Managing Grading without Losing your Sanity

5 tips for managing grading WITHOUT losing your sanity

By Rachel Wilser

It’s February. You’re probably staring down some pretty significant time before your next day off or break.

If you’re a self-contained elementary teacher, you have probably 18-25 kids in your class and you’re teaching them all subjects — reading, writing, math, science, social studies, phonics (depending on grade). You accumulate a LOT of paper, really quickly.

Before I share how I manage grading, I want you to know two things. One, you absolutely NEED a system to manage grading. (Even if it’s not the one I use.) The sheer volume of paper that an elementary classroom produces/uses demands it. If what I share doesn’t seem manageable to you, think about what you can do to manage grading before it manages you. Two, the system you use has to work FOR YOU. It’s great if you try what I did, or you read another blogger and try to use their system, but the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how great someone else’s system is; if it doesn’t work for you then you need to drop back and reevaluate.

Without any further ado, these are my top 5 tips for managing grading WITHOUT losing your sanity!

1. Don’t grade everything!

Didn’t we just do the math on 18 kids times 6 subjects a day?! This is totally not possible in an elementary classroom, so from the get-go (I suggest when you lesson plan) know what you’re going to grade so you can collect and organize/file right away.

2. Don’t grade everything equally.

So, what I mean by this is that not everything needs to be graded for mastery with a numeric grade on the top. It’s fine for some things to be a simple check/check plus/check minus. Or just a check, if you did it. This should also be something you think about ahead of time, so you don’t get to the end of the quarter and realize you effort-checked all your math assignments, but this can be a major time- and sanity-saver. Having a stack of exit tickets to go through is so much more manageable when you know that all you have to do is check if they attempted it all. Loosely, I just put a check on homework (did you try it all?); check/check minus/check plus on exit tickets (all subjects); numeric grades for tests; rubric for writing.

3. Plan to grade.

Planning time is like a blip on the space/time continuum. It disappears in a snap, and can leave you wondering what you just did for the last 50 minutes if you’re not careful. Rather than taking stacks of grading home, I’d suggest blocking out 1-2 planning periods for week just for grading. There are two key benefits to this: one is that you’re consistently grading, so you’re not letting it stack up and get out of hand, and two is that you don’t have to lug it home in this scenario. Not only should you block out the time to grade during planning, but then you should follow through and ACTUALLY DO IT! I had a corner classroom, so I would close my door almost all the way, play some favorite music, and have some coffee. If I really had a lot of grading to do, I’d turn out the lights so it looked like I was gone.

4. Record your grades.

Amazing: you just spent all this time during your planning period grading and you’re totally ahead of the game! Don’t forget to actually record these grades now! There are a bunch of ways you can record grades. I had a chart on my teacher clipboard where I would record grades (in case I wasn’t near my laptop) and then, when I had a few set of grades recorded, I would go back to an Excel spreadsheet and enter them. I set up separate spreadsheets for math and ELA. I also color-coded assignments and missing grades, so I could use my grading to help guide small-group instruction.

5. Send/save assignments.

After you grade an assignment and record the grades, send it home! Graded work takes up as much space as ungraded work and makes you feel just as cluttered. Once you grade the work, send it home in folders. (NB: the only exception to this would be work for students that you’re tracking for interventions or the special-ed evaluation process. For some assignments–not all–I’d suggest making a photocopy or scanning the work, then putting it in your file/binder, so you have items to reference during special-education meetings.)

I’d love to hear about what other tips and tricks you use to manage grading! Do you use a similar system, or something totally different? The bottom line is that you need to manage student work in a way that works for you.

Rachel Wilser has spent the better part of a decade in classrooms around the country — in private, public, charter, elementary, and middle schools. Now, she chases twins and drinks coffee while planning her return to the classroom.