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How to Cut Your Grading Time in Half [Episode 120]


Click below to hear how to cut your grading time in half:

Everyone is trying to achieve a work-life balance, but for teachers, that simple concept is actually very complicated. One of the reasons teachers struggle so much with having a life outside of school is the amount of grading that we have to do. While I’m biased, I believe secondary science teachers have the most grading, especially with the labs and having multiple preps. I want you to be able to manage and achieve this, so in today’s episode, I’m sharing four tips that will cut your grading time in half.

Now, some of these ideas may seem drastic to you, but I encourage and challenge you to listen with an open mind if you really want to cut down on your grading. Each of my four tips includes limiting what you collect, which items you grade for accuracy, and trying batching when you grade. A lot of the pushback I get when I suggest ways to cut down your grading, are teachers’ concerns of not checking in or assessing students based on their work. But don’t you worry! I’ve thought of a way you can check in daily with your students to ease your concerns.

Grading student work is part of teaching and we’re made to believe we should be spending hours a day on this one task of teaching. However, if we want to achieve a work-life balance, we need to find a better solution. And while the four tips I share in this episode might seem extreme, they will help cut your grading time in half and allow you to have a life outside of school while also checking in with your students daily.

Topics Discussed:

  • 4 tips for cutting your grading time in half
  • How these tips require you to think about what content you actually want to assess
  • My challenge for you to listen with an open mind and try before you automatically dismiss these tips
  • Why cutting down your grading will help you achieve a work-life balance

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
Anytime I speak with other secondary science teachers the topic of grading and how to manage it all, in evitable II comes up, finding time to do everything that we are expected to do, plus grade all of the things and not bring work home so we can actually have a life. It truly seems insurmountable. But I really believe that the first step in reclaiming work life balance comes from cutting your grading time down. Okay, there’s a lot we can do to re gain our work life balance. But I really believe being extremely true TJ and honestly, a little bit savage about what you choose to grade and not grade is what we need to deal with first. So in today’s episode, I’m going to share with you four tips that will cut your grading time in half. If you implement them in their entirety. Are you ready to grade less so that you can have more time for other things? Let’s get into it. 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 friend, let’s get to today’s episode.

