A teacher grading homework

One of the many aspects of teaching that’s as crucial to get right is grading. Along with standardized testing and regular check-ins with your students’ support teams, grading is a way to keep track of how well students are learning new material, how well they’re retaining material that’s already been taught, whether they’re meeting education goals and how well they compare to their peers.

Time spent on grading student work can add up to a large amount of your workday—elementary school teachers usually spend between one and two hours per day grading student papers and other assignments. With that kind of daily time commitment in your future, you might be looking for some ways to streamline your process so that you can focus on actual teaching.

We fully support working smarter—not harder—which is why we’ve put together this list of grading tips for elementary school teachers to help you make the most of your grading time!

1. Don’t Grade Everything

The first step to using your grading time more effectively is taking some time to evaluate what you’re grading and whether it truly needs to be graded. Isn’t it disrespectful of your students’ time to have them complete work that’s never evaluated? Yes, but formally grading every assignment, activity and response isn’t the only way to evaluate your students’ work!

  • Spot checks are the perfect way to check for understanding when there’s one clear answer to a problem or set of problems.
  • Classroom discussions are another way to check for understanding, especially for topics that require more complicated explanations than a simple spot check.
  • Participation points are a good option for journal entries and other assignments that focus on practicing a skill.
  • While it’s important to grade exams and tests, a pop quiz or short assignment may work better as a warm-up than being formally graded and documented.

2. Skip the Busy Work

A quick search around the internet will show you there’s no shortage of small assignments you could use throughout the day to fill spare time in class, but don’t let this turn into a trap! If you assign work, you’ll eventually be tasked with evaluating it, and that means adding another task to your day.

The better strategy is to focus on quality over quantity when it comes to classroom projects and other assignments. Make sure the projects you assign are meaningful, will increase student understanding and will be worth the time you spend grading it. If the assignment you’re considering doesn’t strengthen your lesson plans, don’t invest the time in it.

3. Try Different Grading Systems

While the most commonly used grading system in the United States is the grade point average system in combination with letter grades, there are other grading systems that might be a better fit for your class depending on your students’ ages, abilities and needs. When deciding on a grading system, keep in mind your school’s grading preferences and education goals, as well as any applicable standards specific to your school or district.

Standards-Based Grading breaks the curriculum down into smaller learning targets, and students are then evaluated based on how well they’ve mastered each target. With grades of exceeding, meeting or not meeting the standard, this grading system gives teachers a more immediate understanding of how well their students are grasping the material and allows you to adjust your lesson on the fly.

Mastery-Based Education is more self-paced, allowing students to learn at their own pace and advance to the next topic once they’ve mastered the previous. Fast learners are able to quickly advance without being made to slow down or feel bored, while students who are having difficulty with the curriculum can continue to practice until they’ve fully understood the material.

ESNU Grading System is most commonly used in elementary schools. This system assigns grades of E (excellent), S (satisfactory), N (needs improvement) or U (unsatisfactory). You can also use acknowledgements instead of letter or number-based grades, such as hard-working, well-prepared or sticking with it!

Pass-Fail Systems are based on an all or nothing approach that awards credit for satisfactory completion of the material or no credit for unsatisfactory completion of the material.

You can use more than one grading system depending on the day, the assignment and the goal you’re trying to meet. For example, you can use the ESNU system for the majority of your classroom grading and implement the pass-fail system for spot checks.

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4. Utilize Grading Rubrics

Rubrics are scoring guidelines that you can use to provide a consistent grading experience for every student in your classroom. This consistency is beneficial for both students and educators: students have documentation explaining exactly what’s expected of them, and educators have documentation explaining exactly what’s expected of their students.

Reducing ambiguity by providing clear rubrics helps eliminate confusion and the potential for miscommunication, and it will help with scaffolding as formal rubrics become more common as your students advance in their academic careers.

5. Make the Most of Feedback

You might feel a sense that you should be providing feedback on every single student’s work on every assignment. This is a thoughtful and considerate impulse that shows your head and heart are in the right place when it comes to your students! However, if you spend time making a serious effort to leave thoughtful and considerate feedback on every single student’s work on every assignment, you won’t have much time for anything else.

