How to save yourself from grading stress


Spending too much time grading? With constant meetings, conferences, growth charts, progress reports, collaborative planning, curriculum writing, and everything else on their plates, it's amazing that teachers find any time to grade. Before moving to a lower grade, I taught high school for 8 years, and that often meant 150+ students, 5 classes to prep, and no time to do anything. Here's what I figured out to streamline the grading process in my classroom.

1. Don't grade everything!

It took me so many years to be okay with this, because I just felt like if I didn't give a grade for it, they wouldn't do it. Sound familiar?

Picture this: I was teaching 150 students, giving weekly quizzes, grading bellwork, grading homework, and then trying to plan engaging lessons. On top of that, we were discouraged from giving zeros, so I was following up with students who were not doing their homework, almost chasing them to get them to do it.

There was just no way to get it all done, and I was at the end of my rope. Then, a colleague suggested I stop grading homework. My reaction : WHAT !?! If I don't grade it, they won't do it. Well, guess what? They didn't stop doing it, because after I stopped grading homework, their grade was more dependent upon their understanding of the material. If they didn't take responsibility for their practice outside of class, they wouldn't do as well on the assessments, and their grades would reflect that.

Here's what I did instead:

Everyday during bellwork, students would put their homework on the corner of their desks. I like to make homework packets, so they would just open to the page they had completed. I would take attendance and then pass through the room stamping their completed homework. We would take a few minutes to correct it together, and then I would pick up the packet at the end of the unit. They would get a few points for completing it outside of class, I would get more free time, and on top of it all, I could offer immediate feedback and answer questions on the homework daily. Guess what else happened? Their quiz scores got better!

2. Look at the big picture.

When you correct papers, do you grade each and every mistake? Do you correct a verb conjugation even though your students are not writing at that level yet? Do you feel the need to edit every sentence on the paper? Stop! Not only is it time-consuming, but you are making corrections they won't even understand. I get it, because I do the same thing. Sometimes I would correct so much that I felt like a copy editor, and guess what... they made the same mistakes the next time, because they weren't ready to learn that skill. Take a breath, put down the red (or pink or purple or aqua) pen, and only make the corrections for the skills your students are practicing on the assignment. If you haven't taught a concept, is it going to benefit the student if you correct the mistake? If not, let it go.


3. Have students peer edit first.

If you have essays (or even paragraphs) to grade, it will save you a lot of time if you let students do peer edits before you pick up the final copy. You will still find some mistakes that are natural for the level of your students, but students should be able to avoid careless mistakes such as incorrect plurals, wrong verb endings, or (for French teachers) those random English words that they have Frenchified. :)

4. Schedule assignments that fit with your schedule.

If you teach multiple levels, look at your schedule as a whole when assigning projects, big assignments, or a long test. You should plan to collect only the work you can grade before losing your sanity. It is okay to collect essays from your French 4 one week and to do some review with French 1 so that their test doesn't fall on the same day as that essay is due.

5. Use apps that are self-grading.

Students love their phones and tablets, so have them practice with apps that check their work. You'll have less to grade, they'll have more fun with technology, and it might even touch a learning style that you would not have reached with a paper-pencil homework assignment.

My favorite apps?

Boom Learning

These digital task cards are self-checking, fun, and provide immediate feedback. Students can practice over and over, then you can see their progress. Plus, they can be played on computers, phones, and tablets with modern browsers, so students can use them just about anywhere. 


This app is great, because you don't even have to create the study sets if you don't want to. You can set up a class and monitor students from there.  You can give students the vocabulary words and have them create their flashcards. They can even share sets with friends. To make it more fun, create a "Quizlet Stars" bulletin board and post the top scorers from time to time. Don't worry about student privacy. They don't use their real names. Just make sure you create a list of their usernames. ;)

Before a quiz, you can suggest they use this to study from rather than printing out another set of words for them. Afterall, you already gave them the words, so why make twice the work on your part?

6. Use rubrics.

This makes grading so much easier. Whether it is a project, an essay, a presentation, or a speaking task, using a rubric allows you to quickly grade the key components of the assignment without getting too caught up in the little mistakes. Remember, you should be grading for the skill you are assessing, so don't focus on every little error. A rubric will help you stick to the concepts you are working with.

