Now I've succeeded, more or less. I don't work on school stuff on weekends unless I want to.
And I'm not doing it by reducing the rigour or number of essays.
Want to know how? Read on.
Over half of teachers leave the profession in their first five years. Some of that is the condition of schools, but I think a lot of it is unsustainable workload.
I want to help you work less and feel far less overwhelmed. It's how I've survived eleven years in the classroom.
There are a few systems that help me a lot:
- Using Autocrat as my document management system. In that way, I can see documents as the kids are writing them, and they're well organised.
- Using gmail groups to push a graphic organiser to all my students. If they all need a copy of it, they just make a copy of my master document and share it back with me once they've retitled it.
- When they need a shared group document on Google Draw, I create one copy per group of my master, and then share it with the group. If they need a group document on Google Docs, one group member fills out the form and then shares it with their group members.
Those document management techniques let me see everything as they work. That leads to Tip #1 of how to work less:
Tip #1: Grade work as they are doing it. Focus on completion.
I tend to keep all documents open as they work (I'm lucky to have 25 in my largest class, but I used to do this with 36 students too). I create assignments in PowerSchool as they get started, and I enter scores when they are about 2/3 finished. It takes a few minutes and is the same score I would give them later.
But this way, they get immediate feedback.
That leads to Tip #2.
Tip #2: Feedback>Grades.
The beauty of Tip #1 is that you can actually give feedback as we go, which means the product you get will be better than if you just gave feedback at the end. If you use Google Drive, you can comment on anything and students will see it immediately. I DO NOT comment on spelling or grammar as they compose, because that would annoy the crap out of me if someone did that.
You should be giving two times more feedback than grades. If the only feedback kids get is a number of points or a letter, the focus is on the score rather than the work. Students need to understand where they missed something, or need to expand something, and attaching a comment directly to the part that needs fixing makes revision much easier.
But there's another way to make grading and commenting go much more quickly. That's Tip #3.
Tip #3: Create group assignments with individual responsibilities
We all remember those awful group projects where we're stuck with people who don't care or who do poor-quality work, and we end up doing all of it.
So I have lots of group assignments, but have specific roles or parts for each group member. In a recent assignment, students had to research Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism and explain the main tenants of the religion/philosophy on a Google Draw document. Each group member had a very specific assignment (worked out by the group, but facilitated with my help) and they were scored only on their contribution.
That way, you're only looking at 5-6 documents, but you can score the work for every single person very, very quickly. And it eliminates most of the interpersonal issues around group projects.
That leads to Tip #4.
Tip #4: No More Random Assignments
I have two kinds of assignment: routine-based, and project-based. I treat them differently as far as grading is concerned.
Routine-based assignments are things like 8 p*ARTS grammar, Tuesday Newsday, Reading Logs, etc. These assignments are scored very simply. They are always worth four points, and you get four points for doing something completely and correctly.
But there's the point: I don't check everything. I just check the thing I am assessing. But that changes as the repetitions build and their skills strengthen.
For 8 p*ARTS, I score the parts of speech but not the writing. For Tuesday Newsday, I score the main idea, but not the debate. For reading logs, I score how many logs they complete, but not how much they read.
But the majority of assignments are what I call project-based. That means they are assignments that build to the final project for the subject/unit.
Typically, all assignments leading up to the project are scored on completion only, but I give feedback using Google Drive. What that means practically, is that about one out of fifteen assignments are graded in-depth with significant feedback. Those assignments are usually major writing assignments or completed projects.
I'm lucky enough to have two preps, and I can grade those projects/writing assignments within my prep.
I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of person, but doing 5-6 documents at a time makes it easy to get through in a few days without getting really bored with grading.
But there's another tip for those project-based assignments to help you get through them faster.
Tip #5: Flip your feedback.
This is two tips in one: student scoring, and technology scoring.
We'll start with students. For major projects, I have students scoring each other. For green-screen performances, they actually score the group as they perform. I've had them do this on group documents and individual documents, but both made it onerous to collect their feedback and distribute to the group performing.
However, it also gives each student 4-5 repetitions of the content. Instead of just writing and performing their own play about Taoism, they are scoring their classmates' performances too. I can not only assess their understanding through their own plays, but from the comments they give each other as well. More feedback=more learning.
I'm now experimenting with students submitting feedback via Google Forms. That way, I can sort and copy/paste much more easily to send feedback to the performing group. I'm also considering using Kahoot! to collect scores for each group, which would give groups an immediate assessment about how successful they were.
The second part of this tip is about using technology.
I have found that when I'm responding to longer pieces of writing, it's far faster to do my feedback through Kaizena. I can talk faster than I can type, and students actually prefer hearing their feedback than reading it.
I also find that I give FAR more positive comments when I talk rather than type. And students should be getting both positive and critical comments.
That leads to the last tip.
Tip #6: Good lesson design = more time to give feedback in class.
I give students feedback and enter scores during class for part of every single class period. I use the time when they're most on-task to score 2-3 projects, or a whole class set of something I'm grading for completion.
I still check in on students who struggle and get off-task more easily, but I can still get through quite a lot of grading in a typical week.
At first you'll probably feel like you're a bad teacher for doing grading/feedback during class time. But fight that feeling - good teachers do what they need to in order to give students the best possible feedback. Grading during class time (while students are actively engaged and productive) will lessen your burden and make you feel less overwhelmed.
That is absolutely the point: these tips should give you WAY more time and reduce your workload to just what can be done at school.
I sometimes grade at home, but that's entirely my choice when I have some down-time. I never feel like I have to. That makes it much easier, mentally, to do the work, as well.
Tip #7: Find Your People.
If you've read my blog for a while, you know how important collaboration is for my practice. I have a great cross-country collaborative partner, whom I see on Google Hangout every single day. I have a group of friends (made on Twitter) that I talk to on Voxer every single day. I have a much larger PLN I interact with on Twitter every week, especially during #flipclass chat on Monday nights.
Those people are not just my friends; those people have made my teaching practice sustainable. They give me new ideas and new tools to keep my classroom fun, they help me find solutions to problems I've got, and are fantastic emotional support, even when I don't think I need it.
So how do you find your people? Start where you're at. If you're on Edmodo, join some communities that interest you. If you're on Twitter, join a Twitter chat (like ours!). If you're blogging, start reading and commenting on other teachers' blog posts - particularly the ones who inspire you and you want to learn from.
Start asking more questions. Ask people to do a google hangout with you to help you figure out what to do. You'd be surprised how generous most teachers are, because they've been in your position too.
More than anything, finding your people will reduce your burnout and give you a new perspective. If you take away nothing else, take that from this post. Please.
Those are my best seven tips.
Do you have tips to reduce your workload? Share them in comments!