Thursday, March 31, 2016

Making the Most of Your Time & Grading

I've been teaching for 10 years now--10!  I know that to some that doesn't seem like much, but it's definitely a milestone and one that felt like eons away when I started teaching.  I've taught both first and fourth grade in that time and life has changed drastically.  I was lucky enough to be hired right out of  college, unwed and no children.  I am now married and have three little ones at home (under 4) and, boy, the time I DON'T have now.  The phrase "work smarter, not harder" has become ever-important in my life.

This leads me to grades.  Thinking back on all that I used to grade, I'm appalled.  What a WASTE of my time and my students'.  We all have things that are important to us going on after school is out and the more I assign for homework, the more time away from those things (and work for all).  I'm blessed to have a principal that feels the same and encourages thoughtful assigning of homework.  We often hear the phrase, "Why are you giving that as homework"?  As a rule of thumb, homework isn't graded in the traditional sense.  It's obviously used as a formative assessment but never a grade toward the child's overall grade & impacting the report card.  I appreciate this thought process as I used to assign plenty for homework which would come back virtually error-free as it had been poured over by parents making sure it's perfect.  I would naively assume that the students really "got" it and move on only to be shocked by lower than low test scores.  In a previous life I spent all kinds of time grading multiple problems for math that students either had mastered and didn't need or, reversely, had no clue about and practiced them all incorrectly.  WASTE!

So how am I currently working smarter and not harder?  I first have to say that I've currently taught 4th grade for 8 years which does have it's pluses, namely being that I know where students most often struggle and what they need the most help with.  That being said, I choose 3-5 problems for them to complete in math DURING CLASS in a quiet work zone.  I typically give these "Show What You Knows" after the day's minilesson as part of the workstation rotation/line up.  This ensures that students are completing problems on their own and allows me to catch misconceptions quickly and address them.  When I check over them, it literally takes 15 minutes (give or take depending on the amount of work needing to be shown and gone through).  DONE!  These are not graded traditionally, usually with a check, check plus, or check minus (unless it's a concept we've worked on for several days/weeks, and I feel they should have the firmest grasp on it).  I grab my handy Possible Strategies sheet for math and write down any students that would benefit from some small group intervention.

This process is used for any subject that I teach.  I'm completely obsessed with my simple strategy groups sheet as it makes pulling/planning for small groups quick and easy.  I basically grade post tests, a small handful of "Show What You Knows" and projects that students complete as real world application pieces and are applying all of their knowledge to that piece--that's it.  I try to use workstations that have answers keys for students to check with a red pen first before turning in to cut down on my time.  I can quickly analyze their errors and make quick decisions on what's next for individual students.  Reading responses are completed online via a Canvas discussion board, Padlet, Seesaw, or Google Doc that I can review at any time without dragging anything home.  Most of the time it's something that can be looked at in a 15-20 time frame.

I also give effort grades each week for each subject.  I have found that some students work their tails off to do well and sometimes just don't master it.  They should be rewarded for doing all they could.  Effort grades are worth just as much as any other traditional grade (more on effort grades here.)

Grades are not important to me.  What is important is that I'm constantly assessing students by casual observations when we're playing games and having fun along with those few paper activities that pop up.  I set my students up for success by meeting their individual needs (thanks-possible strategy group sheet) and reinforcing their efforts.  All of these things eliminate so much of my time spent grading countless numbers of problems and worksheets. I instead give a few meaningful problems that are a lot of "bang for their buck".   Consistent observations also help me easily plan for upcoming days and give great direction along with quick differentiation for students.  I rarely carry things home to work on and get to enjoy my little ones even more!

Assess how you're spending your time and what you're getting out of it all.  Could a small switch--say in one subject to try it out--save some time and give you more bang for your buck?

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