11 Tips to Reduce Grading Time (and Make Grading Less Painful)

It was around this time of year during my first year of teaching when I got completely overwhelmed with my grading load. My main problem: I felt like I needed to grade EVERYTHING. Until speaking with other teachers about how much time I spent grading, I did not realize grading everything was unnecessary and impossible to sustain. Right then I decided to change my grading habits.

My first year I was teaching English to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. Since every class had two spelling homework assignments and a spelling test every week, the easiest way to reduce grading was to cut out redundant, practice assignments. My first grading change was to only grade one spelling homework assignment per week. I was still grading a ton of assignments, but just that one little change substantially reduced the time I devoted to grading. Since that first year, I have learned many more tricks to reduce grading time. Here are some of those tricks.

  1. This one is probably the most obvious: limit what you grade. Whenever possible, I limit myself to two or three assignments per week. I feel like this is enough to give students, parents, and teachers a clear and accurate picture of the students’ understanding of each topic and overall effort. I can see their understanding with each assessment grade and see their general effort levels reflected in whether or not they finish their homework completely and on time.
  2. Prioritize the most important assignments or parts of assignments. Choose what will give you the best picture of student understanding and grade that. If you have a lengthy assignment, pick only a few sections to spend time on and give a completion grade for the rest.
  3. Occasionally give completion grades. When totally swamped with teaching duties, this can save your sanity. If students complete all of an assignment, I give them 100%. If they only do half, they get 50%.  I limit this to homework assignments and try not to do it too often because it doesn’t reflect student understanding. However, when I have more pressing teaching duties that will have a greater impact on my students’ learning I think this is acceptable.
  4. Have a no name policy you can handle. I used to post no name papers on the bulletin board (most remained unclaimed) and did detective work to figure out which paper belonged to which student. That took a lot of time and was not something I felt should be the teacher’s responsibility. After a couple of years of this, I decided my seventh-grade students should be responsible enough to do something as simple as writing their name on their assignment. Consequently, I communicated this to my students and made it my class policy to throw out no names. Whatever no name policy you decide to implement, make sure it works for you and doesn’t add more time and effort than it deserves.
  5. Limit late assignments. I used to take late assignments all quarter long (at a 25% grade reduction). This resulted in a deluge of assignments from students who waited until right before grades were due. It generated a ton of work for me when I needed to be wrapping things up. I had to remember how I graded each assignment, which was time consuming in and of itself. Cue a new late assignment policy: assignments are accepted no later than two weeks overdue. This policy makes it so I can still easily remember how I graded something and also keeps my grading duties at a reasonable level, even when the gradebook is almost due.
  6. Don’t let the assignments pile up. This can happen quickly and become overwhelming. Try grading in little spurts throughout the week so you never end up with more than a week’s worth of accumulated assignments.
  7. Have student helpers. Most students enjoy helping the teacher with little tasks. I often have students organize my ungraded papers so they are all neatly stacked, facing up, and paper-clipped by assignment and class period. The time saved really adds up.
  8. Let students grade their own assignments or swap papers with a classmate. This gives students quick feedback on how they are doing with a topic and where they can improve. You can discuss answers as a class and clear up problem areas as soon as they present themselves. When grading this way, I usually don’t add the grades to the gradebook because the students already know exactly how they did and it’s too easy for students to cheat.
  9. Always use a rubric when applicable. This sounds so important and obvious. But, let me tell you, there have been times when I was so overwhelmed with teaching that I didn’t have a rubric when I assigned the project. This is a huge no-no. Without a rubric, the students don’t have clear expectations. You will end up with all sorts of projects and no fair, consistent way to grade them. It becomes a time-consuming mess to grade. Trust me—always use a rubric.
  10. Design exit tickets with ease of grading in mind. Since all of my exit tickets go in the gradebook, almost all of them are short—between four and five questions long—and are mainly multiple choice. If it is important to see the depth of student understanding, I might add one question that requires students to answer in sentences. By sticking to this general format, I am able to whip through grading exit tickets. (If you teach middle school science you might be interested in my Exit Ticket Package, which contains a bunch of exit tickets designed this way.)
  11. Make peer reviewing part of projects. During big projects, take a little class time for peer reviewing. When students evaluate their classmates’ work, they learn from each other and learn to think critically. The peer review can be something as simple as providing one thing they liked about a project and one way to improve it. You could take it further by printing extra rubrics and having students grade each other that way.  If you include some form of peer reviewing once or twice before students turn in their projects, you will receive higher quality work which requires less grading time from you.

