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Manage the Teacher Workload: 9 Efficient Grading Techniques

How do you manage your teacher workload?

It’s no surprise to any teacher that the grading pile is neverending. We might start the week feeling efficient and ready to clean up the pile, but by Friday, the pile is still there, and we’re feeling more overwhelmed than ever. However, managing the teacher workload can be conquered – especially with these grading techniques. 

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Why is it so hard to manage the teacher workload? 

If you’re a first-time teacher, you may go into the profession with aspirations to always get your marking done on time, and while we sometimes manage to stick to this goal, sometimes it’s just impossible. 

There are many reasons why it’s hard to manage the teacher workload:

  1. Teachers can have multiple classes with varying numbers of students. Each student may submit multiple assignments, essays, or projects.
  2. You may think it’s important to craft meaningful feedback for students on all assignments; however, this takes time, especially when considering each student’s strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Besides grading, teachers have administrative responsibilities such as lesson planning, attending meetings, communicating with parents, and professional development. These tasks further compete for their time and attention.
  4. Grading assignments in certain subjects can be time-consuming due to the need for detailed assessment, analysis, and feedback.
  5. Marking can spill over into personal time, impacting a teacher’s work-life balance. This can lead to burnout and reduced overall effectiveness in the classroom.
  6. You may not be aware of ways you can streamline the marking process.
  7. Teachers often hold themselves to high standards when providing feedback, which can increase the time needed to review and assess student work thoroughly.

Despite all of the reasons above, I’m here to tell you that with some time-saving tips, it is possible to adapt efficient grading techniques and actually manage your teacher workload once and for all. 

Manage the Teacher Workload: 9 Efficient Grading Techniques

Here are nine efficient grading techniques to help you take back your time, ease your stress, and make you feel efficient in the classroom. 

Get to work a little earlier or stay a little later

Even 15-20 minutes can make all the difference in tackling the marking load. To make this work for me, I skip visiting the office when I arrive and beeline straight to my classroom. This way, I can focus on what I need to get done without the potential of early morning distractions.

I also close my classroom door to let other staff know I am trying to work. It is an unspoken rule in schools that if the door is closed before students arrive, the person is working and does not want to be interrupted.

This time, whether first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, also helps you set or reset. In the morning, I can sip my hot beverage while it’s hot and complete some focused marking before greeting my students. After school, I can focus on independent work and then reset to leave school at school for the day.

A teacher who commutes by public transit could use that travel time on the way to work to get some marking done, and then the commute home is reserved for their time to decompress before arriving home.

Use your prep time

We all know this is easier said than done, especially when we frequently lose our prep periods without warning. However, when you find yourself in that prep time, use it to tackle your grading pile!

If it’s a longer assignment or test in multiple parts, consider chunking your grading as you would chunk an assignment for students. What question or section can you grade in your prep period for all assignments? Batch those. Then, you can tackle another question or section in the next chunk of time. 

I recommend this approach rather than trying to mark a whole assignment for each student because you often don’t feel like you’re making progress. It can be discouraging to still have such a big pile, even when you’ve graded for 45 minutes! 

With this batching approach, you have the answers or achievement goals in mind as you move from student to student; plus, you can often grade quite a few single questions in a shorter period. That feeling of accomplishment is very encouraging!

Set a schedule and stick to it

Setting a schedule can be about imposing personal deadlines for finishing grading, or even more importantly, it can be about strategic scheduling for assignments. 

Whether you teach multiple sections of the same class or multiple different classes with the same group of students, try to be intentional about deadlines for your own sake! Not everything has to be due at the same time! 

This might feel like a challenge if you teach the same subject to different classes, but it’s okay if their assignments are due a day or two apart. Even that small buffer can be effective for your workload and your mindset. You can start to grade the first group of assignments before the next arrives so that the pile remains manageable. 

Adopt a strong rubrics or marking scheme

When you have a strong rubric or marking scheme, there’s less indecisiveness about whether student work meets the achievement criteria. A strong rubric provides clarity in the grading process.

If it’s a new assignment, that’s sometimes easier said than done. A rubric or marking scheme often needs a test run to ensure it’s appropriate and accurate. One way to do this is to have students use it to mark an exemplar assignment. This will do double duty and help with the teacher workload, too. It’s an “in the wild” test of the rubric that gets students to learn more about the assignment while helping to adjust the rubric as needed. 