First, I want to start off with a little bit of an encouragement for you. I just want to acknowledge that grading is a burden of all teachers. Okay, I know that. But it is, is especially a large and heavy burden on high school teachers. You know, I’m thinking about my co workers that were former English teachers and history teachers. And these essays they’re writing and are having to read that their students have written and it is a lot like my son’s kindergarten teacher is doing a lot. I’m not saying, you know, she’s not, she’s got 25, five to six year olds in her class like I could never. But like, I also see the work that he’s bringing home that she’s grading, it’s just high school is a different level. But I also think and of course, you know, I’m biased. As a former high school science teacher, I think high school science teachers in particular, have an additional burden, because maybe we’re not grading assignments that are as long as our English teaching coworkers. But no one else in your building has the responsibility of creating, and prepping and managing labs. That is a role that is unique to science teachers at all grade levels. And it’s just something that no other discipline has to do, and that they can really relate to. And I would also argue that lab reports are just as long as English persuasive essays. But so I just wanted to start there. Because if this feels extremely overwhelming, and very hard, and like you’re drowning in it, it’s because it is extremely overwhelming and very hard. And it’s very easily possible that you can drown in this unless you get extremely aggressive about how you’re going to handle grading. And so that’s what we’re going to talk about. In this episode, I am going to share with you four specific tips that worked really well for me when I was in the classroom full time, but I’m not gonna lie. I mean, these are kind of like drastic measures. I am going to say things in this episode that you will think that’s not possible. There’s no way. And one thing I want to encourage you with and maybe challenge you with, before we move forward is I think when I am personally in a hard place, and I go to my husband, or I go to my best friend or whoever, and I start venting and they start offering solutions. The way my brain personally wires is wired is it goes on the defense, and I’m just my brain instead of really listening and thinking what if I try that is thinking all the ways that what they’re saying is wrong. And I just get really defensive. And so I want to give you a word of caution and maybe a word of challenge from one internal lawyer and defensive person to maybe potentially another that I’m going to say things that your immediate reaction might be just a buck against and say there’s no possible way because that’s what I would do if I was you. But as someone who was on the other side of it and really did actually do these things like I’m not making this up. I did do these things and found amazing success with them. Instead, let’s I would love if you could listen with an open kind of mind to say okay, well what if I tried this and what if it worked? How could this look different for me? How Could I maybe last in this career longer if I make some drastic changes when it comes to grading because y’all I’m going to be honest. I’ve mentioned before I sent out a survey to my email list, you know, looking for just kind of where y’all are at I do this once a year, because I would love to do it more often. But I always feel like I’m bothering you. And I’m like, asking you have things like take this survey or, you know, fill out this. So I asked once a year, that’s usually every February, where are you at? What are you struggling with, and y’all this years responses, I could just feel through the computer, just the weight on people’s shoulders, and just more so than any year before. This is my third year, I believe sending this out. Like just how totally drained people are, how downtrodden they are. And that may be how you’re feeling. And I’ve never seen so many people articulate, like in writing. I don’t know how much longer I can do this job. I feel like there are a lot of people, at least in the subset of people who responded to this survey, that that’s where they are mentally right now. And we’re going to actually be talking about this. You know, in the next few weeks, I’m going to do a podcast episode about like, how do you know if it’s time to make a career change or not. But I just want to say I feel like why not try something really drastic and maybe different from what you’ve ever done before? Let’s try that first before we maybe do something as drastic as consider an entire career shift. Okay, so that’s my encouragement to you. That’s my caveat. Before we jump in, now, let’s talk about the four things I did that changed everything. Now just a little bit of context to for any of you who are new to this podcast, or, you know, my corner of the internet, you may not know, I have several years of teaching experience in a large public school where I was like one of five biology teachers, okay. And then, my most recent years when I was in the classroom full time before doing this full time, I was in a private Christian school that was really small. And