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Monday, September 17, 2018

Decreasing Grading Time Series: General Strategies to Engage and Assess Students

Are you struggling to keep up with grading? Do you spend hours upon hours grading?  Do you struggle with creating and grading assignments?  Then this post is for you!

Decreasing Grading Time Series: General Strategies to Engage and Assess Students

Don't Grade an Entire Assessment

Instead, choose the top questions that represent the concepts you want to assess.  For example, if you have a worksheet with 20 questions, grade four of the best questions and multiply by five.

Why it works:  You may be asking yourself why you would create extra questions and have students complete them if you will only be using part of them for assessment and grading.  The answer to that is that it is extremely useful for practice, particularly for classwork.  So the students get extra practice and you get an assessment that doesn't take ages to grade.

Give "Completion Points"

Students get a set amount of points that represent the quality of their effort and output.  For example, if you present the student with a 20-question assessment and they work diligently for an hour to accurately complete ten of those questions, they might receive full points, such as 10 out of 10.  If you were strictly going on percentage, that same student would receive only a 50%.  Is that really an accurate representation of their knowledge?

Why it works:  This works well for classwork that is being used for practice and formative assessments.  As you walk around to help students, you instinctively know which of them truly understands and which students are not quite there yet.  Awarding points on a sliding scale based on this is often better than a straight percentage.  So you are using your observations and knowledge of your students to accurately and quickly grade them daily.

Use Rubrics

Create rubrics with a certain focus for each assignment.  Many teachers like to save time by creating online rubrics using RubiStar.

Why it works: This is great for lengthy assignments like the Science Fair, essays, or labs.  When I was grading essays, for example, I picked writing traits that needed to be graded and only focused on them.  I ALWAYS graded for capitalization and punctuation, but I picked a few other writing traits  for each essay to grade as they were explicitly taught in class, such as adverbs or figurative language.  That way, I wasn't grading for EVERY little detail, which would take HOURS.  

Use the Open-Ended Strategy 

It starts with giving an open-ended assignment where students can use notes, etc to look up answers.  They can then use just the assignment to take the multiple choice version. I would make the multiple choice higher level or multi step questions, so there is still a level of recall and differentiation to the assessment.
Why it works:  Sometimes this is just as valuable for assessment as asking students to recall the information on their own. It takes longer, but it assesses multiple levels of understanding and levels the playing field for all students.  You can combine this strategy with the ones listed above, such as using a rubric or only grading part of the assessment, to make everyone's life easier.

Sometimes you Just Have to Grade the Whole Assignment

I know this doesn't go very well with the theme of this post.  However, if it's a state assessment or school-mandated assessment, you probably don't have a choice.  Ask your grade-level cohorts if you're ever in doubt.  If you aren't required to grade the entire assessment though, use the strategies above!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Decreasing Grading Time Series: Using Apps to Engage and Assess Students

Are you struggling to keep up with grading? Do you spend hours upon hours grading?  Do you struggle with creating and grading assignments?  Then this post is for you!

Decreasing Grading Time Series: Using Apps to Engage and Assess Students


What is it?  Here's an in-depth summary of ZipGrade, but it's basically a Google app that uses an Android device's camera as a grading scanner for multiple-choice tests.  

How does it help with grading?  You can use it in addition to the ZipGrade website for additional options once you create a free user profile.  It's a great option for IEP students who have modifications for a paper test.

Google Forms

What is it?  Here's the full explanation of what Google Forms does.  It's a Google app in which you can create quizzes, exit tickets and various assessment tools.  You then give the sharable link to your students via email or online classroom website.

How does it help with grading?  There are options you can select while you are creating the assessment that allows it to be immediately graded once you provide the app with the answer key you will also create.  You can add feedback for correct and incorrect answers so students know how to approach that question in the future.  By setting up the answer key, the results will be tallied and available to you with the click of a button.  If you use it to create exit tickets, it grades itself, and from that, you can make groups for practice the next day. It makes differentiation so easy!


What is it?  This app uses devices to assess knowledge with exit tickets or questions (multiple-choice, true/false, short answer).

How does it help with grading?  You create and save your assessments to your Socrative account.  It tallies the results and allows you to view them by class, student, or question results.  These results can be downloaded and sent to email or Google Drive.


What is it?  Here's a comprehensive explanation of Quizizz.  I've heard it described as Kahoot, only quiet.  There's still competition, but less noise.

