If you are a teacher then you know that contrary to popular belief, we don’t have a “bunch of time off.” True, we technically get more time off compared to other jobs, but in order to really be effective, we have to put in a lot of required work outside of actual working hours. Chief among this work is grading.
Almost every teacher I know has a stack of ungraded papers they may or may not get ever get to grade. There are a variety of reasons for this. Over-crowded classrooms are one. Time constraints with lack of prep periods is another. But as much as I would like to commiserate about the state of overworked teachers, in my experience, the biggest reason for that stack of ungraded papers is self-inflicted: We simply grade too much.
At first glance, that probably seems blasphemous. We’ve all been told that we need to grade almost everything, but that’s not true. There are only a couple of reasons you should grade an assignment:
- You are using it to gauge where students are academically in order to adjust lessons to meet gaps.
- You are using it to see how well students have learned a concept at the end of a unit of teaching.
Here are the assignments that typically don’t fall into that category:
- Busy work
- Do-Nows or Bell Ringers
That’s not to say that those tasks couldn’t be assignments worthy of grading, but in most cases, those types of assignments provide an opportunity to practice skills they have learned as opposed to an opportunity to show what skills they have learned.
This may sound like some made up theory I came up with to save myself time at home, but it’s all backed up by sound pedagogy and assessment practice.
The main tasks you need to grade are assessments and the two primary types of assessments we use in school are formative and summative. Formative assessments are used to see where students are with a concept during the instructional process, which was reason number one to grade papers. Summative assessments are used to determine how well a student learned the material after the teaching process, which was reason number two.
As a general rule of thumb, if you aren’t going to use an assignment to inform your teaching, assess prior learning or give feedback to students, then there really is no reason to grade it. That doesn’t mean students shouldn’t do it. It doesn’t mean you can’t grade it, but you don’t have to grade it.
I personally grade a lot of assignments based on completion instead of accuracy. It keeps the students honest about doing their work but saves me tons of time. Every teacher has to find what works for him or her, but I would highly suggest avoiding the dreaded stack of papers on the corner of the desk at all costs.