Monday, November 16, 2020

Mountain of Marking

 The topic I really wanted to write about today is off-limits for several reasons:

  • the tale may portray some of my students in a negative light
  • the details may need to be kept confidential and respect student privacy
  • the situation may be triggering to readers who are sensitive to this issue
  • the way I handled the situation may not have been the best response
Instead, I'll turn to a different challenge - the quantity of assessments I need to complete. I always have marking to do. Now, I know that teachers are being counselled to adjust, and even lower their standards (my friend Martha Martin posted this article to her Facebook page). I'm trying, but I know that if I mark every day, then my pile won't get too overwhelming and I won't panic during report card writing time. This "do-a-bit-daily" approach worked, and I finished my report cards with time to spare. This line, however, from the article Martha shared and Julie Mason wrote still resonates:

Use more formative assessments like Exit Tickets and 3-2-1 Reflections instead of grading every assignment. 

So, I've been trying to do this in different ways, but it isn't easy. Here are some of my strategies and their mixed results.

1) Plickers and Clickers

Now that my class is currently unable to use their Chromebooks for a while (long story - see introduction), I have considered other ways to use technology-like devices. I pulled out these SMART Technologies Senteo Clickers to use this week. My students love these devices - I wrote about them on this blog way back in 2014. They remembered how they used to pretend they were cell phones phones when they were in kindergarten. Many of my students do not like to write, and so this is a convenient and enjoyable way to conduct an assessment with immediate feedback.

So what's the issue? I'm lucky that I don't have to share the devices, because I'm the only one in the school that uses them. It takes time to set up the class file, and create the assessment file on SMART Notebook (which I no longer have on a computer at home, so this needs to be done at school). Assessments are limited to only certain types of questions (true/false, yes/no, and multiple choice - I tried to create a "type a letter" and "type a number" question and it crashed the system). I also discovered that many of the batteries in the devices are dead and/or leaked. I spent a long time surrounded by flakes of corroded battery acid as I took apart each device to ensure it was safe for use. If I actually had a class budget, most of it would go towards replacement batteries. (I'm buying the batteries, but not charging the school. I know, I know ... I shouldn't do it, but if I want to use those things, I'm willing to put my money behind it.)

Then there are Plickers. I originally printed my own set but the students lost or crumpled up their personal QR code, so I bought my own set of durable square Plicker code cards online. I first discovered Plickers courtesy of my friend Denise Colby and fellow teacher-librarian Heather Stoness at an ETFO ICT conference in 2016 and liked the idea but couldn't use it effectively for multiple classes in the library. Using it as part of a homeroom is great - but, since I have students with organizational issues, I need to collect their Plicker cards at the end of a lesson. Paper protocols mean that I cannot use the Plickers again for seven days. I hope I can get students to the stage where they don't use their Plicker cards so I can use the Plickers more frequently. (Another downfall is that the free version of the account only allows for five questions. I've spent enough money on school and don't need to plop down more unnecessarily.)

 2) Self- and Peer-Assessment

Take up work in class. Have students mark it themselves. This sounds like a decent suggestion. Students will see and learn from their mistakes and I delegate the marking burden and share it equally among those generating all the work that needs marking. There are a few problems with this approach. Sometimes students aren't honest with themselves. They will claim work is finished when it isn't. They won't notice what the errors were. We can't pass work to other students to examine, because paper has to be quarantined for seven days. Certain assignments are really boring to take up, even for me as a teacher. My school uses a textbook called "Communicating Skills", which focuses on grammar and punctuation. These are skills that I practice authentically with writing assignments, but they also need some targeted interventions. The difficulty is that it is really dry and dull to take up as a class. We talked about it as a group and said we'd try to come up with ways to make it more invigorating to correct. I have the answer guide for the Grade 5s but not for the Grade 6s, so it's not as easy as putting the answer sheet under the data projector and having students check their results with the guide.

3) Google Forms

No Google Forms right now, unless it's for homework - and some of my students don't believe it homework. (Either they don't believe it exists or they don't believe they have to complete it.)

4) Rich Assignments with Long Completion Times

I like interesting tasks that really contribute to deep and meaningful learning. I can provide lengthy amounts of time with plenty of extensions, but a) students are keen for feedback before and after they hand it in, and b) I have to mark those projects eventually. I also prefer marking all those assignments at one time because I can keep track of how I approach grading of certain responses or patterns (e.g. I'd hate to give part marks to one person for a certain type of answer, and then forget I did that and mark it as completely wrong with no marks to someone who does the exact same thing.)

5) "In-The-Moment" Marking

Gym and drama are useful for "as-it-happens" assessments because the evidence is manifesting right in front of you. I try to back it up with photos, so that, if I am questioned about the validity of the mark, I still have proof. However, not all tasks lend themselves to this tactic. 

In the meantime, I'll try to be gentle with myself about the stack of guided reading responses, grammar exercises, and letter writing assignments still waiting for me to tackle them. It will get done ... eventually.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, please. Be gentle with yourself. And if you can find a laminator, you can laminate your plicker cards, and then you can wipe them down with a Clorox wipe.