How does it help with grading?  You use a bank of quizzes that are already created and modify them to best assess your students.  Theses questions are presented to students at their own pace and the results can be sorted by class-level and student-level and downloaded into an Excel spreadsheet.


What is it?  If you're worried about engagement with Kahoot and not being 1:1 with your technology, try using Plickers instead!  The device is used scan paper cards for student responses.

How does it help with grading?  All you need to do is print out the game cards, and have either an iPad or a cell phone for you to scan the cards when students answer a question.  You also can download reports if you choose to give the students grades.

Come back next week to see the next part of the Decreasing Grading Time Series: General Strategies to Engage and Assess Students.  See you soon!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Decreasing Grading Time Series: Using Videos to Engage and Assess Students

Are you struggling to keep up with grading? Do you spend hours upon hours grading?  Do you struggle with creating and grading assignments?  Then this post is for you!

Decreasing Grading Time Series: Using Videos to Engage and Assess Students


What is it?  

  • You can use any YouTube video and build a quiz into it. 
  • You can use the cut tool to snip any unwanted parts from the video. 
  • You can use multiple choice and free-response type questions.  
  • You can connect it to Google Classroom for easy/automatic assessment.
  • Multiple choice questions are graded automatically. 
  • Depending on your county's internet security measures, putting a YouTube video in EdPuzzle will sometimes circumvent the problem of blocked YouTube videos. 
  • If students fail the assessment, they can reset and watch it again.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Students can not edit their responses.
  • Students need to watch the video until the end or it will not show up as complete.  
  • If you have multiple “correct answers” students must select all to get it “correct”.  A way to fix this is to give any opinion questions a short-answer format.
  • Short-Answer questions are not automatically graded.  The teacher must read through those.


What is it?  

It was formally known as eduCanon.  Here's the full explanation of what Playposit is.

  • Similar to Edpuzzle, except this website allows you upload videos from various places (not just YouTube) and use them as interactive assessments.  These places include: YouTube, LearnZillion, TeacherTube, Vimeo, and Khan Academy
  • Students can't skip past anything they haven't already watched

How does it help with grading? 

  • It sends the assessment data to the gradebook on your existing learning management system, such as edmodo, moodle, Blackboard, and Powerschool.
  • If you don't have a learning management system, the results are sent to the dashboard on playposit

General Strategies

  • Do a short formal assessment in class after students have watched the video.  This way, you can check what they know/recall without the video or other resources in front of them.
  • Have students take notes while they watch and let them use the notes for the assessment that will follow
  • Cloze Reading:  Here's the full explanation of what Cloze Reading is, but I use it with my videos by typing up the transcript of the video as I watch it or sometimes the transcript is provided by website.  I then blank out key words, print the transcript, and have students fill in the blanks as they watch.

Come back next week to see the next part of the Decreasing Grading Time Series: Using Apps to Engage and Assess Students.  See you soon!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Decrease Grading Time Series: Using Websites to Engage and Assess Students

Are you struggling to keep up with grading? Do you spend hours upon hours grading?  Do you struggle with creating and grading assignments?  Then this post is for you!

Decrease Grading Time Series: Using Websites to Engage and Assess Students

What is it?  This is an in-depth summary of Problem Attic, but basically it's online database of questions that can be turned into warm-ups, exit tickets, review activities, and much more.

How does it help with grading?You can print the PDFs for written activities or use the scoring app to to assess and immediately grade students. You can build, save and edit tests year to year and answer keys are provided.


What is it?  This is an in-depth summary of Moodle if you want to read it straight from the source.

How does it help with grading?  You can put your tests and quizzes on Moodle. It takes a little while to get them on there but the computer grades them. You also don’t have to re-enter them after the initial time and can use them the following year.


What is it?  Here's the full explanation of what Edulastic is.

How does it help with grading?  You can use it for your daily formative assessments as well as performance assessment benchmarks to practice for state testing.  What sets Edulastic apart is the fact that it offers a bank of Technology-Enhanced Items (TEIs) that truly prepare students for those type of questions that they will inevitably see on state assessments, all of which are automatically graded.

What is it?  Here's the full explanation of Padlet.  Basically, I consider it to be like an interactive Pinterest board where students can ask/answer questions, collaborate, and share links and pictures.  Padlet calls it a "bulletin board".

How does it help with grading?   The boards can be exported, printed, or shared with a URL.  You can assess for understanding and attach a grade. 


