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!
I'm Mae and I am an instructional Coach, 5th Grade ELA teacher, and Thinking Maps trained.