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Freedom from Grading Overwhelm

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Hey there! I am so grateful that you have chosen to spend some of what I know to be very precious time with me here today to talk about such an important topic: Freedom from Grading Overwhelm: How to Get Your Life Back (While Still Doing Your Job).

Before we get started, I want to give you an opportunity to tell me more about what you’d love to hear featured on this podcast.

If there is a topic or something in particular that you are struggling with or wondering about, or if you have a question and you would love for me to answer it on this podcast, I encourage you to join our new, FREE and PRIVATE Beginning Teacher Talk FB Group. Click here or on the pic below to join now!

This group is pretty new, but my vision is for it to become a thriving community of new teachers where you can support each other and encourage each other and also get some fantastic new ideas. I hope to connect with you inside the group!

All right, let’s dive into today’s topic:

I know how challenging grading is, and how hard it is to figure out the balance between ensuring that you really are capturing the data that you need to give students fair grades WHILE still maintaining some kind of a life outside of teaching. I get it.

However, the reality is that sometimes we over-complicate the task of grading by falling into one of five traps, so today we are going to talk about what those five traps are and how you can recover from them if you discover that you’ve fallen into one of them.

  1. The first trap we fall into SO often is that we think we need to grade EVERYTHING.

    Imagine that it’s Saturday morning, and thank goodness that maybe you’ve slept in an extra hour or two or five to catch up on much-needed sleep, and now you’re at your kitchen table, coffee in hand, taking that first sip. Ahhh. Bliss.

    Until you look down at your dreaded teacher bag that is literally bulging with assignments you will likely need to spend the next five hours grading.

Does this sound familiar? I’ve been there, and I’ve spent many a Saturday doing the very same thing.

However, it all changed for me when I started to get more intentional about what I was bringing home.

Overcoming your grading overwhelm really comes down to getting clearer about your intentions when it comes to assessments.

So, on that Saturday morning, if you took out each packet of neatly organized papers that you planned to grade, ask yourself this deciding question for each one of them:

Did I assign this in order to assess my students’ knowledge or understanding, or did I assign this to give my students practice?

If the answer to that question is that the assignment was intended to give your students practice, you should not be spending your Saturday morning grading it.

After all, are you the one who needs to understand this content better? Are you the one who needs practice?

NO! Your students do.

Most of what students are doing in class should be practice anyways, so why are you about to spend your Saturday morning practicing what your students need to learn? It doesn’t make any sense, right?

So, either decide to pack that assignment back into your bag so that you can go through the answers with your students next week, or, if this assignment was truly given to assess student knowledge, then take the time to grade it so you can use this data to inform your instruction.

Next, to ensure that you don’t come home with another huge bag of assessments to grade next weekend, I encourage you to become much more intentional about what you actually assign to students.

Here are some ideas and suggestions to help reduce the amount of work you are taking home each week:

  • Let your students know that you are only going to be selecting specific assignments to grade, but that you won’t tell them which ones those will be ahead of time. Therefore, they need to do their best at all times.

    Now, this is a change from what you are currently doing if you are grading all of your students’ assignments every week.

Instead, really think about what you need to know about what your students understand, and choose to only select assignments that will genuinely give you a meaningful grade in formulating report card grades.

This is more like real life anyways – if kids start paying attention only because they know something will be on the test, they are only holding that information in their short-term memory until they can forget it again anyways.

We’ve all done it, right? Crammed for a test by forcing one hundred useless facts into our heads, only to be relieved that we can forget it all one week later, once the test is over. Right?

However, when your students don’t know what will be graded and what will not, this can help encourage a habit of learning and paying attention for the sake of learning, and doing their best because “How you do anything is how you do everything,” instead of simply learning something because it will be on the test or because it will be graded.

Also, it can be really powerful to say to students, “Hmm, I wonder if this assignment is going to be taken in for a grade?” That is often enough to remind students that they need to get back on task and back to work, and to take it seriously, just in case.

