Tackling the grading dilemma

The post on Edutopia, Tactics for Tackling the Grading Dilemma, presents four interesting strategies for dealing with that stack of papers on one’s desk, while simultaneously raising the question of how much grading is enough grading. The author is writing from the experience of a secondary English teacher–those stacks of papers don’t go much higher than that–so not every strategy can directly translate to my elementary class.

Her tactic that I like the most is the use of journals. I think that could work beautifully for the language arts period for my class, and as she recommends having different class periods turn their journals in on different days, different tables or groups within my single class could turn theirs in on different days. I love this journal idea even more for the portfolio aspect of it. Sure, often the submissions to the journal won’t be super polished, but there’s value in seeing that, too, and progression should be evident regardless.

I also like the tactic of 1-in-4 grading. I don’t know if it’s my laid-back California attitude or what, but I’m not here to be a hero. I don’t intend to lay myself out as a martyr for the cause of grading, and not only because I don’t think grades should hold so much significance in second grade. Most kids at this point need practice at everything: math facts, spelling, sentence forming… Most of that shouldn’t be graded on a letter scale or go into the gradebook. And as one of the commenters on the article mentioned, there needs to be room in the gradebook for things like participation and improvement. ┬áCombining the 1-in-4 rule with the journals that are turned in weekly (but on a rotating basis), the teacher will only have to grade a few things for six or so students each evening. That can be turned around and returned to the students the following day (and in fact must be, so that students have their journals back for that next day’s work).

Her suggestion of using a variety of stamps is great, too. I like how the stamps serve to do more than simply acknowledge that the student submitted something, but that they can quickly indicate the teacher’s assessment of the student’s work. And her word choice for the stamps focus on the positive aspect of the work while conveying that this work isn’t as good as it could be. The stamping tactic will fit seamlessly into an elementary class and provide an excuse to go visit the arts and crafts store.

Another strategy she suggests is peer-assessment. I see the value of peer-assessment, but I don’t know how I feel about incorporating the practice widely into a second-grade class. A few of my students are really very terrible about speaking without thinking about how feelings might get hurt, or about not being able to brush off innocent-enough comments from others. I see a lot of tears and drama over peer-assessment. Plus some of the handwriting at this point is difficult for me to interpret, so that could be an insurmountable challenge for a peer. Maybe regular practice of peer assessing would wear down those rough patches and give students more empathy or thicker skin, and maybe the pressure would even improve handwriting, and it might be worth a try. But I don’t think really in-depth grading can be left to a peer at this age because it can be hard to trust their judgement, so that leaves things like math assignments that can just as easily be self-graded in a different color.

And that is another suggestion: self-assessment. We already do a fair bit of that in my class, generally on things that are not significant like math homework, or where having the correct answer is more important than knowing whether the student already had that knowledge, like study guides for actual assessments. I have been trying to do more self-assessment on poster projects that come with a rubric, more so they are able to use the rubric as a sort-of checklist for earning all of the available points. She suggests having students self-assess even the more complex things, like papers, and I think, with a lot of guidance, that could be a really enlightening experience for many of my students.

I think these are great ideas for reducing the grading workload and freeing up more time for creating fun, engaging, effective lessons. I’m eager to give some of these strategies a shot in my class next year.

Response to Intervention

I plan to have a number of systems in place in my classroom that will indicate to my students my high expectations of them. There will be predictable things like anchor charts around the room with those messages that will set the tone (I love the idea of a No Excuses List, from Teaching My Friends).

no excuses

I also think simple routines like this “I’m done” jar can indicate to students that we are in school to work. Have fun, make friends, create, and do work. I believe one of the contributing factors to the challenges I had with classroom management during my clinical practice was not providing enough opportunities for my quicker students to go above and be challenged. I also found I was writing “You can do better” as feedback for more than one student. Having high expectations from the start of the school year will hopefully make it so I don’t have to do that late in the year.

It will be imperative to be on the look out for any of my kiddos who need some extra help meeting those high expectations. Response to Intervention is a strategy for catching those kids who may fall behind and giving them the extra support they need to be as successful as their peers. It works as a three-step approach. The first step is general class instruction, which should be of a caliber that meets the needs of about 85% of the students. The second step is a bit of extra support for the 15% for whom the general instruction is not sufficient. That extra support generally manifests as more intensive small-group work, sometimes in-class, sometimes as a pull-out. My ELLs during my clinical practice had a specialist who came into our class and supported them as needed, but my math-focus students were briefly pulled out each morning to practice skills as a small group. The third step of RTI is the most intensive, individual interventions, including referrals to special educators.

An important point of RTI is the family involvement; the parents of students in my class who had intervention plans came in for a monthly meeting not just with my mentor teacher, but also with the resource teacher with whom their child also worked.

I hope to work in schools similar to the school I did my clinical practice in for the feeling of community it had. A number of resource teachers were in and out throughout the day, supporting their friends but also helping any student who may need it. Those extra eyes enrich the conversations about students who may be at risk, and when combined with assessments of the quality of work the student is turning in, or even of other early indicators like a regression of handwriting skills, I hope to be able to quickly intervene with any student who needs it.

Time will reveal all things

Here we are, start of a new school year. I’m the one in school right now, but I hope to take this blog with me as I go through my teaching credential program and come out the other side with a classroom of my own. This blog starts here, in the DC metro area, but life will see me working at international schools around the world as I travel with my husband, a Foreign Service officer. First stop is still unknown, but we’re only a week away from that news! Then will begin the process of making contacts with schools in that city to possibly coordinate student teaching. Or maybe we’ll be here for another year and I’ll get to reach out to local schools to start volunteering now.