7.  Pick a designated grading time and stick to it.

For me, if I don't have a set time to do it, it just piles up. So every year, I decided on a time that I would stay late and grade, and I just blocked that afternoon off. I would shut the door to minimize interruptions so I could really focus for one hour. Once I began using some of the methods above, I was able to finish the majority of my grading for the week in that one hour. Yes, I sometimes had long tests and projects to grade, but since that didn't happen every week, I wasn't burned out. It was manageable, and that is the goal, right?

What about you? Do you have any great ideas for saving time? Leave them in the comments below!

5 ways to increase enrollment in your foreign language class


Enrollment time will be coming up soon, and when I taught high school French, that was always a really stressful time for me. Not having enough students enrolled sometimes meant teaching a class I really didn't want to teach so I'd have a full schedule. Sometimes it meant that my class became a dumping ground for the students who enrolled late and didn't get into the other elective classes. Sometimes students who really wanted my class couldn't take it because it conflicted with other classes they really needed.

No matter what the cause, enrollment time can really stress out a language teacher. Here are some ways I increased enrollment in my French classes.

1.  Offer information to students and families on the importance of French.

Where I live, there are quite a lot of Spanish speakers, so naturally parents encourage their children to take Spanish. I get it. Hey, I took Spanish, too! A lot of parents and students don't understand how important French is. After all, it's an official language in Canada, and as Canada and the U.S. are important trading partners, that makes it a very important language in the U.S. as well. If you are in Canada, it's likely that French is not as hard to sell as it is in the U.S., but you still want to make sure that students continue to take French for as many years as they can.

Because families might not always see how French can be helpful, I would prepare information to send home to families of incoming high schoolers. Then, thanks to my principal who encouraged me to grow my program, I visited the middle school, talked to the incoming students, and sent that information home to their parents. From my first year to my second at that school, my enrollment doubled! I started that job with only 3 sections of French. By the time I left, I had a full schedule and they hired a second French teacher!

2.  Entice them with decorative projects.


Mardi Gras mask we made in class a few years ago

One of my favorite parts of teaching French has always been the projects. While they have clear learning goals and can be very effective teaching tools, they are fun to do! Students want to have fun, and since kids are walking past your room everyday, why not give them a view of what they could do if they were in your class? You can display formal assessment projects or make artwork such as Mardi Gras masks or Eiffel Tower models.

Find 5 beginner French vocabulary and grammar projects here.

3.  Work with your Spanish teacher colleagues.

I frequently hear from teacher friends that the students choose Spanish because it's easier, more fun, or the Spanish teacher doesn't give homework. Luckily, I always had amazing Spanish-teacher colleagues and we worked in collaboration rather than competing with one another. If you can work together to try to align your course expectations and homework expectations, that's great! Sometimes that isn't a realistic expectation, so all you can do is make your class the best that you can. Remember, even if more students enroll in Spanish, it does not mean that you aren't an amazing teacher!

4.  Take your time to teach the basics.

I don't know if French is harder than Spanish, because I learned Spanish as a French speaker, so it was already really easy for me! However, I do hear this from people everywhere. It is true that French spelling takes a while to master, and all those silent letters don't make it easy on our students. Don't feel rushed to get through a curriculum, teach all your units, or follow an unrealistic pacing guide in your textbook. Take time to teach classroom phrases, practice a lot of basic speaking, and help your students acquire listening proficiency before jumping into verb conjugations.

If they can't speak or understand basic phrases, they just are not ready to start filling out a ton of verb charts. Not only will they not excel, they will be bored. For a lot of us, enrollment isn't just getting the students that first year. We need them to come back for French 2, 3, 4 and beyond. They won't do it if all they do is conjugate verbs.

5.  Have fun in class, and speak a lot of French!

It is okay to relax and have fun. French is great, because part of your job is to teach them to talk, so spend a lot of time talking. I remember once when a French 2 student came to me at the end of the hour to tell me how much fun class was that day since we didn't do anything. Typical student comment, right? I just smiled, because actually, we had done a lot, she just didn't see it.