What is it?  It can track progress, allow students to see answers after assessment is finished, and teachers can see live answers and direct message students to check questions.

How does it help with grading?   It gives percentages to correct answers for each class and an entire grade for each assessment. Students can have access to scores all year round to track growth. It has free and paid versions.

Come back next week to see the next part of the Decreasing Grading Time Series: Using Videos to Engage and Assess Students.  See you soon!

Monday, August 20, 2018

What to Do With Students Who Finish First

How do you manage the time when some students are done with an assignment and others need to finish before you move on in a lesson?  This post gives you tips and techniques for managing the time with early finishers.

What to Do With Students Who Finish First

Things to consider before choosing activities for your early finishers: 

  • Are these activities for enrichment, review purposes, or just for fun? 
  • Will the assignments count for extra credit?
  • Will these be assignments to be done individually or in pairs/groups?

First, I’d like to mention that I always have a list of must-do activities to be completed before students are allowed to do any extras:

  • Vocabulary
  • Organizing notes
  • Make up work
  • Correcting tests 

Enrichment Activities 

If students complete the list above, they can request one of the following:

Laminated file folders with simple activities that can be completed with dry-erase markers: 

  • Crosswords 
  • Word searches
  • Storyboards
  • Acrostics 

Comprehension activities:

  • TIME magazine
  • Scholastic
  • Book reviews


I love to tell students that when they finish early, they may EAT (enjoy a text). 

I have a classroom library with books and magazines about the subjects I cover in the courses I teach.  When someone finishes early, I often tell them to find something to read.  It gives students additional reading practice and it also lets them learn more about topics that I may not have addressed in my lessons that interest them. 

Review Activities 

Use Quizlett for:

  • Vocabulary review
  • Use to put in your content, copy, and then go to Quizlet and paste it in there.  
I also have them “quiz” each other on:
  • vocabulary 
  • turn the headings from their textbook into questions and quiz each other with that
  • Old test questions (I have them keep all their old tests in their binder)

Student Tutors

One option is to pair up the kids that are always finishing first with kids that need more time so that they can hopefully encourage each other - one will reinforce their skills by 'teaching' it and the other will get the support they need.

A word of caution with this technique:  Make sure the personalities mesh before pairing up. Not all early-finishers are kind or helpful tutors. 

Activities just for fun:

  • Challenge capsules: Little plastic bottles with random questions inside
  • Make an enrichment bulletin board with QR codes to make it more interactive. Students watch videos with a tablet/phone

What else would you add to this list?  I always need fresh ideas!

Monday, August 13, 2018

How to Create and Follow a Pacing Guide

Have you been asked to create a pacing guide or felt the need to make one for yourself or your team?  What happens if you make one and can't follow it?  This post will help you navigate through the process of creating a pacing guide and sticking to it!

How to Create and Follow a Pacing Guide

First and Foremost:  Always Plan With the State Standards

It's really best if each person on the team either has a printed or electronic copy of the standards, depending on what appeals to them.  I personally like printed copies so I can mark them up any way I see fit.  You can usually find the standards on your state's department of education website.  I like to save mine as a PDF AND print it out.

Make Sure Everyone in the Group has a Role  

Assigning roles and due dates will keep everyone on track.  Start with the standards you will need to teach at the beginning of the year.  Then, find out what each person enjoys using to teach those standards.  For example, I often liked to find the activities that involved movement or mentor texts to teach the concepts, so I was often in charge of finding those things and sharing with the group so we could include them on the pacing guide. 

Other roles you may want to add:

  • Assessments (multiple-choice, online, vocabulary, etc.).  Make sure they closely match what your state will assess at the end of the year so students have plenty of practice before then.
  • Multi-Media Instruction:  Things like online practice games, videos, YouTube, music, computer lab activities, etc.  You want to try to incorporate as many different forms of instruction as possible so that you reach as many different learning styles as possible.
  • Vocabulary:  Make sure you do some kind of activities that explicitly teach the words that your state standards use.  My post on No-Tech Ways to Teach and Assess Vocabulary in Core Subjects gives several ways to do this, including a vocabulary review packet.

How to Create and Follow a Pacing Guide: Vocabulary Instruction and Assessement

Use Google Drive to Make Sure the Process is Truly Collaborative

To do this, everyone will need to bring their laptop to each meeting.  You can either create a Doc or a Sheet and add all your team members using their emails.  I'd make a Sheet like the one below.

