How to STOP Grading Everything [Episode 95]


Click below to hear how to stop grading everything:


As teachers, we know that our time is valuable and we try to create that perfect work-life balance. However, time dedicated to instruction, engaging activities, and other teaching-related tasks can consume our time in and outside the classroom. But you can decrease the amount of time you spend on one task that will save you more time and energy, which is grading! 

Now, I know that grading is a mandatory and necessary component of teaching, but the amount of time teachers are spending on grading student work is way too much. I believe that there are ways you can truly stop grading everything while still having multiple preps and higher-level AP courses. In today’s episode, I’m sharing how to achieve this, two of the biggest criticisms I get, and my solutions to each.

Once you decrease the amount you’re grading, you will begin to see how it benefits both you and your students. Yes, I said students! They will appreciate your more timely feedback and get a more energized and recharged teacher, which ultimately impacts your instruction and activities. 

Although the concept of not grading every assignment is scary, I promise it will be life-changing. I am living proof that this philosophy works, which has helped me create a more balanced work and home life, which also benefits my students. Join me in my grading challenge of collecting 1 thing per class per week and watch this simple change make a huge difference in your life!

Topics Discussed:

  • The benefits of decreasing the amount of assignments you’re grading
  • How changing your mindset about grading positively impacts you and your students
  • 2 grading criticisms I receive and my solutions that provide different viewpoints on the topic
  • A grading challenge to help you stop grading everything
  • Ways you can still assess student learning while decreasing the amount you grade

Resources Mentioned:

Related Episodes and Blog Posts:

Connect with Rebecca:

More about Secondary Science Simplified: 

Secondary Science Simplified is a podcast specifically for high school science teachers that will help you to engage your students AND simplify your life as a secondary science educator. Each week Rebecca, from It’s Not Rocket Science, and her guests will share practical and easy-to-implement strategies for decreasing your workload so that you can stop working overtime and start focusing your energy doing what you love – actually teaching!

Teaching doesn’t have to be rocket science, and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to simplify your secondary science teaching life so that you can enjoy your life outside of school even more. Head to itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/challenge to grab your FREE Classroom Reset Challenge.

Rebecca 0:00
You’re listening to episode number 95 of the secondary science simplified podcast. The number one 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. And I 100% get it. I’ve been in your shoes, and I knew how hard this is, especially if you have three or more preps and or if one of them is an AP class, but I am here to tell you that the best way to decrease your grading time is to simply stop grading everything. And okay, I know you’re gonna tell me, Rebecca, that’s impossible. And you’re just gonna try to you know, close out your podcast player right now. But I just want you to give me a second and hear me out. It is possible and you can do it. If you are firmly committed to actually decreasing your grading time and increasing your work life balance. You can still do it if you teach a million preps and an AP course. I know this because I am living proof. I managed to do this while balancing five preps and one of them was AP biology. And I don’t say this to make you think I am Superwoman. Because I am so far from it. It’s not even funny. But I tell you this, because I want to encourage you that it is possible to stop grading everything. Okay, so you’re wondering, okay, well tell us how. That’s what this episode is all about. I’m going to walk you through exactly how to stop grading everything. And then my two biggest criticisms I hear in my DMs when I share this kind of information, and then kind of might come back for those criticisms and kind of what I would say to kind of offer a different alternative viewpoint if you will. All right. Let’s get started. This is secondary science simplified a podcast for secondary science teachers who want to engage their students and simplify their lives. I’m Rebecca joiner from it’s not rocket science. As a high school science teacher turned curriculum writer, I am passionate about helping other science teachers, love their jobs, serve their students, and do it all in only 40 hours a week. Are you ready to rock the time you spend in your classroom and actually have a life outside of it? You are in the right place teacher friends, let’s get to today’s episode.

