The #1 complaint I hear from most secondary science teachers is how much time they spend grading and how desperately they wish they could decrease grading time. I 100% get it.
I have been in your shoes, and know how hard this is ESPECIALLY if you have 3+ preps and/or teach an AP class. But I am here to tell you that the BEST way to decrease grading time is to STOP GRADING EVERYTHING!
Now before you tell me, “THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!” and exit out of this, hold on just one second and hear me out. It IS possible and you CAN do it if you are firmly committed to actually decreasing grading time and increasing your work/life balance.
You can also still do it if you teach a million preps and/or an AP course. I know this because I am living proof! I managed to do it while balancing 5 preps, including AP Biology. I do not say this to make you think I am superwoman – trust me, I am farrrr from it. But I tell you this to encourage you that it IS possible to stop grading everything.
But HOW?? I am going to walk you through:
- Exactly how to stop grading everything
- Two biggest criticisms I hear of this strategy
- Comebacks for how I handle those criticisms
- Encouragement for you as you get started
How to stop grading everything (so you can decrease grading time)
It begins by simply making the decision that it is best for both you AND your students if you stop grading everything. Why? So, many reasons, but here are just a few:
- You will reclaim so much time that can be spent doing other things (like finding new, fun labs or engaging activities for your students!)
- You will have more free time and thus be more recharged when you are at school, meaning more energy to love your students well!
- When you do collect something to grade, you will actually have the time and energy to provide really helpful feedback .
- You will not only provide more quality feedback but also more TIMELY feedback, returning things much more quickly since you won’t be constantly overwhelmed by a stack of papers to grade.
Once you’ve made the decision to REALLY try this because you believe it is best for you and your students, start by only collecting 1 thing a week per class. For example, if you teach 5 different preps, each day you would only be collecting 1 thing from ONE class. Grade it the day you collect it so that you can return it the next day. This will prevent a stack of papers from building up on your desk and majorly decrease overwhelm.
Once you get comfortable with that, start decreasing it even more. I got to the point where I was only collecting and grading 2-3 things TOTAL a week. AND IT WAS LIFE-CHANGING! I never had to bring work home to grade, and I was always able to return work within 24 hours of collecting it. My students LOVED the immediate feedback, and my family LOVED having ME back!
Now I know you hear this and you have questions. Let’s talk through two criticisms I most often hear of this strategy to decrease grading time.
Criticisms and comebacks
The two biggest follow-up questions I get when I urge my teacher friends to decrease grading time by majorly cutting back on the number of assignments they grade are:
- How do you have enough grades in the gradebook then??
- How do you check in and know where students are?
So first let’s address: How do you have enough grades in the gradebook then??
Now, I still grade TONS of assignments – I just check and grade them for completion during class! I don’t assign homework, so all of the assignments I am grading for completion are ones students are doing IN my room, so I feel confident grading for completion knowing that I am monitoring the whole time if they are cheating.
I also love to grade for completion in class because then we can IMMEDIATELY discuss and go over! This is so much more effective than me collecting 2039483 things and returning them days later when they don’t even remember them anyway. They get immediate feedback (as a class) and can get their questions answered and misconceptions cleared up straight away!
But still, this means that I am not getting that one-on-one check-in with students. So, how do you check in and know where students are??
Prime Times®️. That is how! Prime Times®️ are my most essential secondary classroom procedure. They are my not-so-secret #1 strategy for both classroom management AND assessment. Not only do they make the first five minutes of class SO much smoother, but they also majorly decrease grading time!
Prime Time®️ is basically my fancy name for a bell ringer, but I call it a Prime Time®️ because I feel like the first few minutes of class are the PRIME TIME for setting the tone for how the rest of class will go. What initially started as a way for me to take attendance and change materials over between classes became SO much more than that when I realized how effective they were as an assessment tool.
Each day my students walk into a Prime Time®️ projected on the whiteboard with 1-5 questions. These questions are SIMPLE and cover content from the previous class period. I make sure they are short enough that (1) Students can easily answer them within 5 minutes, and (2) I can QUICKLY grade an entire class’s in 3 minutes.
Because of this, I collect them at the end of the 5 minutes and we go over them immediately as a class. This provides a chance to clear up any misconceptions, or change up my plans for the day if I see there is a major lack in understanding from the day before (Ex. We covered Punnett Squares the previous day but students still are struggling with dominant versus recessive and determining parental genotypes. That means we need to hit the pause button!)
Then at some point DURING THE CLASS PERIOD, I grade them. I often just do a few at a time – while students are pulling out their binders, or when they are grabbing lab materials, or when they are writing notes during lecture, or when I send them out to work independently or with partners. This allows me to see RIGHT THEN if I need to pull any students aside to get them into tutoring.
Best of all, it ensures I check in with every student daily AND give them immediate feedback – all while NOT having ANOTHER THING that I collect and grade after school hours.
I could seriously talk about Prime Times®️ all day because they have been such a game-changer for my classes. If you are interested in learning more, start with this post to read more on why they are so effective and how to implement them effectively in your own classroom.
Ready to decrease grading time and STOP grading everything, but want some help in the Prime Time®️ department? If you teach biology, anatomy, or physical science, I’ve got you! I’ve made editable Prime Times for you for the entire year. You can check them out here:
Are you worried it is too late in the year to start something new or change up your grading strategy? IT ISN’T!! It is NEVER too late to try something new – and NO class, or school year, is EVER too far gone. Don’t let the fear of hitting the reset button hold you back from making a major change in how you handle grading. You deserve to reclaim your time NOW!
Something still holding you back from no longer grading ALL the things? Reach out to me here and let me know. I want to help you take back your work/life balance, and I think a huge part of that begins when you decrease grading time.
Ready to hit the reset button in more areas of your classroom life besides grading? Check out these tips for 4 ways to do a midyear reset!