Co-creating rubrics is an option where I’ve found great success. Letting students in on the game plan often means better final work for you to grade! Learn more about assessment and helping increase student achievement with Bump It Up Boards

Maintain an assignment comment bank

That familiarity is handy if this is an assignment you’ve taught and graded before. Everyone has muscle memory, but teachers also have grading memory.

And if you don’t have grading memory, consider making notes about specific wording you share with students throughout the lesson. Use this to guide the creation of a rubric or, better yet, co-create a rubric with students, as explained above. Or use this language as part of your personal comment bank for different assignments. 

The comment bank could be digital with an ongoing Google Doc (which saves itself!) or some keywords and phrases on an index card you use for that particular assignment. To help with teacher workload, reuse that comment bank. You can update it from year to year for similar assignments. We may change an assignment, but the curriculum tie-ins and achievement goals often remain the same, so the wording would likely still fit!

I have a deep love for comment banks for their reliability and effectiveness. Read more about how I use them for report cards here.

Pre-write feedback on rubrics

I love using a pre-made feedback sheet for marking large assignments. Once you have marked a few assignments, you will notice similar errors or improvement areas. Create a Iist of assignment-specific feedback and highlight the feedback for each student’s assignment. You can also build these feedback statements directly into your rubrics. You can also use feedback stamps to convey quick messages to students. This stamp set is also a good idea if you need to regularly communicate student progress. 

Find a timesaving feedback approach

One way to streamline teacher workloads when it comes to grading is to use a “stars and wishes” approach. 

  • A star is something a student has done well. 
  • A wish is an area for improvement, with a specific next step towards improvement. 

You can read more details in this post with quick assessment tips. The way that I’ve adapted the stars and wishes is to include very common stars and wishes on the rubric itself. Rather than repeatedly writing the same common comment, I can quickly and simply circle or highlight the star or wish on the rubric. This is a real timesaver! 

Stop marking everything!

This goes with the “check minus, check, and check plus” system I outline in this assessment blog post. When I have a class that requires me to mark almost everything they do, or else they don’t feel it is necessary or required, I use a quick checkmark system to “mark” the work. 

A good set of teacher stamps also does the trick! I circulate the classroom when they are working. When students are on-task and completing their work, I stamp their work. Bonus if they get to choose the stamp! And yes, this 100% works with middle school students! 

My friend made me a stamp for Christmas with my Bitmoji on it. My students were so excited that the stamp said my name and “looked” like me. She got it from instamps on Etsy.  Another great teacher stamp store is Lucky Stamps on Etsy. Molly is a teacher in California who also makes the cutest stamps. Use the codes below to save money when shopping!

Teacher stickers also motivate students and ” mark ” their work well. Here are some great choices from Amazon.

  1. 600PCS Punny Teacher Stickers for Students
  2. 3 Rolls Motivational Stickers for Kids
  3. PURPLE LADYBUG Teacher Stickers for Students with 4960 Reward Stickers for Kids

It’s okay to show a movie

When you have assigned a major text or assignment requiring hours of grading, plan a highly engaging independent activity for students to participate in. If you just finished a novel study and the book has been made into a movie – show that movie, but instead of watching the movie with the student, take the time to mark their assignments. 

My colleagues and I taught an essay writing unit one year, where we scaffolded the work to collect it at each part of the process. While I was marking their rough drafts, students were watching a movie they would write their final essays on. They were highly invested in the movie, and I got about an hour and a half to mark their work. Remember to not overuse this particular strategy.

If you are not allowed to show movies at school, then think of other activities your students could do independently, such as collaborative posters, digital escape rooms, seasonal activities for Halloween, Christmas, Winter, Valentine’s Day, or literacy stations.

A final word on teacher workload and grading

To manage our teacher workloads, we must be mindful of what is effective and what we think we should be doing! So, repeat after me: I don’t have to grade everything! 

Conversations and observations can (and should) factor into your grading plans just as much as the letter or percentage grade on a submitted assignment. An entrance or exit ticket can provide this information in a streamlined way that reduces your workload for grading! 

Read this post for more assessment strategies. You may also like this blog post: Tips and Tricks to Help You Improve Your Assessment Skills

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