Implementing even just a few of these strategies will greatly reduce your grading time. Of course it’s impossible to completely eliminate grading so, if all else fails, make the time you have to spend grading as painless as possible. Use fun pens and stickers. Listen to music and light a nice smelling candle. Have a yummy snack and a special drink (or two). Wear comfy clothes and put your dog on your lap. Recruit a friend to help.

What do you do to save time spent grading? How do you make grading a more pleasant experience? Comment below to share your ideas.

Using a Reward System in Middle School

When I began teaching seventh grade science as a Teach for America Corps Member, one thing that set my class apart from others was my use of a reward system in a middle school setting. Prior to joining Teach for America, I had earned two degrees in education plus I already had two years of teaching behind me. By the time I joined TFA, I had my own ideas about classroom management and had begun to implement those ideas. However, one of the main reasons I joined TFA was to learn about different styles of teaching so I could become a better educator for my students.  I kept my mind open to new ideas. One thing TFA exposed me to during our five-week summer institute was the use of a reward system at a secondary level. At first I thought it seemed silly and impractical. Middle and high school students excited about earning little toys? Spending tons of my own limited income providing those goodies for hundreds of students? Huh? After dismissing the idea, I found myself thinking about it and considering how I could make it more practical for my own classroom.  When I began teaching seventh grade science students a month and a half later, I had a reward system in place as a way to decrease misbehavior, increase student engagement and achievement, and create a fun and positive classroom environment.  And what do you know? It worked.

What did I want in a reward system?

I wanted my system related to academic achievement. I wanted students to be individually rewarded to increase their investment. More importantly from a behavior standpoint, I wanted them to work together for class rewards because peers can often influence behavior in ways a teacher cannot. I did NOT want to spend oodles of money making it work. My reward system developed when all of these ideas rolled together.

What does the reward system look like as a whole?

Here is a quick synopsis of my reward system. First of all, it has two parts—an individual reward and a group reward—and both parts involve earning class points. Students earn tickets individually that they enter in daily prize drawings. The number of drawings a class gets depends on how many points a class earns for good behavior. In addition to daily drawings that reward individual students, class points add up for whole group rewards. 

Earning Class Points for the Individual and Group Rewards

How do students earn class points?

Students work together as a class to earn points. They do this by following directions, doing things quickly, participating, being on task, doing exceptionally well on lab days or during lively activities, having a class average of over 80% on a test or quiz (five points each time), and getting good reports from substitutes (fifteen points per day). When the class earns a point, I let them know right away. Letting them know when and why they earn a point is important because it rewards them instantly for their good behavior and encourages them to keep it up.

Do you ever take away points?

No. The students earned the points they received. Many times, most of the misbehavior comes from only a few students. Taking away points punishes the whole class making well-behaved students less invested in earning points because they feel those points can just be taken away by the poor choices of others. The only time I’ve ever taken away points was when a sub wrote a very poor report about a class and the majority of the students didn’t get the assigned sub work done.  (The students who did get their work done were rewarded for their actions.)

How do you keep track of class points?

I have a mason jar with a lid labeled for every class. Each point is represented by a fuzzy thing (actually called pom-poms, but “little fuzzy things” was the name we adopted for them). During class, I put the little fuzzy thing the students earn into the lid. (I want to keep them separate for the individual reward that day.) At the end of class, I count how many points we got for the day to determine how many prize drawings we need to do for the individual reward. Then I add the little fuzzy things collected in the lid that day to the jar to accumulate over time (for the group reward).

Individual Reward Information

How do students get tickets for the individual reward?

Students earn tickets for getting 80% or above on assessments. An assessment includes tests, quizzes, and exit tickets. I always have at least one assessment each week so students have plenty of chances to earn tickets. Whenever a student performs well on an assessment, I attach one ticket onto their paper. When students get their papers back they detach the ticket, write their name on it, and enter it into the drawing where they have a chance win a prize of their choice. Check out a set of reward tickets here.

How many class points does it take to get one drawing?

Every five class points triggers one drawing. For example, if a class earns a total of ten points they will get two drawings. If a class gets nine points, they will only get one drawing.

How many drawings are typically in one day?

That depends on a few different factors, the biggest one being overall class behavior. In a 90-minute block schedule, I usually do between two to four drawings. In a shorter 45-minute class, the students earn one or two drawings. I’ve had some disastrous classes (haven’t we all?) where students didn’t earn even one drawing. I’ve also had spectacular days (yea!) where a class earned six.

How and when do students submit tickets for the drawing?

If I have any worksheets or assessments to return to students, I pass them out while students complete their Do Now at the beginning of class. Any student who receives a ticket at that time can add it to the class’s bag. I usually send around a student who finished his or her Do Now early to collect the tickets in the bag.

