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  • Writer's pictureLCS ITRTs

Grading in the Remote Setting

Back to the story of my first years of teaching where each day my bag was heavier than the last. And each weekend began with me in front of stacks of papers, red pen in hand, looking at the dates, realizing the work had been in my bag for over two weeks and wondering if students even remembered completing them? On more than one occasion, classroom worksheets ended up in the recycling bin at home, never to get back into students’ hands.

Then, at least five years into teaching a shift happened. I started questioning why I was spending so much time figuring out how much the students had or had not completed and if it was done on my timeline? Why was I not spending all my time gathering data on what students knew instead of trying to remember who had turned in what and when? I can’t even pinpoint when the shift happened, but I know the why--exhaustion. I shifted my thinking from assignments to practice, and grades being based on standards of learning, rather than lateness, neatness or completion. Not only did the shift allow me to spend less time grading, but also made for more equitable practices in my classroom. No longer would a student who turned in an A quality essay be given a B for turning it in late, when a student with B quality work who turned it in by the deadline received the same mark. There was no way to distinguish between those two grades even though the mastery of content was very different. Planning and grading was now focused with mastery in mind. Less emphasis was placed on how students showed mastery, but simply that they did. I found this shift allowed for students to practice over the course of an entire unit, and students who “got it” later were met with the same grades as students who caught on with an initial task. Grades shifted from who a student was as a learner to where they were in the learning process. Like learning, I began to see grades as fluid more than a fixed measure in time.

Even with this shift, grading still feels burdensome at times.

Jennifer Gonzalez, the editor and chief of The Cult of Pedagogy blog and podcast, put out the free resource “Cutting Grading in Half EBook” where she outlines 20 tips for cutting your grading in half. For a more in-depth look at her ideas and practices I would suggest downloading this free resource she provides. Here are some key ideas presented from her book:

  1. Have students do several similar assignments (bell ringers, exit tickets, short responses, journal entries) and then have students select the one they feel best represents their work to turn in. With technology, this could mean that the Google Classroom assignment could be aligned with the SOL, but they choose to attach a Flipgrid response, a slideshow, an image of a document.

  2. Change your language. Like the previous blog posts mentioned, shift using the term “assignment” to “practice.” Instead of promising a grade for each piece of work, instead you provide feedback--with what the student is doing well and where they need to continue to grow.

  3. Score using rubrics. Google Classroom has the option of creating rubrics for you to use to assess students on assignments. While it does take some initial time to create, it makes the scoring process quicker. Use this tool to help, or Jennifer Gonzalez provides a Single Point rubric as well.

  4. Grade as you go. This is less on grading, and more on feedback, but could be used together. As students are completing work in class, go around and mark answers correct or incorrect--or provide areas of growth. This can be done digitally using Google Classroom or Seesaw, by opening up student’s assignments and journals, or using ClassKick or Goguardian to monitor progress in real time from your computer.

In addition, we should be using technology to leverage our time and energy.

LCS 3rd through 12th grades are using Google Classroom to push out their assignments to students and so it’s important that those of us in these grades use links and resources that can easily be managed in this platform. One of my favorite tools, that self grades, is Google Forms. You can create a quiz or survey that will generate a grade as soon as the student submits their work. There is even a feature in Google Classroom (GC) that will allow Google Form results to be imported to the Google Classroom gradebook after submission. Another feature in GC that can make grading faster is by using Rubrics. This feature allows teachers to create the criteria for success for each assignment (paper, etc) and include points for the various levels. It is a little more work up front, but if you make one rubric, you can reuse it for other assignments. The students then get valuable feedback and information without you having to labor over the grading. This can definitely make a more efficient work flow.

Online programs such as Quizizz, Quizlet, Kahoot, and other gamification sites are great for doing quick dipstick checks on student mastery of material. Data from Quizizz and Kahoot games is easily downloadable to Excel spreadsheets or Google Sheets. Teachers can look to see what questions gave students the most trouble, what questions everyone answered correctly as well as looking across the spreadsheet at individual students’ work to see who missed multiple questions and needs extra help. The scores are generated automatically so that teachers don’t have to spend time grading. They can spend their time analyzing the data to help guide further instruction for their students.

Programs like Quizlet and StudyStack offer multiple ways for students to practice material prior to assessment. Teachers can assign a set of flashcards in these programs for students to study and work on then have students complete a Google Sheet with their top score on Match after completing it a certain number of times. Quizlet Live lets students compete collaboratively to answer questions correctly and as each round ends, the teacher sees and can review with students the questions divided into 3 groups - what we know (which is the questions that each group got right), what we learned (which is the questions that were missed in round 1 of the game but now students got correct) and what we need to learn (which are the questions that students still need to master). As more rounds are played, the number of questions in the what we need to know group decreases as students review and practice that more. I’ve seen classes spend an entire period playing Quizlet Live as a review and by the end of the class there was no more what we needed to learn questions. Anecdotally, their test grades reflect the mastery of the work reviewed in Quizlet Live--with no grading required for the review and practice..

Another great tool that our teachers have a subscription to premium features is EdPuzzle. Not only is it a really safe way to share youtube videos and other video content, but you can embed questions throughout the video to see if the student understands what is being taught. EdPuzzle has a great deal of premade content by grade level and subject, or teachers can create and upload their own. It is not only super easy to share with colleagues, but easy to post to Google Classroom and the grading is done for you. Questions in EdPuzzle that are open ended do have to be self graded, so if you are in a rush, make the questions multiple choice and save yourself time with grading. Always think about what you need to do to grade something and the format before you have to grade it.

Another division-wide program is IXL which is used for Math and Language Arts/English to help students work on new skills as well as skills in which they need practice. Teachers can assign specific skills to students based on what is being taught in class. The IXL test bank has a large number of questions for each skill and randomly assigns the questions after the teacher assigns the skill to the students. In addition, students can work on skills that the IXL diagnostic tests show they are weak in. The purpose of IXL is not to grade a finite number of questions but to provide students with individualized plans for practice leading to mastery. Give students a goal of earning a certain score on the skill and/or giving them a time limit to work on a skill (no more than 10 to 15 minutes a day but that depends on the students’ grade level). Obviously kindergarten students would spend less time than math analysis students.

Performance Matters is our division's replacement for Powerschool. It has a plethora of SOL type questions that our students need to be able to answer in order to be successful on the SOL. It is great for creating short pre and post tests for various skills, and you can find the questions based on the SOL strand that it covers. As soon as the student submits their assessment, the grades are there for the teacher to use, and the data is available for teachers to decide the next best way to proceed with their teaching. While we don’t recommend long PM tests in the remote or hybrid learning environment, short quick checks can help students and teachers know where they are with little grading.

We know teachers aren’t lazy--far from it-- they are overworked and overwhelmed with so many jobs that we wanted to provide some ways to free up their time grading small things. Shifting your practices from grading for mastery rather than completion alongside using technology can help leverage your time and make you more efficient and effective.

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