Rebecca 2:26
Okay, so you want more time, and you want to grade less? It? How does? How do you do that? That’s what every wants to know, is the magic question. Well, y’all, it’s as simple as making the decision here. And now that this is what’s best for both you and your students. Okay, hard pause here. That’s right, you and your students, it’s actually best for you. And them. I think one of the reasons why teachers grade so much is we feel guilty, and we feel like we have to, because grading everything is what is best for our students. And I couldn’t disagree with you more, I think it is best for them for you to stop grading so many things, okay. And here is why. First, you as an individual teacher, you are going to reclaim so much time that can then be spent doing other things, like finding new fun labs are engaging activities for your students, you will have more energy to do that. So they indirectly benefit from that. You also are going to have more free time, and thus be more recharged when you are at school because you’re not going to be staying up late grading papers. And then you wake up and you’re already angry. And the day has even started because you’re just exhausted. So you’ll have more energy to love your students. Well, when you’re at school, again, another way they indirectly benefit. Now, here’s the direct benefit for them. When you stop grading everything, and you only collect a few things here or there. When you actually click something to grade, you actually have the time and the energy and the capacity to provide really helpful and timely feedback. One of the questions I got on Instagram when I was asking about, you know, what do you guys want to hear about grading practices? was okay, well, how can we reduce the load, but still provide effective feedback for students? Y’all this goes hand in hand, by reducing the load, you’re going to provide even more effective feedback for students, because you are going to have quality feedback with more time and more timely, you’re going to return things so much more quickly. Because you’re not going to be constantly overwhelmed by have stack of papers to grade on your desk. You guys. How helpful is your feedback, really, if you’re giving it a week after you’ve done something, if you do a lab and it takes you a week to get it back? I’m telling you right now your students don’t remember that lab. It’s not really worth it. And so I think you we have to genuinely change your mindset to think it’s actually better for them if I don’t grade as much because then when I do grade something, I can get it back to them the next day while it’s fresh, and we can really learn from it. But you You have to make this decision, you have to really decide that stopping grading everything is what’s best for you and your students. And then once you genuinely believe that, I want you to start only collecting one thing per class per week, okay? So, if I teach five different preps, that means I’m only collecting one thing from one class a week. Since I have five preps, that’s five things I’m going to collect that week, one from each prep, and then the next week, I can collect something else. This way, I can grade it, and I can get it back to them that next day, I never have that stack of paper on my desks at all. And if you get comfortable with this pace, you can even start decreasing it more. I got to the point where I was only collecting and grading like two or three, three things total a week, even when I had five preps and it was life changing, you’re switching to collecting that few things, made it so I never had to bring work home degrade, and I was able to return work within 24 hours of collecting it. My students loved it. They love the immediate feedback. I can’t tell you how many times this you can be like you’re the only teacher who can get me stuff back this fast. But it was because I wasn’t collecting that much. So when I collected it, I knew I could get it back for them. My family loved it because they loved having me back. Parents of my students loved it. Because they knew that my gradebook was always caught up. It was always completely current because the second I collected something, I graded it, I put it in the gradebook, they got it back within 24 hours, there was not this lag time of them being like, Oh, well did my student turn it in? Did they not turn it in? It’s been up there, they it says they turned it in two weeks ago, you you’re keeping it live, because you’re actually only collecting these and you have the capacity to grade them. So that’s what I want you to do. That is the challenge. You need to hard stop grading everything and start believing that that’s actually what’s best for you and your students. And I want to specifically challenge you to only collect one thing per prep per week to start off, and then maybe you can decrease over time. So when I say this, I know that there are a lot of questions that arise. And I think the two biggest that kind of pieces of opposition or criticisms that come up for this philosophy that I get are, well, how do you have enough grades in the gradebook, then? And then two? How do you check in and know where students are? And I think that’s what kind of goes up with the other person’s question I mentioned on Instagram of like, how are we providing effective feedback for students? Okay, so if I’m not grading very much, how did those two things happen? Well, let’s talk about them. First, let’s talk about how do you have enough grades in the gradebook then, okay, I feel very passionately about this. And I know this is something that not all of you have control over. But if you do, or you even have a voice you can throw into the ring on this, I think this is so worth it. I think having a simple gradebook is a game changer. Okay, so many people have overcomplicated grade books, they have five or six different categories in their grade books. And that makes a big difference. Okay, I have always had two categories in my gradebook at every school I’ve taught and this was a school wide policy that I just obviously did, because it was school I policy. And then I kept it when I moved to a private school because I loved it so much. But essentially, you’re gonna have two categories