How to Save Time Grading Assignments: 3 Actionable Steps
I can still picture myself sitting at a small, elementary school table over a decade ago. It’s dark outside, and I am only half way through grading a stack of science papers. This was a common sight for me. Grading was the bane of my existence during my first few years in the classroom. It can be so time consuming, and a lot rides on those grades, no matter what level you teach. So, if you’re like me, you overthink each and every grade to be sure they’re fair, only to add hours to an already time-consuming process.
It was also at this same, small table that I came to realize that grading doesn’t have to be this way. I was young at the time, and I had heard about radical movements such as throwing out grades altogether. While this was intriguing to me, it’s never been realistic in my classroom, and I find that it’s not realistic for many educators. So I decided, one time-saving tip at a time, I would make it so that I didn’t dread spending too many hours on grading.
Over the years, I have found a few favorite tips that save me major time when grading assignments but also allow me to still provide the thought and care the students deserve. In this post, I am going to tell you about three of my favorite, simple ways you can save time grading assignments in the classroom.
Tip 1: Know What You’re Grading (Create a Rubric)
A realization hit me as I was sitting at that small table, grading a science research paper with a lot of grammatical errors. As I marked up the paper, I kept thinking about how spot-on the science content was. This student totally understood changes in ecosystems over time, and yet, in the end, her grade did not reflect her solid, scientific understanding. This did not feel fair. This was a science grade, so why did her language arts errors affect it?
This brings me to my first tip: know what you’re grading. Before you grade an assignment, or even better, before you assign an assignment, know what you expect the students to show. For any assignment, I start with the standard. The particular 4th grade Ohio Science standard is stated below:
Changes in an organism’s environment are sometimes beneficial to its survival and sometimes harmful. Ecosystems can change gradually or dramatically. When the environment changes, some plants and animals survive and reproduce and others die or move to new locations. An animal’s patterns of behavior are related to the environment. This includes the kinds and numbers of other organisms present, the availability of food and resources, and the physical attributes of the environment.
This is pretty dense text for a 4th grader. So a helpful practice is to pull out the specific parts of the standard you’d like to assess in your specific assignment, and to put the standards into student-friendly text. My district preferred to use the “I can” format for student-friendly standards. Here’s an example:
I can explain that some changes in an environment take a really long time to happen and some changes can be dramatic. I can compare an ecosystem in Ohio from the past to the present. I can explain that some changes in an environment can be beneficial and some changes can be detrimental to different organisms in an ecosystem. I can design and create a picture book to explain the ideas of environmental change to 2nd graders. (Connection to 1st quarter writing portfolio piece.)
Once I have the student-friendly standards, I create a rubric. I’m opening a whole can of worms here. There are SO many rubric options out there. You just have to find what works for you. The research paper I previously referred to was a paper assignment. It was over a decade ago before I knew Google tools even existed, and therefore my grading was on paper. Back then, I used paper rubrics. A rubric can be on paper; that totally works. I do think that technology, however, can be a huge time-saver, especially in the world of rubrics. Here are a few options to help you create rubrics online:
- Create your own rubric in Google Docs or Sheets
- Orange Slice – An add-on that will increase your grading productivity and it professionally presents a scored rubric and grade for your students.
- Goobric – This extension launches the Goobric web app, a rubric based assessment tool that works with the Doctopus Add-on for Google Sheets.
- Google Classroom Rubrics – And something I’m incredibly excited about is the new rubric feature that’s rolling out in Google Classroom. I think this feature is going to save loads of time! It’s embedded right into the assignment:
And the rubric is super easy to find when in the grading tool:
Check out this video to learn more. In my opinion, this new feature makes Google Classroom one step closer to becoming the full package, helping teachers from start to finish throughout a lesson.
You might be worried about the time it takes to build a rubric. This is understandable, considering we’re here to learn about saving time when grading. But let me assure you that throughout the grading process, you will save more than the time it takes to build that rubric. And once you find your flow for creating rubrics, you’ll find that process to be quicker and quicker, saving yourself more and more time.
At the end of the day, decide what exactly you’re going to grade before you begin a lesson. And a great way to organize your expectations is through a student-friendly, standards-based rubric.
Tip 2: Let Students Know What You’re Grading Before They Begin
This is a huge deal, yet pretty simple (and quick) to explain. Take away the guessing game. Give students the rubric before they begin the assignment. This helps them know exactly what you’re looking for as they work through the assignments. It helps set them up for success, which in the end, sets you up for success.
Tip 3: Let Google Classroom Help You
I’ll say it again and again, Google Classroom just keeps getting better and better. There are SO many newer features to Google Classroom that can save you loads of time when grading. My guess is that once you have your Google Classroom grading “flow,” you’re going to find that you save so much time and feel so organized that you’ll want to grade everything there, even the assignments that don’t involve technology.