  • Your decision to selectively choose assignments to grade really means that you will decide to only grade “marker” assignments, quizzes, and tests. So again, the only time that you are spending your time grading student work is when you genuinely need to understand if your students understand a chunk of content. That means at the end of a unit, or mid-way through a unit. Not every day.

  • If you feel like you just can’t make the move to only grading marker assignments, quizzes, and tests, you can supplement that strategy with spot-checking assignments for completion by simply stamping them as you walk around the class, checking student work, or choose only 2 or 3 questions to grade, or even or odd numbers to grade on certain assignments.

  1. The second trap that we so often fall into is that we make grading so hard to do.

    Let’s go back to that huge bag of papers you’ve lugged home that is sitting at your feet or even spread out all over your kitchen table, ruining that otherwise fantastic cup of coffee on Saturday morning.

    I want the day stretched out in front of you on Saturday to be filled with lunch with friends, sunshine, and shopping, not stuck here in a blurry-eyed daze when you finally look up from your pile of papers and realize that it’s already 4:30 pm.

    I know, I’ve been there, and I’m here to tell you that yes, you can still be a fantastic teacher – and I would argue, actually a better teacher – if you spend your weekends NOT grading papers.

    I know I became a much better teacher when I stopped resenting my job because I was spending all of my weekends working harder, not smarter.

So, let’s look again at that heavy burden you’ve brought home with you.

Is your bag or your kitchen table filled with assessments that ask for long-answer questions?

Have you actually dragged home entire student writing folders?

If so, you’ve fallen into the second trap of making grading unnecessarily hard to do.

Instead, I want you to consider ways that you can make grading (again, work that you’ve already intentionally decided needs to be graded), much easier for you. Here’s how:

  • Instead of asking for so many long-answer questions to be answered, consider giving 5- or 10-point quizzes where students just need to answer oral questions using “true” or “false” or select an answer by circling A, B, or C.

    Most of the time, when you are testing for understanding of a concept, these kinds of quizzes can give you the snapshot you are looking for in order to guide your instruction.

    Again, ask yourself if you really need to be the one grading this.

    Especially for formative assessments, your students will learn a lot more by going through the answers with you, rather than you doing it for them – when you already know all of this stuff.

    I created simple, multi-use templates to keep on hand for quick quizzes so I could get an instant snapshot of understanding, rather than creating a full-on test.

    I used these as quick comprehension checks for stories we had read in language arts, as well as for concept checks in math, in science, and in social studies.

    I’ve created some multi-use templates for you to get you started as part of the freebie for this episode, so that the next time you think you need to create a huge test, think again and consider using one of these templates to give a quick quiz that students can score themselves instead!

  • Grading student writing can become one of those huge time-suck black holes, and it did for me, too, until I started implementing this next strategy:

    Consider grading student writing at school while you’re conferencing with students during Writer’s Workshop every week instead of taking piles of writing home to grade. (We will talk more specifically about how you can do this a little later on).

    If you aren’t using Writer’s Workshop in your classroom yet, I highly recommend it, because not only will it truly help your students to understand the writing process and become stronger writers who actually write for meaning, but it will also allow you to grade your students’ writing at school, WHILE you are conferencing with them in a meaningful and constructive way about their writing.

In fact, a lot of you have been reaching out and letting me know that writing is one of the hardest things for you to teach, so I’m likely going to be doing some future podcast episodes on that topic to give you some more help in that area. I LOVE using Writer’s Workshop in my classroom, and it will likely revolutionize the way you teach and grade writing, too.  

  1. The third trap is that we think we need to do it all ourselves.

    Here’s the thing: In today’s world, there is no way on earth that it makes sense that you are sitting at your kitchen table trying to do all of this yourself, when there is so much help available to make your job easier.
  • As we already have talked about, it’s so important to involve your students in grading their work: Go through assignments together as a class to check for understanding.

    Or, something that I did all the time in 2nd grade was to let my students correct each other’s work. I taught my students to pass their paper either in front, behind, to the person to the right or to the person to the left, or whatever – I did something different every time, so that students always had someone different to pass their paper to.

