Systems Tweaking: Returning Graded Work

Jan 29, 2013

I like to remind people that it may be hard to get HOURS back in your day, but it is much easier to get back minutes—both yours and your students’.

Tess H., a middle school teacher in Philadelphia, recently shared how her systems for returning student work have evolved over time to save more time.

Back In The Day:

“In my first year of teaching, when I happened to look up in a free second and see the graded papers, I would hand them back to students. Other than that, there was no rhyme or reason. By my second year, I started getting papers graded and handed back every day, but it wasn’t at a certain time nor did it follow a specific procedure. It was usually me flinging papers in my students’ direction in the last 45 seconds of class.”

Sound familiar? We’ve all been there!

The New and Improved System Overhaul:

Tess says, I’ve done three things to change the haphazard way I once returned graded papers:

  • I stopped handing back papers myself and made this into a classroom job.
  • Students know when work will be passed back during the block and that it falls during a time they can actually look at it.
  • I gave students a place to store their graded work.

The New and Improved System In Close-Up Detail:

  • When stations begin, the classroom helper hands back papers. The graded work is always kept in a red bin, separated by cohort. If a student is absent that day, the classroom helper just puts that graded work back in the bin and hands out the work when the student returns to class.

Tess says,

“This has been incredibly helpful because my kids are way better at following through with procedures than I am and my student helper never forgets when to hand back papers!”

  • Students know when work will be passed back. During these 1 to 2 minutes, I am setting up for guided reading and students are setting up for their stations. The papers don’t draw attention away from thinking work and students have the time to reflect on what grade they’ve earned.
  • The last, and I think most important, key was giving students a tool to help file their graded work.

“I would get frustrated when I saw a graded piece of work underneath the desk that I spent time giving comments on! When I bent down to it pick up, I’d see there were thirteen more shoved in the desk!”

Then I realized this was happening simply was because I hadn’t given the students space or a reason to keep their work. On the supply list at the start of the year, students are asked to bring in one expanding wallet. The expanding wallet is the only thing they can keep in their desks. When graded work is returned, students take out their expanding wallet and file it there.

Bonus: This allows for a great portfolio of work for parent-teacher conferences! I didn’t have to spend time filing it!

Tess, we love your system for its simplicity and student ownership! Thanks so much for sharing with us!

Together Teacher Discussion Question: How do you use more efficient systems to earn back a few good minutes for you—or your students?