you know, there was only like three science teachers total. And at one point, I had five different preps. And one of those preps was AP Biology, which I had never taught before. I also had a lot of extracurricular responsibilities. I was a mentor teacher for a new teacher at the time, I was running Student Council, I was a part of this mentorship program that we had, you know, with students. So I had a couple students that I was assigned to personally mentor. Okay, so that’s just a very brief snapshot. So I’m coming to you with these tips from finding out like, I’m gonna have five preps this year. And one of them’s a class I’ve never taught and it’s an EP college level course, like, what am I going to do because I’m at capacity, I only have so much time in the day. And two things I’ve always been really committed to, for my students, not 100% perfectly, but I would say like a 90% commitment to 90% of time I was doing this is one always getting graded work back by the next time I saw them. So when I was on like an AB schedule, that might be two days. But when I was teaching the same students every day, it was the next 24 hours, or if I clicked it on a Friday, I at least had it back to them on Monday. And then the second thing I got really committed to in my last few years in the classroom was not bringing work home. So even if it meant I did have to stay until five to grade, I’d rather do that than bring it home. Now. I will say I had the luxury of not having children at that time that I needed to like go pick up from daycare or take them to their soccer practice or whatever. But those were two things I had the ability to be committed to. And I did 90% of time. And now let’s get into like practically how I did it. How did I cut the grading down because that was one of my biggest time sucks. And the first thing I did is I only collected and graded one thing per day for accuracy. Okay, that means five assignments total for the week. This is not per class. Okay? Because think about it. When I had five preps, if I was doing one thing per class per day, that’s 25 Things I’m grading per week, you do not have the time for that. Even think if you have two preps and you’re collecting one thing per day for each prep, that’s 10 things. And again, you’re probably multiple sections of these. So it’s not like you’re just collecting, you know, 24 of something, you’re probably collecting 75 of something if you have three sections or 100. Okay, so I’m talking like, every day Monday, of all my classes, I was only going to collect one thing from all my classes. Tuesday, I was collecting one thing from all my classes. And here’s why. I genuinely looked at my planning time, which was 50 minutes if no one came and interrupted me. And I just I could not keep up with all of the grading and the lab prep for five classes and just not even like lesson planning because y’all know I write curriculum. So Obviously, I like use my own lesson plans. But you know, it’s not just coming up with the lesson plans, you still have, like, so many things you have to do to implement the lesson plan, and 15 minutes a day was not going to cut it. Okay, so I had to get strategic one thing per day per accuracy. This was the only way I was able to have any semblance of work life balance. And I think it might be the same for you, too. It’s unrealistic to expect anyone to stay in this career, if you’re doing 60 hour work weeks, and I know so many teachers are, I do not want that for you. And your planning period is not enough. So you’re probably going to have to stay later or come earlier, you know, 123, to maybe five days a week, but I don’t want you staying to five or six every single night. So something has to give here. You are not a superhuman. And also, I don’t know about you. But like I know, for me when I was collecting a lot and just trying to get through it with a limited time I had, I was not giving great feedback, especially in the my first couple years in the classroom where I’d be bringing stacks of papers home, you know, bringing lab notebooks or whatever. And you know, it’s a Friday night, I’m watching Friday, Friday on HGTV with my roommates. And that’s on in the background. And it’s kind of dark, because we’ve got all the overhead lighting is off, and we just got the lamps on and I’m trying to grade and I’m pretty distracted. I’m just trying to get through it. Like, that wasn’t the feedback I wanted to provide for my students. Okay, so I was like, I’m only going to collect things, if I can give them the attention that they deserve and the high quality feedback, and then also get it back to them quickly. Because think about it. What is the point of grading an assignment? I know many of us grade solely to motivate our students to do it. And I have a lot of thoughts on that. But I think when you really think about the core reason you should be grading assignments, it’s one for you to see where they are, where are they in keeping up with this before you just get to a test or some other summative assessment. And two is for you to provide feedback to them to aid them in their learning. So thinking have those two things like if I’m collecting all the stuff and not getting it back to a week later, at that point, we’ve