in your gradebook, major and minor. You can also call them big and little, you can call them summative formative, you can call them formal, informal, what you call them doesn’t matter. But simplifying your gradebook to only two categories that makes such a difference. And you can do a weight of those categories overall, you can weigh them and say 60% of a student’s grade is going to be major grades and 40% will be the minor or 60%, or summative 40% or formative, that kind of thing. You can decide or you can try to, you know, wiggle your two categories around, they fit into whatever school policies you have. Then, within those two broad categories, you can use points to differentiate the values of assignments, I find that many teachers feel like percentages is the most fair way to do their gradebook. And so they have like 25% category for labs, a 30% category for test 15% for homework, 10%, for whatever, you know, like you have all these different categories. But here’s the problem. When you have all those different categories, you have to have a lot of grades in those categories. Because you can’t like if you have all these different categories, you need to make sure that you have more than two labs in the lab category of labs are counting for 25% of their grade. So when the more categories you have in your gradebook, the more pressure is on you to collect and grade more things so that you have lots of different values in there because if you don’t have a lot of different values in all those different categories, one zero can record kids grade. And this is why I love only having two categories because you don’t need to worry about having enough grades because you’re gonna have plenty if you only have to fit them in a two different categories. And then if I want to differentiate more within those categories, that’s where I use points. So I love a point system, you weigh things differently based on the amount of points they are. So in my two categories system, all of my major grades are essentially like summative grades. So I’ve got tests, quizzes, and projects, and lab reports can be in there too. All those things are going to go into that major category. A test 100 points, a quiz 25 points, see how a quiz is worth less. So quizzes in your wreck your grade is much project 50 to 100 points depending on how thorough and how much work it is. lab report, typically 100 points. So I put all of those in my major grade category. Those are all things I’m grading for accuracy as well. My other category is my minor gray category, which for me is like my formative assessments, the ones that I’m typically just going to be collecting and grading for completion. Typically, not always, but typically. So my formative category or my minor category, that’s labs activities we do in class, but we don’t write a formal lab report on that’s your daily bellringer. That’s study guides, that’s practice handouts, you check for completion, that’s stations, they go around and do and then you just spot check, and then you’ll go over them as a class. That all goes in there. How do I wait in there, a daily bell ringers five points, so we get bell ringers is like 25 points. activity that takes like half a class period, or maybe even one class period 25 points, activity that takes two class periods, 50 points, activity that takes three or more like a big lab you do but you don’t do a lab report, that’s gonna be like 100 points, it’s gonna go in that minor category. Study Guide, 10 points, practice Hey, now a 10 problems you just did I just check for completion. 10 points. That’s where I love these points. Like it, there’s so much flexibility if you’re on a point schedule, as opposed to on a category schedule. And then like they’re not always thinking about, you know, these big percentages, like you just did an assignment. And I feel like it takes the weight off to you when you are grading things for completion to not be like I just gave them 100% for completion. It’s like you gave him a 10 out of 10. Is it 10 out of 10 and 100%? The same thing? Yes, it is. But it just feels different in the gradebook when you’re putting in 10 out of 10 points, as opposed to 100% in one of these 50 categories that you have. I’m telling you like, you may be listening and just thinking this is like not a big deal. But guys, it is a big deal. It like is such a simple change that makes such a big difference. When you have only two categories, you never have to worry about having enough grades in each one to make sure you’re fairly assessing students. It also makes sure that if you if the kid has a few bad grades in there, it does not totally ruin them. I have taught hundreds of students using a two category system with different point values of assignments within those two categories. I have never once ended the year and looked at my gradebook and looked at students scores and thought that score doesn’t accurately reflect what they’ve done. Genuinely it has worked out so well for me mathematically, I’ve never had a curve of students grade, I’ve never had a bump them up. I’ve never seen a grade that I thought was too inflated. Genuinely, it has worked out so well for me from my own personal experience. I also love it too, because students really understand this grading system so much more and the simplicity of it. They are not doing the math in their heads to figure out like, oh, this lab it loves or 25% of my grades, if I get an ad on it. What does this mean for my overall grade, like they can’t do that math, okay, they’re not doing that. But they understand this is a major grade, or this is just a minor grade, they understand those words, they totally understand what that means. And it also helps with parent and student conferences, too. I love it. Because in general, like I said, my major grades are grades that I’ve collected and graded for accuracy. So major grades really reflect their understanding. Whereas minor grades are mostly completion in effort grades. So the nice thing is you can sit down with a parent and say, hey, look, their major grade average is a B average. They’re doing pretty good. They actually like know their stuff. But look at their minor grade, they got a D average on minor on the minor grade