How to Create and Follow a Pacing Guide: Team Planning

Don't Let the Conversation Wander

If you start talking about what you did over the weekend or "that student", you will never get the pacing guide done.   

Meet Weekly, If Possible

You'll want to meet regularly so you can talk about the standards you will need to teach in the future and make sure everyone is at the same place (or close) on the previous standards.

Now, Let's Talk About Everyone's Least Favorite Question: How do I Stick to the Pacing Guide????!!!!

Use a “Window” 

Setting a three-day window for when the team should do things like give the unit exam gives a level of freedom as far as the day-to-day lessons.

Build in Extra Days

Create a pacing guide with built in pause days. Don't forget things like holidays, snow/inclement weather, assemblies, state testing, and all the other things that throw the pacing off.  Make sure you sit down with the school/district calendar so you can include important dates as "pause days" on your pacing guide.

Adjust the Pacing Guide

The pacing guide may need to be adjusted as a grade level if everyone is just too far behind what was originally anticipated.  If only one member is behind, brainstorm how the team can best support that person and their students to help get them caught up. 

What else would you add to this?  I'm sure I'll be making more pacing guides in the future, so I can always use more advice!

Monday, August 6, 2018

How to Avoid Teacher Overwhelm

 Do you ever wonder how other teachers deal with feelings of being endlessly behind and never done?  Whether you’re a first-year or a seasoned teacher, this post has some time-tested advice for you!

How to Avoid Teacher Overwhelm

For the New Teacher:

Most importantly, you need to understand that classroom teaching is different and difficult compared to college, which has set deadlines and a defined“end” with the final project/exam. In classroom teaching, there’s always more you can do or should be doing.

Try to find a seasoned teacher or mentor who is willing to explain what is mandatory and what is “extra”. Always focus on the mandatory first. For example, grading assignments and providing timely feedback, should be top priority since students’ knowledge (or lack thereof) should guide your planning and instruction. 

For All Teachers:

First of all, understand that the to-do list never ends, so you have to make it “end” each day for yourself.  

Make Sure You Differentiate Between Work and Home

If you come home and still work on school things and don't have time to do things with your loved  ones, this sets you up for overwhelm. You have to decide what your "school hours" and "home hours" are. Pick a time for school, say 7:00 am to 4:30 pm. At 4:30, leave school and school work behind so home is home time. Of course, it won't ALWAYS work out that way, but setting personal school hours really helps.

Make Weekly To-Do Lists

Many teachers like to use stick notes to do this so they can either throw the note away when it's done or move the sticky to the next week if they don't get to it. This helps them to prioritize and have a healthy work/life balance.

When setting up your to-do list, think of the daily tasks you need to get done.

Set Up Daily Tasks

For example, Mondays you could have students pass out portfolios and graded papers and then collect portfolios.  Tuesdays, are for grading. Wednesday is for inputting grades. Thursday is for planning your next week’s lessons. Fridays might be for getting your copying done and collecting materials for the following week.

After Your Daily Tasks, Write a Secondary List:

  • You need a clear "do today", "do sometime this week/month", and "do one day whenever the world slows down" list. 
  • Accomplish the “today” list and when you have a slower day or extra time, jump on the “this week/month list”. 
  • Plan out your day each evening/morning and if you have a short today list, add something from your week/month list to "today" 
  • Don't worry about the other two lists. Focus on today. Eventually you will get enough done. And eventually that future list will fix itself on some things and will get shorter.

Assign Class Jobs

If your school allows it, here are some common tasks that students can do to save you time:

  • Take attendance  
  • Pass back papers
  • Help absent students catch up
  • Tutor other students

Just Do Your Best, Always

Don't try to over do it. If you don't get to that one lesson, it will be okay. Some years you will be behind and it's not the end of the world.  If you stick to showing students that you care about them, they will likely learn and retain more anyway.

Spend Some Time Each Day Organizing Your Classroom

I don't like to leave each day until I've at least:

  • Tidied up my desk 
  • Put the to-do list for the next day in a visible area of my desk
  • Put all stacks of papers to be graded in a neat stack in a central location

I have students help me out with the "clean up" portion of organizing the classroom during homeroom.  This includes:

  • Putting back classroom supplies such as scissors, markers, and glue sticks
  • Wiping down counters, tables, and desks
  • Straightening up book shelves

How do you avoid teacher overwhelm?  What would you add to this post?  I'd love to hear your ideas because I still feel overwhelmed sometimes too!