already covered so much new content, it’s not really helpful for me to find out like, oh, they haven’t been able to do a Punnett Square for a week. Now we’re doing dihybrid, I didn’t even know they couldn’t do a monohybrid. You know, and it’s not helpful for them to get this feedback so much later than when they actually did the assignment. And so I actually feel like even as this sounds so extreme to do one thing per day per like,

you know, that’s it for accuracy, I actually think it’s a service to your students. It’s benefiting you by cutting back on how much you’re grading, but it’s benefiting them, because you’re gonna give them better, more detailed and effective feedback, and you’ll be able to get it to them much faster. If you’re only collecting one thing a day, I bet you can get it back to them the next day and 24 hours. And then that helps to prevent this back log of assignments you have to grade as well. Now, I know you may be thinking, okay, like I have five preps. And so I’m really only going to collect in grade one thing for accuracy a week. That means I’m only going to be checking in with students once a week. And that’s where I would say false. So that’s where my second tip comes in. Use quick, daily bell ringers to check in with your students every single day. And then basically everything else you’re doing. If you feel like you need to give students a grade to motivate them to work, everything else, then it’s going to be graded for completion for putting in effort. Okay, because like I said previously, one of the purposes of grading is for us to know where our students are. So I understand that you want to collect things so you can really know where they are. And that way we know do I need to modify my teaching, you know, do I need to go into lunch and pull this kid in for tutoring so they don’t get further behind? Those are the things we need? We need to check in with them. But you don’t if you’re collecting all these stacks of papers, like are you really looking at them that day and getting them back to them? And then are you really able to get them in when they need it, which is as soon as possible. And so that’s why I want to encourage you to try a daily bellringer. I’m so passionate about this because it just helped me so much. I did not do this my first year, maybe second year, even in the classroom. I think I started my third year halfway through my second year. And all of a sudden, my eyes were just so open to where my kids were on a daily basis. And it was a touch point with them. Every single student knew that I was like thinking about them looking at something they wrote, interacting with them on a daily basis. It really helped me so so much to make sure I knew which students I needed to follow up with during the lab or when they’re working on independent work. Those are the ones that need to go check in on. Okay, it’s so informative. And I know a lot of people don’t like doing bell ringers because they just think it’s so much work and I get it Like, when I had five preps, I had to come up with five bellringers a day. But I will say once you write them, every year after that, you can just tweak them. And you can find a gajillion bellringers. You know, on the internet, I have them for biology, chemistry, anatomy, physical science, I know there’s other people that do too, you can tweak them and edit them for your students. But I also just think, from an assessment standpoint, it’s a game changer from a touch point standpoint, but also from like a procedural standpoint, and setting the tone for my class, I was obsessed with prime times. And that’s what I call them. I think I may have said that, but prime times are what I call my bell ringers, because I think they’re the most important part of your class period is that first five minutes, it sets the tone and helps, you know, are we where we need to be today to move forward with the content that I had planned. And I’ve said a lot about prime times in the past. So like, those of you who have been with me for all these years are like, please move on. So for those of you that are new to me, and new to hearing about prime times, I will link in the show notes, I have another podcast episode about this. And I have a couple blog posts that you can read, that will give you more details about that. But I just think the ability to provide that immediate feedback with students is such a game changer. And necessary. If you’re going to cut everything back and only collect one thing, you know, per day, then you also need to have something else to kind of step in there. And I think prime times are such a great and simple solution. Now everything else that they are doing, you don’t have to grade. But if you feel like you need to because maybe so far, in theory, you set a precedent that you are or maybe your students have zero intrinsic motivation. And they will literally only do stuff if they know it’s going to be graded, then and only then I would be checking those things for completion and spot checking them. But we’re not collecting and grading for accuracy. Okay, that’s a game changer. I also think though, if you’re struggling, if you’re if you’re like, I don’t grade for completion, ever, I only do accuracy. But if I only do one thing per day, I won’t have enough grades in the gradebook. I get that. That’s where the bell ringer can be helpful. But also, maybe consider grading some things for completion and maybe not a lot, because I don’t want to go entirely against your teaching philosophy or give you complete pushback there. But I don’t know what if, what if you try grading couple things for completion, so that you add more capacity for the one or two things you are collecting to grade for accuracy and just kind of see, I know for my teaching philosophy, I avoid homework, like the plague and assigning homework. That’s something that I moved away from. And again, I have a podcast episode I share more about this. I’ll link in the show notes. But you know what, if you have to change it up, I always assigned homework until another teacher told me what if you stopped and then I got defensive like I do. But then the more I listened to this other teacher, the more I thought, what if and it changed everything when I stopped. And so that’s one thing I want to encourage you. And a quick side note about that is like I absolutely despise cheating. And so many of the things I saw in the podcast survey, were about people just so overwhelmed by kids cheating and AI and and that’s where I’m like, Okay, we never do anything outside of class then. Because you need to be inside of class so I can make sure you’re not using any device at all times. And I hate that I hate that’s the world we’re living in. But my like justice seeking for people who cheat is so high that that’s just a compromise I had to make. Okay, now that I’m getting verbose on this, I didn’t mean to, but y’all know how I get fired up about things. Okay, so, first thing I’m suggesting only collecting grade one thing per day per accuracy. Second thing is use Quick daily bellringer to check in with your students every day. And then if you’re grading anything else, you’re grading it for completion. Third thing, let’s talk about labs, because I know, you’re like, what about the labs. My third tip is only grade one section of a lab. And then peer grade the rest. This is how I survived even when I taught AP Biology, this is exactly what I did. It was the only way I could do it. Okay, so I would not tell students, which section of the lab I was going to focus on grading, because I want them to try their best on every