When adopting workshop-style teaching and learning, you need a clear plan for how to keep students accountable without drowning in papers to grade. Many teachers ask how I manage grading the work my students complete during M.A.T.H. Workshop each day, and still find time to plan for workshop the following day. The three tools below help me build a clear picture of my students’ progress and needs, keep my students’ parents in the loop about what their child is working on in class, and help me maintain a light load when it comes to grading.

### Rubric Drawers

These drawers are my number one time saver. Each week my students are required to complete at least two Problem Solving Task Cards (these in-depth word problems take some time). They submit their completed problem solving recording sheets to these rubric drawers. As they turn in their work, students grade themselves according to our mastery rubric, which is written in student-friendly language on the labels for each drawer.

A great deal of time is spent at the beginning of the year helping students understand the detail and accuracy required for each level of understanding on the mastery rubric. Students’ ability to self-assess accurately is not always strong at the beginning of the year, but grows dramatically with the use of exemplars (explained below) and the consistent celebration of strong student work.

##### Assessment of Work Habits

At the end of the week, I quickly skim through their submitted work, stamp each paper, and send it home for parents to see. Parents have been informed that a stamped paper is part of our students’ self assessment process, and has only been used as a formative assessment of students’ work habits during workshop that week.

I select two outstanding task cards from the drawers labeled “4” or “3” to display as inspirational exemplars for the following week. This process naturally motivates students to reach higher, dig deeper, and perform their personal best. They take pride in knowing their work may be selected as an inspiration piece for their peers’ work the following week.

##### Assessment of Understanding

At the top of our rubric drawers is a separate bin. This is where students submit one piece of math work for the week they feel is the strongest representation of their knowledge and effort. Each student is required to submit one piece, which I take the time to grade, share written feedback, and enter into our gradebook.

This means there are weeks when I only grade one math paper for each of my students. Using this rubric drawer system frees me from piles of grading, and allows me to spend more time planning engaging activities and lessons that meet the needs of my students. The freed brain power that comes from less grading also help me to be totally present during our workshop block so I can observe students, confer with students, and pull small groups, all while gathering the most up-to-date data about each student’s current level of understanding and needs.

### Feedback Cards

Another one of my favorite ways to efficiently keep students accountable, and gather data without having to sit down with a pile of papers to grade is the use of feedback cards. I use these cards when conferring one-on-one with students during M.A.T.H. Workshop, and a modified version during reader’s workshop.

After reviewing a student’s work, or sitting down to support them with problem solving, I make a quick note of their understanding on my data collection sheet and hand them a feedback card with a score of their current level of understanding using the same mastery rubric displayed on our rubric drawers. Then, I leave the student to independently write the justification for their score, and make a quick personal plan for future growth.

Finally, the student staples the feedback card to the paper it corresponds with, and continues working. If the feedback was shared while the student was working on a paperless activity, they write the name of the activity on the back of the card and drop it in their weekly work folder to be sent home. This practice promotes student listening as you meet during workshop, and gives them time to reflect as they quickly write about their learning.

### Examplars

One last way I reduce time spent grading is with the use of exemplars. Exemplars are written work samples that demonstrate the different levels of understanding and work quality for a particular task. For example, my students may analyze an exemplar set for a particularly challenging word problem from a recent test. A level 1, 2, 3, and 4 work sample are provided, and we discuss what constitutes each level of understanding. This practice of analyzing work to build a clear picture of what it means to “reach higher” or “go above and beyond” in your learning results in higher student performance and fewer students errors, which makes grading more enjoyable and efficient for teachers.

##### How To Build A Collection of Exemplars

When starting out, many of your exemplars will be teacher-made. Simply make additional copies of a particular learning task and complete the task multiple times to show multiple levels of work quality and understanding. Below is a teacher-made exemplar set created for a math test.

Over time, you can combine your teacher-made exemplars with student-made exemplars. As you grade student work throughout the year, make copies of work that clearly demonstrates each level of understanding for a particular task. Names should always kept confidential on student exemplars. An exception to this may be an inspirational display of high-quality student work that is hung weekly for peers to analyze and admire.

##### Exemplar-Based Activities

Here are a few exemplar-based activities my third graders enjoy.