category, because they’re not doing anything for me. This is 100% like an effort issue. Okay, and vice versa. You can look at it and say look, you have like almost 100% on your minor grade category, like you are doing it you’re doing the most. But look at your major grade, you just don’t understand what’s happening. This is where we need to get you in fracture tutoring or do this or do that to help you out here. Okay, it makes it so simple. I also really liked this strategy because students who are bad test takers aren’t punished by this grading policy. I know a lot of people don’t believe that that’s a thing. But I do. I believe that there are students that are bad test takers, I believe in testing anxiety and I think it can take over some students and they cannot output the information in a test. Also just think outside of an anxiety. There are just some students that does not how they can show that they know and I love this Got a G, because all of the summative assessments are together in that major grade category. So even if you’re bad at tests, you’ve got projects in there, you got lab reports, you got research papers, you’ve got other things that can average out with the tests in there. Y’all, I did the math, again, I’ve taught over 900 students during my six years full time in the classroom. And never once did I end the year and think that was an unfair letter grade for that student. Truly, I can stand by this, it’s 900 test subjects I had. And this really, really worked for me. Now, like I said, y’all, I’m still grading a lot of things. But I’m just spot checking for completion, and then we’re going over it in class. So I’m only taking up one thing and grading it for accuracy a week per prep. But I’m so like spot checking all of the time. Okay. And again, I love this per last week’s episode on cheating, because then I feel competent, giving them grades based on effort and completion, like 10 point, you know, because you did this practice thing, because I was there, I was monitoring you the whole time. So I know if you actually were doing it honestly or not. And I can see that I know, you’re not just like copying this outside of class. The other thing I love about grading for completion, which I think gets totally overlooked, is how immediately then you can discuss and go over. Like we just did a practice, I just spot checked it for completion major, everyone tried on it. Now let’s talk about it. Now let’s walk through these and go over it. I hated in high school, when you’d be like absent, the teacher sends you out in the hall while they’re going over something for 20 minutes. And then you come back. And then you’re trying to make it up outside of class like five days later, but you’ve already moved on in class and like it has no meaning anymore. The immediacy of like going over an assignment helps so much in the learning process. This allows students to get immediate feedback, even though I’m just distributing that immediate feedback as a class. Okay, that’s the difference. No one has the capacity to give immediate feedback on every single assignment if you collect it, all them, but you can give it as a class if you just spot check, and then go over it as a class. And the other reason I love this, too, is it kind of puts the autonomy back in the students like, Okay, you’re responsible for doing the work, I will reward you with some points for trying, but then now, it’s your responsibility to follow along as we go over this, and make sure you really are getting it and understanding it. And you’re gonna have space out to ask me questions, let’s get your misconceptions cleared up right away. You know, I found teachers who collect every single thing, let’s say you’re learning about Punnett squares, you have your students, you have one square practice, you collect it takes you three days to grade it. Okay, now you’re three days down the road, you’re getting it back, and you realize you’ve been doing Punnett squares for three days, and 10 kids in your class, don’t know how to do a Punnett Square. That’s why I don’t like collecting work and grading it for accuracy. I’d rather spot check it for completion, go over it right away, and let the students figure it out while you’re going over, like, Oh, I did all these wrong, let’s clear it up. And you can tell them from the front of the room, hey, if we’re going over this, and you’re realizing you got a lot of these wrong, stay after class, let’s look at it together. And let’s talk about it. And it takes that pressure off. Now, that’s kind of my comeback for that first big opposition that people have, which is how do you have enough grades in the gradebook. If you simplify your grading book, and you only have these two grading categories, this will not be a problem for you at all. Second thing is how do you then check in and know where students are, if you’re only collecting something once a week, like, like I just showed the Punnett Square example how they could go five days you have no idea how lost they are. This is where prime times come in. I’ve talked about them so much. But I’ve said this 1000 times as podcasts, I’m gonna keep saying it prime times are my most essential secondary classroom procedure. They are my not so secret strategy for both classroom management. So we talked about this last August and assessment. So that’s why we’re talking about it now. Not only do they procedurally make the first five minutes of your class so much smoother, but they also majorly decrease your grading time. So if you are new to my corner of the internet, Primetime is just my fancy name for a bell ringer. But I call it a primetime because I feel like the first five minutes of class are the prime time for setting the tone for how the rest of the class will go. And initially, I like just started doing this because I was like, I need to take attendance and change materials over and microwave my coffee and for another 30 seconds. But it has turned into something so much more than that, because I realized how effective it was as an assessment tool. So I have a whole podcast episode on this episode for a link in the show notes, but essentially the SparkNotes version so you can just have context for what I’m talking about. Every day