    My students did this every Friday for our spelling tests, and every two weeks for Science quizzes, and every second Tuesday in Math, without fail.

    My students knew exactly what to do because I took the time to teach them how to be responsible markers, and even how to add the correct answers up and put the total at the top.

    If you’re concerned that your students might make mistakes, believe me, students check their own work and the answers as soon as they get their papers back and they will let you know if someone made a mistake, especially if you leave the answers up for them to double check.

    Any mistakes are caught really quickly (and much faster than if you tried to double check your own marking yourself), and that way, the only thing left to do is enter the grades.

  • The second thing you can do to ensure that you don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to do all of this yourself is to take advantage of using technology.

    Lots of teachers use for quizzes which grades multiple guess questions for you.

    Also, you might want to check out a cool new platform called “Edulastic.”

    It seems to be pretty simple to use and although I haven’t used it myself, I watched the overview video and I think it could be a great option to help you.

  • The third thing you can do to ensure that you don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to do it all yourself is to simply ask for help from your grade level team.

    Your colleagues are very familiar with this struggle with grading, and they have hopefully found ways to cope and manage already. Why not ask them what they use and what has worked for them?

    If you’re nervous about asking, I encourage you to consider that it’s possible that you can help each other, especially if they are still trying to figure this out, too. I love this quote: “When you feel helpless, help someone else.” Maybe this is something you can all figure out together.
  1. The fourth trap we fall into when it comes to grading is that sometimes we get stuck in ONE evaluation strategy.

    Authentic assessment means using a variety of evaluation strategies.

    If you feel like you’ve gotten stuck in ONLY giving one kind of assessment and you are concerned that as a result, you may not be getting a complete picture understanding of where your students are, it’s worth getting a little creative and thinking about some other ways that you might want to evaluate your students.

    Again, just be sure that when you are getting creative that you are balancing the potential time commitment you may be making by making a specific choice to assess student understanding by using an essay or a journal, for example.

    Because genuine assessment means using a variety of strategies, I’ve created something special for you, and that’s another FREE resource of 30 Evaluation Strategies to get your imagination going about how you might be able to think outside the box and get creative when it comes to evaluating your students.

    Just scroll down the page to get your FREE copy of Your Assessment Starter Kit now!

  2. And finally, the fifth and final trap we often fall into when we are grading is that we forget about how easy rubrics can make grading.

    This is especially true for subjects like reading and writing.
    I relied heavily on using rubrics in these subjects so that I could genuinely assess, at a glance, where students were in terms of fluency as I listened to students read aloud, and for writing, as I mentioned earlier, when my students were participating in Writer’s Workshop.

Finally, you do not need to start from scratch or reinvent the wheel when it comes to rubrics. A simple search for “rubrics” for your grade level on Teachers Pay Teachers will give you a quick glimpse into how much work so many teachers who have come before you have done to create some awesome rubrics for exactly what you need.

However, to get you started right away and if you can’t find exactly what you need on Teachers Pay Teachers, I’ve included a Quick -Rubric Generator that you can download as part of the freebie I’ve created for you for this episode.

To get your hands on all of these goodies, simply click on the image below:

So there you have it! How to avoid the five major traps that many of us seem to fall into when we’re grading student work.

Ratings & Reviews

I hope you’ve gotten some great value from listening to this show, and if you have and you’re feeling extra loving, it would mean the world to me if you would be willing to leave a positive review for me in iTunes. Your review will help other new teachers to find this show and hopefully get the help they need, too. So, please help me to spread the love!

I really hope you’ll tune in next week because we are going to have a lot of fun – we are going to talk all about 12 of the best ideas I’ve found to calm and refocus your students after recess or lunch.

I hope that you have a wonderful week, and remember, just because you are a beginning elementary teacher, there is no need for you to struggle like one! Bye for now.

πŸ’› Lori

P.S. I have a BRAND NEW Product on Teachers Pay Teachers  that will help you to get your student data organized today!

Just click the pic below to learn more and get your copy now:

Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor

Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at and at

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