I had told them a story about something that had happened to me over the weekend. By that point, I didn't speak any English in class, so that five minute story turned into a ten minute story with their questions. After that, I sat on my stool and just asked them random questions about their weekends. That probably took another ten minutes. When they were done, they did the around the world activity from my passé composé speaking cards. By the time we finished all of this, they only had ten minutes left of class, so we did a quick-write where I had them write as much about their weekends as they could in five minutes. We shared a few and it was time to go.


Passé composé speaking cards

See, students love to learn, they just don't always want to it to feel like learning. The more we can do to make the learning feel natural, the better. Learning a language happens first orally. Perfecting the language can involve worksheets, verb charts, and textbooks. If we strive to make the learning more natural, it will be more fun. If it's more fun, more students will want to take our classes. An added bonus? Teaching is just a much better job when you're having fun with what you're doing, right?

Why I use self-evaluations with secondary students


Do you want your students to think reflectively about their progress in your class? I find that it is a great way to encourage student responsibility, and self-reflection activities are great tools to come back to if you need to have a conference with a parent, a quick chat with an under-performing student, or a meeting with an administrator to discuss student progress.

I've taught 6th-12th grade, so I don't always use the same type of self-evaluations, but I still want to help foster this important skill with middle schoolers. An 11-year-old is not going to think the same way as a 17-year-old, but that doesn't mean that a sixth grader can't think reflectively about his/her progress.

Why should you use self-evaluations with your students?

1.  You're encouraging autonomy.

Ever have those students who won't do anything unless you are right there to make sure they do? With a self-reflection piece, the students will see that staying on task is their responsibility. Will they always work without a teacher nearby? Not always, but often they will recognize that they need to change their behavior, and that takes away a little of the classroom battle.

2.  You'll motivate students to do better.

By asking students to think about what they like and don't like about your class, or what they can do well and not so well, you are giving them the first steps to build on their strengths. Because they have thought about what they struggle with, they will then need to think about how to get help when needed. By also focusing on what they do well, students might identify a particular study aid that helps them.

3.  You're asking them to take ownership of their learning.

Have you ever had a student get mad at you for "giving" them a bad grade? Me neither!
No, seriously, how many times have you explained that you don't give grades, but the students earn them? No matter how you explain it, there will always be a student who refuses to acknowledge his/her part in the whole thing. So, when that student checks on his/her self-evaluation that he/she never does homework, it is really easy to pull that sheet out and talk about how the grade came to be. Now, if that student never does homework but reports that he/she does everything? Well, now you can have a talk about what is really going on.

4. Your students will understand their level of success. 

When your students reflect upon their grades, the effort put forth, and the areas of improvement, it helps them see the big picture. Students are able to see where they are and that enables them to see where they want to go. While it may seem obvious that a student should do his/her work in order to get a grade, that is often lost on students, which is why so many students make a last ditch effort to get extra credit when they have not done the regular work. Sometimes, seeing their efforts on paper helps them understand why they have the grade or the level of understanding that they do.

5. You've got documentation for conferences with parents or administration.

If you've got a tough cookie in your class (and who doesn't?), then you for sure want to make sure that you've got yourself covered. These forms are so handy to pull out when an angry parent is claiming that the bad grade is all your fault. They are great to show an administrator who comes in your room when that same student just will not work. It shows you are trying. It shows you care. It shows that the child's education is your responsibility and the child's.

To start students thinking reflectively, I have always used this form with my 6th graders. It is simple and to the point.


After a few years in middle school, most students take more ownership of their learning and are ready to think about how they can improve. I used this form when I taught 8th grade.


With high schoolers, it is really important that they look at their strengths and weaknesses so that they  can address concerns while also using their strengths to help them to their best. I used this form when I taught high school.


Click here to see all three forms.

Do you want to know how you're doing? Have students fill out a teacher report card and use their comments to guide your self-reflection. You'll find out some interesting things about yourself, and because it's anonymous, you'll get honest answers.


Get the FREE teacher report card here.