Simple Ways to Save Time on Grading

saving time grading student work

Here we are with another guest post, this time from another efficient teacher, Tanya G. Marshall, aka. The Butterfly Teacher.  If you read last week’s post from Jennifer Lewis, you’ll love that this post is another goody based on what Tanya presented at my first online conference, The Efficient Teacher. Read on to find out ways to save your sanity and enjoy teaching again, and stay tuned, because I will be releasing two vodcast YouTube episodes in the coming weeks with even more tips and tricks!

“What tops the list of reasons why teachers QUIT teaching? Take some wild guesses with me:

  • Lack of pay?
  • Student behavior problems?
  • Crazy work hours?

In 2017, the American Federation of Teachers surveyed over 5,000 teachers who gave their top 5 reasons why they quit their teaching jobs. Listed as the second reason was: Overwhelm with testing paperwork and data collection! What does that have to do with this post on grading? Because if you are a teacher reading this, you know all too well the frustration of taking stacks of paperwork home to grade each week. Many teachers spend an additional 10-15 hours every week on grading alone! It’s no wonder that this builds up to an overwhelming frustration that leads to quitting. If you’ve been to my blog, you know from my bio that I began my teaching career just four months after my husband passed away. I was a young widow, a fresh single parent to a 9-month old baby, and a first-year teacher. Saving time on grading wasn’t just a nice idea for me; I HAD to find solutions to this problem. In this post, I am sharing those solutions with you. No matter what you’re grade level or life situation, these tips will allow you to save time on grading too!

Why Grading Matters?

It’s important to establish our reason for taking grades in the first place. Otherwise, we would all be tempted to just throw them out the window!

  • Communication: Grades help us communicate with students and families about student progress.
  • Track Progress: Grades help you to see what teaching methods are working vs. what’s not working to impact student learning.
  • Planning: Grades help us plan our instruction to fit student needs. They drive instruction for your class.

Keeping these reasons in mind prevents teachers from things that are unnecessary and only add more work to our already bulging plates!

1-Save Time on Grading with Tech Tools

Technology has really streamlined grading in my classroom by leaps and bounds! You can shave hours of grading time from your schedule each week with FREE online software and smartphone apps. Here are some of my favorite tech tools that help you save time on grading student work:

  • Plickers–Grab a FREE guide to using Plickers in your classroom HERE
  • Seesaw
  • Google Docs and Google Forms
  • Flubaroo (A FREE Google Chrome Add-On)
  • ZipGrader–I have an entire step-by-step post HERE that shows you how to use ZipGrade
how to save time on grading
how to save time on gradingHere’s a snapshot of a quiz I graded using ZipGrade. For full details on how it works, click the image.

These are just a few of the resources available online that help teachers become more efficient with grading. Some of these tools can be quickly accessed and used right from your smartphone! Which no one leaves home without anymore. I am constantly raving about apps that help me teach more efficiently because technology in the classroom isn’t just for student improvement. Teachers can improve grading routines through technology as well.

2-Spend Less Time Grading by Enlisting Student Participation

Remember those top reasons WHY we grade student work in the first place? The first one is communication with students. What better way to communicate with students about their grades than to train them to be a part of the grading process? Not only are students given more ownership over their work, but you are saving time on having to grade all those assignments yourself. Some ideas on how to enlist student participating in grading are:

  • Using rubrics that students can easily follow and use for self-checking.
  • Peer-editing checklists and partner work for students to check each other’s work.

Of course, these ideas work best with classwork, homework, exit slips, practice work, etc. I do not recommend having students grade their own tests, book reports, or essays.

3-Save Time Grading Tests/ Essays / Book Reports with Adult Help

Don’t be afraid to simply ask for help with grading student work. I underestimated how effective and EASY this is as a teacher. One evening in a small group session at my church, I expressed how stressed I felt by all the work I had to grade. Before I left the building, three people gave me their phone number and said, “I’ll be glad to help out if you have the answer key.” Now I do put a major disclaimer on this tip. I am not suggesting to hand over student papers to complete strangers who have no idea what they’re doing! Nor should you assume that it’s someone else’s “job” to get your students’ papers graded. Let me clarify:

  • If you have a TA (Teacher Assistant) / Parapro that helps in your classroom, organize your workflow so that he or she can take on some grading assignments. I make this super easy by keeping stacks of work request sticky notes that only take a few seconds to complete. I attach these to the papers that need to be graded. My TA has a designated area where I keep papers for her to check.
  • Get an approved, dependable classroom volunteer to help you. Maybe you are allowed to have a Room Mom or Dad, a retired teacher, or some other adult come to help you in the classroom.
Work Request notes for teachers
Work Request notes for teachersThese work request notes help me communicate well with TA’s, classroom volunteers, etc. which saves everyone time! Click the image for more details.

If you are concerned about not being able to “see” how your students are doing on an assignment, just ask your helper to leave the papers in your organized paperwork area so that you can access their progress/ results.

4-An Obvious Way to Save Time on Grading: Grade LESS Work

I am definitely not being sarcastic with this one. If you want to save time on grading student work–stop grading every single thing that your students complete. This is a challenging one for many teachers. We feel like students will not take the work seriously and give quality effort unless it’s for a grade. If students are only motivated to complete something just for the grade, then I encourage you to reflect on ways to increase student engagement and excitement in class. Maybe this will help. Taking up every single classwork and homework assignment, every single exit slip, everything that your students do will definitely lead to overwhelm with grading. If you feel that your principal/school district requires it, then find out for sure what they are expecting and why. It’s unrealistic to grade every single paper and this unspoken expectation is why over 5,000 teachers listed it as one of their top reasons for leaving the classroom.

How Will This Look in My Classroom?

As an upper elementary teacher, I love using learning centers–especially literacy centers. Students complete an activity at each center, several times a week for practice to reinforce skills.Do I grade every single center activity? Nope. Here are the different ways I handle these center activities:

  • Look over them for major gaps or lack of understanding. If a student complete bombs a center activity, I will briefly conference with them when they come to my small group teacher table to find out why.
  • Ask my teaching assistant to grade them. I will often pull one center activity that really targets a specific skill or standard and leave one of these work request notes to have my TA or a classroom volunteer just grade that set.
  • Have students self-check their own papers. I train my students on how to complete the center, then get the answer key to check their own work.

The rest go in my lovely recycling bin! No stacks of papers to take home for grading.

5-Collaborate Effectively with Team Teachers to Save Time on Grading

If you work on a teaching team, you may be able to collaborate with your co-teachers to save time on grading. This also has worked wonders for me as a teacher. In my school, I am one of the 4th Grade Language Arts and Social Studies Teachers. We lesson plan together once a month. Since we were using similar or identical lesson plan activities, we decided to find creative ways to grade work together also. “Group grading” saved each of us SO much time because we were working together to get the job done faster. The bonus part for me was having a trusted colleague to weigh in on grading details and results. Unfortunately, not every teacher has this type of team or co-teaching situation. But even if you have only one teaching friend that is able to collaborate with you, this time-saving grading tip could work well for both of you in the end!

Final Thoughts on Grading:

Grading student work doesn’t have to eat up all your teacher time each week. Choose one recommend tip above at a time to implement and master. Trying to do all of them at once will only add to your feelings of frustration with grading student work. As you build consistent routines, you will experience more efficiency with all required paperwork as a teacher. And remember that you are NOT alone in this! You are doing your best and things will get better. I hope these time-saving tips and tricks help you along the journey!”

The Butterfly Teacher