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November 14, 2011 Math Time Saver -- You Don’t Have to Grade Everything By Brent Vasicek
Grades 3–5

    As a new teacher I knew it was very important to understand exactly where my students were academically in math. My philosophy was, "If the students took time to work on it, then I must take time to evaluate it." Let us think about that for just a second. Let’s say you give the students twenty math problems. Multiply that by thirty students. Voilà! SIX HUNDRED math problems for you to grade. With multiple subjects or classes, this could get ugly fast. Below I will discuss how I have modified my grading so I can be home before midnight without sacrificing my awareness of what the students know . . . and don’t know.

     Guideline #1: Don’t assign grades to things that are practice. You don’t throw a perfect pass the first time you touch a football. You can’t expect students to be perfect when they were just taught a concept. If it is practice, I let the students know their practice progress with a check, check plus, or check minus in the bottom right corner of their papers. I use this rubric:

    • Check Plus — Perfect score! This kid could probably help reteach this concept to others.
    • Check — The student gets the basic idea. She doesn’t need extra help, just extra practice time to build confidence.
    • Check Minus — The student does not grasp the concept. He needs help! Perhaps a fast-working check-plus student could be of use.

    Guideline #2: Any paper that goes home becomes an invalid assessment. If a paper is allowed to leave the room, there's the possibility of its being tainted by any number of individuals that are willing to help the child (or willing to do homework for cash). Personally, I encourage parents to help with assignments that make their way home. I figure any sort of continued discussion or help in the home is a good thing. Therefore, work that goes home and comes back to school becomes what I affectionately call "a Screener."

    For a Screener, I will pick three to six problems that represent the core of the lesson. I check only those problems. If they are ALL correct, the child earns a check plus. If the child gets one or two wrong, he earns a check. If he just doesn’t understand, then I assign a check minus. The Screener allows me to quickly screen abilities in my class.

    If you are on the fence about whether to give a child a check or check minus, you have the whole rest of the worksheet to determine if the child grasps the concept. The point is, you don’t have to grade every problem on every paper. You can efficiently determine which papers require a bit more checking.

    When you have completed the Screener, then you simply flip through the papers and find all the check minuses. Those are the students you need to help. If you have a lot, then you should reteach the lesson. If you have one or two students, then take them aside for some additional help or clarification. If you have three to five, then use those check-plus students to help you move the class forward.

    Guideline #3: Not all assessments come from worksheets. For instance, in my class I do line assessments. Here's how they work: I teach my students prime and composite numbers, for instance. Each student in my class has a numbered mailbox. When lining up for lunch, I ask the students to get in a prime line or a composite line according to their mailbox number. When they start doing this task quickly, I know they understand the concept. I see if they can apply this to new numbers by having the students add five to their mailbox number before deciding if they belong in the prime or composite line. You could make these line assessments work for multiples or factors, too. Example: "Add 5 to your mailbox number and if that number is a factor of 48, get in line." The quicker the class can do this, the more comfortable they are with a concept.

    What do you do for grades?

    I hear the cries of despair already. What do you put in your grade book for math? I weight the grades. Seventy percent of the overall math grade comes from math tests because tests do not leave the room until they are graded. Unlike homework, they retain validity. I give a math test every other Friday, which I call "Game Day." Every math test is cumulative back to the first day of school. Game Day is the students’ opportunity to show their practice has been working.

    Thirty percent of the overall math grade comes from simply doing the practice. If you turn in your work every day, then you earn 30 points out of 30. Easy A. For each late assignment, I reserve the right to take one percent off the overall grade, up to 30 points.

    What time-saving tricks do you have for grading math?

    Enjoy the few extra minutes you have just found for yourself.




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