Instead, decide in advance which classes or assignments you want to give feedback on for any given day, then on the next round of grading, choose a different class or assignment. This will help make sure you’re able to provide a varied collection of feedback across multiple subjects and give helpful suggestions so that your students can keep doing their best.

6. Ask Your Students to Help

We bet you probably spend a lot of time teaching your students to ask for help when they need it—and that’s a lesson worth taking to heart yourself! Remember that your students can be part of the grading process too: swap out some solo grading time for peer grading to free up more of your time to spend on something else. This can be as simple as having students swap papers and mark each other’s answers right or wrong as you review the correct answers.

Self-grading and peer-grading can help your students improve their understanding of the material and work on their critical thinking skills as they review the answers and compare their thinking against their peers. At the same time, your students doing the grading means you won’t be spending time on the grading later. This works best with short quizzes, spelling tests and other assignments that have one clear, correct answer.

Before letting students grade or give feedback to their peers, it’s important to address expected behaviors. Spend some time instructing your students about what is helpful and emphasizing that peer-grading is for everyone to help each other improve. Rather than spending a lot of time focusing on mistakes, remind students to recognize mistakes and then spend time focusing on how to improve going forward.

7. Set Aside Grading Time

The best way to keep on top of grading throughout the year is by using effective time management. If your time management could use some work, no worries—it’s never too late to learn!

One of the first steps to effective time management is blocking out your time throughout the day. Whether you choose the time of the day you feel most productive, or you decide to devote some of your prep hour to grading, having a set time of the day already blocked out for this task means you’ll have some grading time already blocked out when time is getting away from you.

8. Reduce Distractions

When you sit down to grade, make sure grading is your sole focus. Put down your phone and ignore social media. If you’re working on your computer, you can block or hide certain websites or apps by muting notifications or using an extension designed to block out distractions.

9. Utilize Technology

There are tons of technology solutions to make grading—and teaching in general—easier for you.

Use Google Forms or Google Docs to make comments on student work. You can also use comments in Microsoft Word for the same thing.

Chrome extensions can do everything from allowing you to add comments (even voice comments) on shared files to minimizing distractions and reminding you to stop, get up and move around for a minute.

There are applications that allow students to work together on documents live and in real time, along with allowing you to add real-time feedback as students are working.

Many applications are optimized for providing a clean interface that helps you record, save and share student learning.

Gamification means lots of grading applications will have trophies, achievements and benchmarks attached to specific learning goals, giving students further incentive to complete their work to the best of their abilities.

10. Remember to Take Breaks

When you have a whole pile of assignments to finish grading before you can go to bed for the night, the most obvious impulse might be to buckle down and power through. This is a mistake! As important as it is for your students to have a few minutes in between topics, it’s equally important for you to sprinkle breaks throughout your grading time to reset your brain and rest your eyes for a few minutes.

Working for a long time without taking breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion. To avoid these negative psychological consequences, take five to ten minutes to get up and move around. Grab a glass of water for added hydration!

11. ABG: Always Be Grading

If you only keep one of the grading tips on this list, this is the most important one: any time you have a spare moment and have assignments to grade, grade the assignments.

While your students are working independently, grade a few papers. If it’s silent reading time, that’s time for you to grade a few papers. When your students are doing group work in their classroom pods, you probably have time to grade a few papers. They say if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person. We say if you want to get the grading done, teachers are already the busiest people we know, and that’s probably why you get everything done!

Help Your Students Become Published Authors!

One class activity that can make a huge impact on your students (and requires no grading scale!) is to create a book together! You can help your class create their very own classbook and become published authors by using one of our FREE classbook publishing kits! Simply sign up online, and we’ll provide everything you need to publish your students’ writing and illustrations, including any help you need along the way.

Nearly any classroom subject or area of focus is the perfect place to start brainstorming about your classbook project! Each of your students will contribute one page of text and one page of illustration to help create something so much more than the sum of its parts—you’ll get a free classroom copy, and parents can also order copies to keep at home as a literary time capsule and keepsake for the future.

You can also check out our blog and online Teacher’s Lounge for more writing activities, lesson plans and teaching strategies. Now that you have our list of grading tips for elementary school teachers, you’ll have a head start to help your students better understand their strengths and opportunities, and they’ll benefit even more from your thoughtful guidance and commitment to their future success!