teachers is a special time of hibernation! I learned early on in my career that I could absolutely spend all my time in bed binging on Netflix, and come the first Monday back have nothing prepped and be deeply regretful about the way I'd spent my time.
So, let me outline some strategies for using your Winter Break so that you have a balance of You Time, Family Time, and Work Time!
According to Inc.com, citing a Finnish university study on vacationers, eight days is the perfect length of time for a vacation in order to decompress from the stresses of work. I highly recommend taking two to three of those days for only you. Whether that means burying yourself in bed with a good book or a good show, taking a hike, spending time with your dog, or any other activity that helps you decompress, spend those days wisely!
Most importantly, be brave enough to say no. I often find it is more difficult to protect my Me Time during break because there are many loved ones and errands vying for my time. Politely, but firmly, decline. Use the words "I would love to, but I am taking a few days to myself. How about next week we ___?" Offer an alternative so the person knows you still want to spend time with them, just not right now.
I guarantee after your two to three days of "hibernation" you will feel refreshed and ready to take on the rest of your break! This time doesn't have to happen right when break starts, in fact it might be better to do it after the holidays, but definitely make sure it happens, and make sure the days are consecutive!
Family / Friend Time
Family time can be stressful, especially if you are hosting holiday celebrations or need to do any traveling. Again, the theme stays the same, decline when needed and offer an alternative that can satisfy both parties. If that isn't possible, try and fit in some decompression time.
Family time also means spending meaningful time with family that you might not normally have time for. This would apply to outside of holiday obligations, and more toward activities or events that you might normally put off during school days, but now you suddenly have time for. Haven't seen your bestie in several weeks? Call them up and set a coffee date! Missing date nights with your significant other? Plan a special night for just the two of you.
I would also recommend enlisting the help of others so everything doesn't fall on your shoulders. If you normally clean, shop, prep, and cook then reach out and ask for help. If anyone seems put off by your sudden need, just explain that you are taking time for yourself as a busy educator, and you would like some help!
Most of all, enjoy this precious gift of time with loved ones!
I left this one last because I know none of us are in the right mindset to think about work when break is upon us and we are all so incredibly exhausted. However, imagine the alternative: You spent your wonderful two weeks off hibernating and celebrating with family, and oh no school starts tomorrow and you aren't prepped for the week!
I want to help you avoid that and you only need to 'donate' one day of your break. Yep, just one day, that's it. Just prep for what you need the week you come back, and then you're done. Needed things might include:
If you feel it will take more than one day to prep those items, I would say print off master copies at the very least so you can get to work early come Monday and print the rest. Best case scenario your spend one day getting prepped for the bare minimum for the whole week, that way you can spend your prep that first week back getting acclimated and prepping for the week after. Worst case scenario you spend your one day only getting prepped for Monday, and using your prep to finish planning for the week.
Whichever way you slice it, be sure to spend a least a little time prepping. Make it fun by rewarding yourself with a treat, or double up on family/friend time by bringing someone along to help you, and going to lunch after.
But, whatever you do, do not spend all your time at work!!!
I hope you found this post helpful, and that your Winter Break is restful and relaxing! I will be taking the rest of the month off, and will be back with a new post mid-January!
Have a Happy Holiday and a Wonderful New Year!
I'm Mae and I am an instructional Coach, 5th Grade ELA teacher, and Thinking Maps trained.