The good news is, you can get creative so that all of your grades can benefit from Classroom’s awesomeness. For example, if your students create something physical, like a science experiment, they can take a picture or video and turn that in in Classroom, giving you a place to grade that assignment in Classroom. Of course you’d look at and honor the actual, physical science experiment. The turned-in picture or video just provides the place holder for a non-technology assignment in a technology-based grading system. There’s value in having all of your grades in one place.
Back to our awesome Google Classroom grading flow.
In Classroom, you can give a numeric grade, leave comment-only feedback, or do both. You can also return assignments without grades.
You can enter grades and return assignments from:
- The grading tool.
- The Student work page.
- The Grades page.
There are numerous time-saving tips in each area. I feel like teachers find their own grading flow in Classroom, and this flow may vary, depending on the assignment. Here are a few of my favorite, time-saving tips per area:
The Grading Tool:
Before I dive in, it’s important to know what the grading tool is. Learn more about this helpful area of Google Classroom here. Here are some of my favorite time-savers in the grading tool:
- Comment Bank: Do you have comments that you frequently use when grading? If so, the Comment Bank is for you! You find the Comment Bank right in Classroom’s grading tool:
Check out Google’s Support page for tips on utilizing the Comment Bank, such as ways to add and save comments to use later. The support page also shows how to find and use comments in the Comment Bank. Be sure to check out the link for time-saving tips, such as using a hash to quickly access comments in the Comment Bank.
2. Switch Between Students: When in the grading tool, you can quickly switch between students by clicking the “sharktooth” triangle to the right of the student name. Then you can sort the students based on last name, first name, or assignment status. This helps you switch between students in an organized and timely manner.
3. Rubrics Right in Classroom: As mentioned earlier in this post, the rubric tool in Classroom is currently in beta, so if you don’t see it in your account yet, you will soon! Keep an eye out for this feature so you can save some major time when grading assignments in Classroom.
4. Return Multiple Assignments at Once: When in the grading tool, you can return student work one at a time, or you can return multiple students’ assignments in just a couple of clicks. In order to return multiple assignments at once, find the sharktooth triangle next to the “Return” button, and then click “Return Multiple Submissions,” and viola!
Student Work Page:
This tip is similar to #4 above because it lets you return multiple assignments at once, but in a way that allows you to include a comment to each student. I often use this route for the work that needs the general, positive feedback for meeting all expectations. In other words, a comment that can be repeated for a group of students. Here’s how it works:
- Once I’ve gone through all student work in the grading tool, returning all assignments that required unique comments, I then head back to the Assignment student work page – the page where you can see all of the students’ work for a particular assignment in one place – with the list of who has turned in, who’s still missing, and which have been graded. This is where the time-saving magic happens!
- With one-click, I select all of the turned-in assignments (that all have drafted grades from my work in the assignment tool), and then hit “Return.” At the bottom of this pop-up box is an option for a private comment. I type the positive feedback, then click return, and Google repeats this private comment for each student AND returns all assignments…I’ll say it again, in one click!
The Grades Page:
Teachers have been requesting a “gradebook” view in Classroom for some time now. It’s part of the way we think; we’re used to seeing our class at-a-glance. Well, the Google Classroom team continues to be awesome at answering these requests by introducing the Grades page.
The Grades page has a variety of features: view and update your gradebook, view student submissions, enter grades, and return work. Students will receive the grades when you return work, but only teachers can see the actual Grades page. You might be thinking, “But we could do all of these things in Classroom already, without the Grades page.” And you would be right, but you couldn’t do all of those things (and more) in one place. With less clicks. In an organized way where you see every student and every assignment on one page (that will eventually be organized by grading periods). Every click is time, and time is precious, so let’s save it.
And what’s even better, Google’s going to save us even more time by working with our student information systems. According to a Google Classroom support page, if your school participates in the grades sync beta program, you can push grades directly from Classroom to your student information system (SIS). For details, go to the beta interest sign-up form. Thank you, Google, for working to make our grading lives complete.
Another major time-saver in Google Classroom is the To-do page. I honestly do not know what I would do without it. You find the To-do page by clicking the three bars in the top-right corner, and then “To-do.”
The To-do page provides an overview of all of your assignments and questions in all of your classes, breaking down how many assignments are currently assigned, turned in, or graded. And you can filter the page by class, only viewing one class at a time. I keep the To-do page for all of my current Google Classroom classes pinned (in my Google Chrome Tabs) so I can quickly see what needs my attention at any given time. It helps me filter out some of the extra “noise” in the other areas of Google Classroom. Again, saving me time.
So, as you can see, I’m constantly improving how I save time when grading assignments. I feel like every teacher is. And while each grading system is like a snowflake, no two are exactly alike, I do feel like there are common tips that will help the majority of us. These are the tips I shared with you today. I bet you have a few tips that could help the majority as well. We’d all appreciate it if you could share your grading gifts by commenting below! Thank you!