Lisa Roe of San Jose recalls her biggest shock during her first year of teaching: "When I was going to college, I was never told how much grading and record keeping there'd be. As a student teacher, I wrote the lesson plan and my supporting teacher did all the grading. I was just never exposed to all the paperwork. If you're not on top of it daily, you'll be swamped."

Veteran Doris Dillon reports that the first-year teachers working with her team of mentors in San Jose consistently rank paperwork and grading as the most overwhelming aspect of teaching.

And they're not alone. New teachers and veterans alike are besieged daily with what seems like a never-ending stream of paper. There are daily attendance records, lunch counts, lesson plans, subject-area testing, report cards, homework and seatwork to check and record, information to gather for emergencies, records for parent conferences, students in special pull-out programs to keep track of, and much more.

These are tasks you can't just ignore. But short of hiring a secretary or working 24 hours a day, what can you do?

"Teachers should work smarter, not harder," said the later educator Madeline Hunter, who suggested the following ways to cut paperwork to a minimum:

  • Help from students. Instead of developing and duplicating practice pages, have students make their own practice problems. Some samples are:
  1. List ten words in your reader that are objects you can touch (boy, ball) and ten words you cannot touch (in, new, the).
  2. Using the same facts as those in the story problem in your text (or on the chalkboard), write a question that requires you to add to find the answer, one that requires you to subtract, one to multiply, and one to divide.
  3. Make up five questions to test whether someone understood this chapter. Star the question you think is best. (This lets you examine just one question, reserving the other for verification if you doubt the student's understanding. Also, get double mileage here by choosing several of the best questions to give to the rest of the class.)
  • Quick and random quizzes. Instead of correcting every homework assignment, give quick quizzes to assess what's been learned. The quiz should include one or two questions of the same type. Collect and grade them on some days, and on others, give the students the answers to evaluate their own quizzes. (Keep students guessing so they will always be motivated to learn from the homework.

Testing and diagnosis

  • Measure student achievement formally by preparing short quizzes that test specific skills and concepts. These are easy to correct, and they give information you can use immediately.
  • Informally diagnose by having kids sign or signal answers. A simple head shake, raised hand, or hand signal can indicate answers to your que3stions. Deviant signals stand out. If you suspect they are copying, ask students to close their eyes and signal their answers.
  • Verbal responses, individual or in chorus, are another way to diagnose learning. Tell Your Neighbor exercises give each student the chance to respond, and the neighbors will usually correct wrong responses.

Checking Assignments

Homework and in-class assignments serve specific purposes. Students need practice with new skills or concepts, or they need to brush up on old ones. These are activities you want students to take seriously. And they will, if you do. Such work doesn't' always have to be graded. But show students that you value their efforts. For example:

  • On worksheets, mark a circle near each problem students answer incorrectly. When they correct their mistakes, simply add a K beside the original circle to give the children an OK on the end product.
  • Use a chart to keep track of completed assignments on a daily basis.
  • Ask students to mark their own or each other's papers when possible.
  • Have students help you collect papers.
  • Use a pen of one color to record work that is handed in on time, and another for work that is handed in late.