Monday, September 8, 2014

Having Students Grade Their Own Work

Just got this (glowing) email from Julia Sullivan, a teacher who bought some books from me a few weeks ago, with a question:
Jalen, I just wanted to give you an update on how things are going in my classroom now that I am using your books.  Awesomely!!  The students love it, I love it and things are going great. I feel like finally my students are learning Spanish when for my entire career, more than 30 years, I never got the feeling that they really learned Spanish at all.  I have been looking for something to do differently for years and I really feel that your programs are an answer to my prayers.

As and aside, this year I was given 6 classes and I have almost 190 students total and using your method of letting the students grade their own stuff has saved me so much work.  I would be a wreck right now otherwise even after only 2 weeks of teaching.  I have students every day telling me that Spanish is their favorite class.  And others that say "I am finally going to pass Spanish!"  

If you get a moment, I would like to hear your philosophy on why it is that you let them grade their own stuff.  I think I have an idea but I would like to hear your point of view
Gratefully yours,

First of all, it feels so good to know that my stuff has made life easier for a teacher with a HUNDRED AND NINETY students...! I do know how that feels from a few years ago when I was teaching Spanish 1 and 2, and I taught those levels for eight years. (If you're on the block schedule, that's what your numbers get up to at the lower levels. At the moment, I'm making out like a bandit with my classes at 10, 16, 21, and 26 in the upper levels. Don't hate me, please.)

So, my philosophy on why I let them grade their own stuff. Well, I wouldn't say I "let" them, I make them do it.  Here's why:
- To save myself time.  Lots of time.  A class can grade their own multiple-choice, matching, and fill-in the blanks on a sizable test in about 10 minutes or less. (I of course still grade their essays.)
- Instant feedback for students, which they actually seem to like quite a bit.

I have them grade their own tests, because you can get into trouble having them switch papers and see each other's grades.  (Yes, they do tend to call out how they are doing as they are grading, e.g. "I only missed two!" "A hundred percent so far!" "I bombed it, Ms. Waltman!" etc. But, that's not the same as having your super-smart partner next to you see your test performance without you choosing to share it.)

After the test, I pass out red pens and say, "All pens and pencils on the ground or back in your backpacks. No pens and pencils on top of the desks that are not the red grading pen." Then I make a show of announcing and doing a "pen check" and walk around looking down the rows sideways to see who still has a regular pen or pencil on their desks. There are usually one or two because they are distracted, and I say, "Greg, put your pencil on the floor please," and they go, "Oh..." and do it. Once all that is situated, I read the key aloud as many times as anyone needs to hear it while they grade it. If it's fill in the blank, I announce and/or take questions for partial credit and award it on the spot. Such as, they got the correct I.O. pronoun but it's in the wrong place - half credit.

I have them count up how many they missed and write it at the top, then turn it in for me to grade the essay (if there is one.)  In general, I have found students to be very honest and accurate.  I glance through the tests as I'm putting scores in the gradebook and occasionally find mistakes in the grading and correct it, but I don't worry overmuch about missing something on this. Will the world really come to an end if the kid gets an extra point they didn't earn on a test? Not my Spanish-teaching world, anyway. Chances are, it was an accident, and even if they did it on purpose, for me it's not worth fretting over--if I catch it, I'll fix it, and if I don't, oh well.

I put this practice of having kids grade their own tests together with getting a Teacher's Aide (a student) and having them alphabetize all my papers, and voila: tons of time saved in grading and entering grades in the gradebook.


  1. First of all, thanks so much for this idea! I love it! I just finished student teaching yesterday & have always had an issue with teachers who have students grade each other's papers for the exact reasons you stated above - they are very nosy!
    I did have something to add to this part --
    "getting a Teacher's Aide (a student) and having them alphabetize all my papers" -- I saw somewhere of a teacher who assigns each student a number at the beginning of the year and they have to put their number on everything they do. Their number is alphabetical order (like 1=Abercrombie, 2=Anderson, 3=Christianson, 4=Davila, etc) & then when they turn things in the teacher just has to put the numbers in order instead of looking at the names to alphabetize. -- the only issue that might come up with this method is if people transfer in and out of classes. I guess then you could have the new person do 2-1 or 2-A or something so you know it goes between 2 & 3 or something like that.
    I finished student teaching yesterday & also accepted a job offer for my first teaching job starting in January - I'm definitely going to implement this with my classes!!

  2. Hi SeƱora Hodge - congratulations on the new job and best of luck to you! Thanks for the comment and the numbering idea. If you don't have a TA then that might make things easier for alphabetizing quickly for sure.


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