students walked into my classroom, there was a prime time projected on the whiteboard. It had one to five questions very short, very simple, always covering content from the previous class period. And I make sure they’re short enough that students could answer them easily in five minutes. That’s how long I want to give them. And then I need to be able to grade the entire classes in three minutes. I don’t want to spend more than three minutes per class period of grading prime times because I grade them every day. So, at the end of the five minutes after they’ve worked on it, I collect all the primetime papers. And while I’m holding the papers, so they can’t change their answers, I go over over it immediately as a class. And this provides a chance as a class to kind of clear up any misconceptions. Like if they’re all providing the answers, and they’re totally off, I can be like, Whoa, we are so off on this, and maybe change up what I’m doing for that class period. So I get immediate information that can inform my class period for that day, which I love. Then here’s the other thing I love about it. At some point, during the class period, I’m going to grade the prime times. Okay? So like, am I going to sit in grade 30 In one go? No, but I can grade like five here, another five here, like so while students are pulling out their binders, when they’re going to grab lab materials, when they’re jotting down notes during lecture, but I’m not talking necessarily, when I send them off to work independently or with a partner, I will just do a couple here and there, and then I get them all knocked out. And here’s why I love it. This again, provides me that immediate feedback, I need to know Oh, mg, Katie had no clue how to do this Punnett Square, I need to go see her right now. And then I go find those students who I see their primetime and they looked totally lost. And I say, Hey, can you save for tutoring today? Can you save for cheating for lunch? Or can you come just eat lunch, and we can talk? Can you come early tomorrow, but I want to nip this in the bud before we get any further in the process. And it helps students so much, that’s how they’re gonna get that daily check in. And they’re gonna get that immediate feedback from you all while you not having to take another thing home to collecting grade after school hours, because again, you’re just grading like three to five minutes. For per class. That’s it, it’s only I told you no more than five questions, they need to be able to do it in five minutes, you need to be able to grade the whole classes in under three minutes. And I just write the answers on a post it note, once I collect them, I stick it on top of the pile of papers with a paperclip. And then I just go through them quickly. And I grade each days and I just will mark in the margin like minus zero minus one minus two, whatever. And then at the end of the week, I tally it up and I put it out of like 25 points, or 20 points or something like that. Now, you probably have a lot of follow up questions about this. And I’ve probably already answered it, and one of my blog posts that I have about prime times. And so I want to encourage you to check those out, which I will link in the show notes. And again, if you don’t want to come up with your own bell ringers, I have them for biology, anatomy, physical science, and chemistry. And I will link those in the show notes too. Those are editable and you can use those. But that’s my best advice for you guys. Stop grading everything period. That’s the solution. If you’re overwhelmed by grading, then stop grading, like you’re doing too much. I genuinely think I don’t know if I’ve ever wants to talk to a teacher. And I talked to hundreds of you guys a week. Honestly, I talked to hundreds of teachers a week, I don’t think I’ve ever met a teacher who is not grading enough. Every teacher I talked to is grading more than they probably need to. And so that’s my action set for you today. I want you to take an honest look at what you’re grading and think Can I grade less? And am I bold enough and willing to try this for one month? That’s my challenge for you truly, what if you try this for one month, my strategy of only collecting one thing per prep per week? Can you try that just for a month, just for the month of September. And then let’s circle back, you know, beginning mid October and look at your student’s grades and see what happened, you probably still have time, then if you need to throw in a couple extra grades because you’re worried about it or whatever. But I genuinely think you’re going to realize like, oh, I made my life so much better for a month and everything turned out fine. I think a lot of times, we’re so scared to try something new, because we think it’s gonna like ruin these kids or ruin their school year. Just try it for a month, you had the whole rest of the school year if you need to bounce back and try something new. So I want to encourage you to do that. And like I said, I’ll mention like all those links I mentioned and about the prime times and the supplemental resources for that and everything. Those will always be in our show notes. And you can grab those at it’s not rocket science classroom.com/episode 95 And this week, if you are listening, and you have simplified your gradebook to two categories, because this is something I’ve been talking about for years, so this is something you have done. Will you leave me a rating and a review on the podcast today,

Rebecca 24:16
I would love to hear from you and how that has changed your life to simplify your gradebook. And if not tune back in next week we’re going to talk about another kind of Hot Topic When it comes to grading and I cannot wait to hear what you guys think about it. So I’ll see you next week. All right, teacher friends. That wraps up today’s episode. If you’re looking for an easy way to start simplifying your life as a secondary science teacher, head to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/challenge to grab your classroom reset challenge. And guess what? It’s totally free. Thanks so much for tuning in and I’ll see you here next week. Until then I’ll be really free teacher friend.


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