Cut Grading Time in Half (11 Tips for Social Studies Teachers)

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I recently conducted an informal survey by asking teachers in various FaceBook groups what their biggest time-suck is. A TON of teachers responded; seems to be a pain point! The results were (drumroll, please) — 45% lesson planning, 45% grading and 10% professional development/meetings.

In order to save time grading classwork, homework and exams it’s best to incorporate several methods listed below. Preplanning is a must. Just as you would be mindful of calories when dieting, you want to keep top-of-mind the time that will be necessary to grade any given activity. By implementing a few new habits into your routine grading time can be cut in half. 

Let me first briefly address the first huge time consumer, lesson planning. It’s a never ending task yet crucial to effective teaching. You may or may not know that you can save lesson planning time right here on this site! There is a growing library of Google slides presentations for Global History. As I’m writing this article U.S. slides are not yet available, but will be in weeks, so be on the lookout.

There are LOTS of reading passages for both United States History and Global History. Finally, there are word puzzles for both United States and Global history. Of course, I have to mention the hundreds of  inexpensive done-for-you lessons on my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Now let’s tackle grading:

Classwork and Homework

1- Keep grading top-of-mind when you’re creating lessons.

For example, I post many assignments in Google Classroom on slides and docs. When you create an activity, place the questions/writing prompts — whatever you have to grade — at the top rather than at the end of any documents and reading passages. Now you don’t have to scroll down to look over a student’s work. That adds up big-time when you’re grading 150 papers! The little things matter.

2-Include frequent self-assessments on student work.

It can be simple. I frequently use the RACE method

Restate the question ___/3 points

Answer the question ___/3 points

Cite evidence            ___/3 points

Explain the evidence ___/3 points

TOTAL                     = ___

I have this saved as a document and simply copy and paste whenever appropriate. 

I also like emojis. Copy and paste several at the end of the activity; students choose 1 to reflect their assessment of work done. This does 2 things: first it acts as a rubric and keeps what’s needed top of mind, and 2, students are the harshest graders! By simply glancing at their assessments you really don’t have to read through most of their answers. It helps the kiddos, it helps you — win-win!

3-Which leads to the next tip: Don’t read through all the answers.

You can choose to check for 1 particular skill or overall completeness, especially after you know the kids for a while. 

Here’s a secret: for some of my top students I sometimes don’t even open the assignment (gasp!) because I know they turned in outstanding work. I know I may have horrified some of you with that admission, but I’m keeping it real. I have been teaching for 20 years. There is a constant balancing act. You must weigh what to do and what to skip or burn out and maybe quit. 

4-DO NOT assign too many essays or plan them too close together.

You’ll want to jump off a bridge when you see the stack to be graded staring at you. If you spend just 2 minutes on each essay and have 5 classes of 30 students that’s 300 minutes or 5 hours of grading — ahhh!!!

5- Do not grade everything, even if you collect it.

Every day someone will ask me as I hand out an activity, “Are you going to collect this?” Consequently I collect work almost every day, because there are students who just won’t do it otherwise.

Your kids will get used to any routine that’s set in place. Choose 1 or 2 assignments a week to correct. For the others, invest in a stamp and simply stamp it to indicate you’ve looked it over (even if you haven’t). You can stamp them in a few minutes, or bribe a loved one to do it:)

6. Most of the time assign a portion of an essay rather than the whole.

This allows students to hone their skills on specific aspects: the intro, body, conclusion, citing documents, etc. 

Also, have them annotate it for you. This is huge! For example, if students are writing the intro ask them to underline the thesis and double-underline each subtopic they’ve introduced. Distribute colored pencils so they can color code. 

This helps you and the students. You’re now able to quickly scan for the main points. Students are forced to be cognizant of including necessary elements in their work. It creates a close read of their own writing, forcing them to reread it thoroughly in order to properly annotate. 

Be sure to include the annotations as part of the grade to ensure they do it (10 points works well). 

7. Create a simple number system for grading short and long response questions.

There are usually half a dozen comments we have to make over and over again. Imagine simply writing the number 5 instead of “Please provide more detail to support your answer.” 

Post the “code”  clearly in your classroom and include it in your syllabus or course description if you have one. You can also give students a copy to place in the front of their notebooks.

Grading Tests

8. Administer multiple-choice questions.

These exams are super-fast to grade. If your school has an old fashioned scantron machine they’re the bomb! When ours broke I literally cried. 

Now I use the ZipGrade app. You have to print out bubble sheets for students to record their answers. Then you scan the answer key with your smartphone and it grades each answer sheet, one at a time. It works well and the price is right — free for 100 grades a month or $6.99 for a year.

I hear some of you saying, “Joan, multiple choice questions are not 21st century because it doesn’t assess anything but recall.” That’s partially true; it also assesses reading comprehension. 

My solution is to use stimulus-based exams. That’s when you include documents, quotes, political cartoons, etc. and use those as the basis for the questions. For example, I might show a cartoon of the of Irish immigrating to the U.S. and the questions won’t specifically mention the potato famine. Students need to analyze the documents and make inferences besides having content knowledge. It adds rigor to a multiple-choice style exam.

9. I LOVE Google forms!

You can create your stimulus-based multiple choice in Google and it’s graded. I like to add at least 1 short response question as well. Put it at the top, so you don’t have to scroll down to find it when grading.

10. Grade a rubric instead of the actual work.

This is good for essays and projects. Create a simple 4×4 rubric, 4 elements to be graded and 4 grade levels. When grading, instead of writing all over the assignment simply circle the grade level they achieved for each element of the rubric, throw in a comment and you’re done.

11. Oftentimes an exam has multiple pages. Grade 1 section or page at a time.

I have tried grading both ways and this batching method definitely saves time. As you grade the first page you’ll quickly memorize the correct answers and fly through each test after the first few.

Then start at the beginning of the stack and move on to the second page or portion of the assessment. Try it, I promise it’s faster. 

A Few More Random Things to Keep in Mind

As you finish grading any assignment toss them into 3 separate piles: last names starting with A-H, I-P and Q-Z. Now you have them in rough alphabetical order, which will save time when you record the grades in your gradebook or software.

When you’re creating an exam make the numbers easy. I don’t know how many times it took for me to learn this. Does your test have 28 questions? How much is each question worth? Don’t do the math, I’ll tell you: 3.57. Do you want to calculate every kid’s test subtracting 3.57 points for every wrong answer? I have done it. I can assure you, it doesn’t hurt as much as childbirth, but it’s close! Sooo much easier to cut 3 questions and make it 25!

Require students to write essays and long form answers in ink. Some kiddos write very lightly and if it’s in pencil you’ll go cross eyed. It also avoids any smart alecks who erase the wrong answer, correct it and want you to “fix their grade”.

A little off topic of saving time, but in the same vein of possible cheaters, if an answer is left blank make a mark that tells you that. For instance, if you write an “X” on an incorrect answer, make a circle for blank ones. Now Mr. He’s-got-to-get up-earlier-in-the-morning-to-fool-you cannot just add the answer after the fact. I LOVE making them REALLY work to cheat on my exams:) 

Grading student work will always take a chunk of your work time. Accept it. Embrace it; it’s what you signed up for. But careful preplanning and keeping in mind what’s important will transform an overwhelming task into a doable one.

Don’t forget to teach AND thrive!

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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