section. But then when I would collect them, I would say okay, I really, really want to make sure we’re getting graphs down. So I’m going to grade the graphs today. Or I’m going to grade the analysis sections only. And then everything else has maybe a completion grade, or you just pass it back out and you say, Okay, we’re going to spend 15 minutes, you’re going to swap lab reports with the peer. And you’re going to provide each other quality feedbacks and maybe we’re going to grade each other’s you know, hypotheses or maybe we’re going to read each other’s labs. So let’s say some of the conversation you can be have doing this. Okay, look at your neighbors graph. Does it have a title? Does the title accurately describe what the graph shows? Are you able to clearly identify the independent and dependent variables from their graph? Are both axes clearly labeled our units there and now they the right units, if that’s applicable, to do make the right kind of graph a bar versa? I look at their scale on the life y axis first, is it evenly spaced? Okay, these are the types of questions I’m asking them. And I think, yes, they can grade their own. But I just think they come to someone else’s work with fresh eyes. And it’s easier to provide feedback looking at someone else’s. And they tend to try harder, because it’s almost like a scavenger hunt, they get to play teacher and look for what’s right and look for what’s wrong. But I just think they learned so much from peer grading, and it saves me so much time, because I’m not grading every part of every lab all of the time. Now, I know some teachers, their solution to like grading a bunch of labs is just collecting one lab write up, maybe per group. I tried this once, and my kids absolutely revolted. Like, I just had so many kids that were so stressed out and didn’t trust, like the lab partner that I was taking. And I just felt like it created too much drama within the community that I was trying to create my class. And it started to pit people against each other. And, you know, some of those students felt really overwhelmed by this, and they sort of micromanaging their classmates. And I don’t know, I just didn’t like the way my students became when I did this. So that wasn’t something that worked for me, I’d much rather collect everybody’s grade one little part of it, so I can make sure it’s also really, really fair. Now, one more thing about labs is, I like, don’t think you necessarily have to do formal lab reports. And I also have a podcast episode about this number 105. So I’ll link that in the show notes. If you want to hear my whole spiel about maybe we don’t need to do full formal lab reports anymore. And then last but not least, the last tip I want to give you in terms of grading and cutting down that grading time in half, is batch grading your tests, question by question. Okay, so the word batching is something I’m like kind of obsessed with, because I’m obsessed with efficiency. And it just means doing a lot of the same task over and over again, to increase efficiency and decrease time spent. So for instance, something that I do right now is I write a whole month’s worth of blog or a TV a podcast episode that once and then I record them all at once over like one to two days. And then you know, I write all the emails that I’ll send out about those four podcasts right away. So I just kind of do the same thing over and over. I think you should do that with tests. So multiple choice, I feel like those are easy to grade, they take like 10 seconds. But let’s say you’re teaching Gen biology, CP bio, and you have three sections of it. I would have all of them have their tests on the same day. And then after I’ve graded the multiple choice, I would have all their tests stacked up in one mega pile. And I would grade everyone’s question number 21. All of their answers, and then I would grade everyone’s question number 22. Even if it’s 7500, students Odium, all like that question by question. And I know it seems like that wouldn’t go faster, I promise you, it will, you should time yourself and compare your results. If you really don’t trust my you know, action research data from my own classroom experience, like you will be faster, because what happens is, is you memorize that answer to number 21, you memorize what you’re really looking for, and then you just start flying through going through them knowing exactly what you’re looking for. I also love it too, because when you’re doing question by question, you lose track of who’s you’re really grading. And so I think it helps with removing some bias when it comes to grading that can inherently exist. And I’m also obsessed with it, because it really helps to ensure that my partial credit is fair. Like if I’m going to give half credit on this, I’m going to take off three points or one point or whatever. I’m doing the same thing on every single person’s. And I can really remember how to divide up the points on the question because I’m doing them all at once. I promise you, it will go so much faster. If you’ve never done this, you need to try it. And it’s especially fast if you have separate answer sheets for your tests. Because then your stack is only like a one to three page answer sheet packet for each student, as opposed to like, when I taught physical science, I let them write on their tests and their tests were all like six, eight pages. And then I had this whole stack I was flipping through takes a little bit longer. Personally, I love a separate answer sheet. But my physical science students were eighth graders and ninth graders. And so they just did a lot better with writing on the test. But that’s neither here nor there. So I really suggest if you can like give them a separate answer sheet. That will also help with letting you flip through those questions a lot faster. Okay, so I sincerely hope that you will try this, like why not? Guys, you know, it’s March, you may have a quarter of the year left or maybe a little bit more than a quarter depending on you know, when you start in school and how late you’re going into June or whatever, but why not try this for the rest of the year and just see what happens. Like what if, what if you start batch grading your tests question by question. What if you stopped writing forum or signing formal lab reports and grading every part of a lab and you just did one section of a lab at a time? What if you started using daily bellringer to check in with your students and then didn’t grade anything else for accuracy? The other than the one thing I want you to collect, and grade per day for accuracy, what if I truly believe you can decrease grading time, and that will then create more space for you to do all the other things on your plate? It just may require you making some drastic changes.

So are you ready? I so sincerely hope so. And if you are, and you haven’t already, leave a review today for the podcast, tell me that you are ready to make some changes because you’re grading way too much. And you want to grade way less. And let me know how this podcast has maybe helped you to consider the what ifs and maybe doing things a little bit differently. And I know I mentioned a lot of like, you know, adjacent podcast content and blog posts that are related to things I talked about in this episode. So if you want to check out those head to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/episode 120 And that’s where you can find the show notes for today’s episode. 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 rooting for you teacher friend.


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