**You’re The Teacher:** Perfect for building a stronger understanding of quality work. Set out a collection of exemplars for a particular math problem. Students get a pad of post-its and travel around the room to read the model, explanation, and final answer for each exemplar. They write their score for each exemplar and their justification for the score, then stick their score on the board next to the exemplar. We then come together to discuss overarching noticings and ah-ha moments that can be applied to future work.

**Assessment Upgrade:** This activity can be used occasionally, and is perfect if you notice your students were a bit lazy when it came to showing work or explaining reasoning on their most recent assessment. Rather than wasting time grading work you know isn’t the best representation of your students’ understanding, hand the ungraded assessment back to your students. Have them reread their ungraded work and reflect on their performance. Set out a level 4 exemplar for a modified version of the assessment (same concepts, different numbers). Give students a set amount of time to analyze the exemplars before returning to their own work to make improvements.

**What Would You Do?:** Perfect to help students add more detail to their work. Set out a level 2 or level 3 exemplar. Have students analyze the exemplar and decide what they would do to boost the level of understanding from a 2 to a 3, or from a 3 to a 4. Some guiding questions might be: How would you improve this model? How would you improve this explanation? What changes would you make to strengthen this work? How could this mathematician improve their accuracy? What is missing from this exemplar that would take it to the next level of understanding?

### Ready To Spend Less Time Grading?

Less grading may take a little getting used to. In fact, you may feel like you’re slacking with those extra hours you’re about to gain when you implement the systems I’ve suggested. I promise you’ll get over it when you see how much more rapidly your students grow as a result of a more well-rested teacher who actually had time to plan today’s lesson. 🙂

Jennifer Bates says

Our district has been standards based for a while now, but this year we have been provided with a rubric for each standard paired with released questions from previous state assessments. Your post goes along perfectly with our rubrics! I can use the district rubric for the self assessment drawers., and the released questions for the exemplars. Thank you for this post at just the right time!

Laura Santos says

Hi Jennifer,

That sounds amazing! I wish we had a resource like that in our district. 🙂 Does your district have any of these resources posted online?

Warmly,

Laura

Kristen says

The math program we use has application problems and exit tickets for every lesson. The exit ticket shows if the student understands the concept that was taught that day, the application is a word problem to prepare the student for the lesson. How would you recommend I use your system? I can’t skip exit tickets because it shows me the students that are struggling each day. So I correct he exit tickets on a daily basis. The application problems are usually done in groups, so I usually don’t grade them. Any advice would help, i want to get students to self assess more.

Thanks!!

Laura Santos says

Hi Kristin,

Thank you for reaching out. Perhaps you can use feedback cards during the application problem portion of your lesson when students are working in groups. I would have students turn their exit tickets into the rubric drawers based on how they think they performed, and then follow up with your grading. It would be a quick way for them to self-assess each day.

Warmly,

Laura

Erin says

This post is amazing! Our district has switched to standards based grading this year and many teachers are struggling to grasp it. I love the rubric drawers and can see how they are helpful. I had a couple questions after reading your post…

Do you stamp their turned in papers with a 1,2,3,4 to let parents know how their child assessed themselves?

Are students only able to turn in task card papers to the top bin or is there other math work that they are able to submit?

Thanks so much! I can’t wait to share this with my team.

Laura Santos says

Thank you Erin!

Standards based grading is an ongoing work in progress for me. 🙂 I love the idea of stamping the number that corresponds with the students’ self grade so parents can see how students assess themselves. I am definitely getting some number stamps so I can start that. Students are allowed to turn in any math work they feel is the best representation of their understanding. Usually they turn in task cards, but sometimes they are really proud of a model they’ve made on their reteach page (from our math adoption) or a portion of their current PBL unit.

Warmly,

Laura

Jaime Martinez says

I am really impress! You have a wonderful organization. I teach 3rd grade like You, I’ll be reading your interesting posts. Hopefully I can learn something. Congratulations.

Thank You! Laura

Laura Santos says

Jamie,

Thank you for taking the time share such a kind note. Wishing you all the best as you finish off your third grade year. 🙂

Warmly,

Laura