Where do you keep the submitted tickets for the drawing?

I have a gallon-size Ziploc bag labeled for each of my seven classes. When it comes time to do a drawing I empty the class tickets into a bucket so students can select a winning ticket without seeing the name written on it.

When do you do the drawing? Who does the drawing?

I like to do the drawing at the end of every class period. It only takes about two minutes, so I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing class time (especially since we accomplish so much in class when the students are motivated to be well behaved by the reward system). If time is running short, we carry over the drawings and do them at the beginning of the next class. In the past, I’ve tried doing the drawings only once a week on the last day before the weekend, but I’ve found the students aren’t quite as motivated if they have to wait that long.

Students love being involved in this system, so unless we are running really short on time a student will do the drawing. I choose a student at random and invite that student to the front of the room where I am holding the bucket of tickets. Without looking, the student chooses a ticket and reads the name of the winner to the class.

What prizes do students earn in the drawing?

I try to have something to appeal to every student. I have bathroom passes and homework passes. Before school starts, I stock up on the amazing deals that can be found at Office Depot and Staples. There I find folders, pencils, pens, notebooks, and erasers for as little as a penny each. During the summer I go to garage sales for inexpensive books or fun little items I think my students will like. My mom loves to make jewelry, so she provides earrings and bracelets. Many parents love to donate for the reward system, so I always request the most popular items of all: food, drinks, and gum. They go to Sam’s Club to get good deals in bulk. I ask them to keep each item’s cost less than 50 cents.

Where do you keep the prizes for the individual reward?

I keep the prizes in a glass display case with a lock. One of the walls in my science classroom is made entirely of these lockable glass cases and it makes for the perfect way to both show the prizes and keep them secure.

What do you do with the huge number of tickets that are collected but not drawn?

I dump the tickets into the recycle bin each quarter. I do this because some students earn a lot of tickets during that time and others only receive a few. I want every student to have a chance to win and when certain students have a stockpile of tickets it makes that difficult. I also dump the tickets each quarter because some students made poor choices and deserve to start over with a clean slate. The rationale I give to my students is the bag can’t hold that many tickets and students should have a chance to start over and make good decisions.

Whole Group Reward Information

How many class points does it take to get a whole class reward?

One hundred and fifty points seems to work best. On average it gives a whole class reward about once a month. One hundred comes around too often and two hundred drags on causing the students to become apathetic.

What whole class rewards do you use?

I provide a list and let the students vote.  No matter how many choices I give the students, only two have ever been chosen. Classes always vote for either free time with electronics (I give between ten and fifteen minutes) or permission to bring and eat snacks during class. 

When do you count the class points for the whole group reward?

I don’t keep a running tally of the number of points. Instead I have a student in study hall count each class’s points at the end of the week. I announce the total on Monday when we go through the weekly schedule. If at that time a class has reached the 150 points needed to trigger a whole class reward, we vote for what the reward will be and when it will happen.


In summary, this reward system has two parts. The first part is an individual reward. The class earns points to trigger drawings at the end of each class period. The drawing prizes go to individual students who earned a ticket from getting 80% or above on an assessment. The second part of the reward system also involves getting class points, but the whole group works together to earn 150 points and trigger a whole class reward.

This system has helped me build and maintain a positive classroom environment in my seventh grade science classes. Students are excited to come to class and learn. They are motivated to do well on their assessments and be good students in class. Plus, it’s a lot of fun for me. 

Back to School Site-Wide Sale on Teachers Pay Teachers!


Great news! Teachers Pay Teachers is having a two day sale starting tomorrow. Get ready for back to school and stock-up for the year ahead. Everything in my store will be 20% off. Most other stores will have sales going on as well. Remember to use the code "BestYear" when you checkout so you can get even more savings.

Away for a Little While

Hello! My family and I are going on a canoe trip in Canada for the next week and a half, so I will be away from all technology. If you send a message or ask a question on the blog I will respond when I get back. Enjoy your July and thanks for reading!

Successfully Using Stations in the Middle School Classroom

I’ll admit, when I first began using stations the main reason was so I didn’t have to make copies for 200 students. The copy machines at my school were frequently broken, out of toner, and often inaccessible due to high need from other teachers and the lack of regular and predictable planning periods. If I wanted to make copies, I either had to get to school around seven or stay well after the final bell rang.  Even then I might not be able to print what I needed for my students because the paper might be locked away to save the district some money. Stations were a perfect solution to my copy machine dilemmas. However, once I began using stations I found many more reasons to keep using them in my seventh grade science classes. Perhaps most importantly, students love stations and are motivated simply because they can be out of their seats and be more in charge of their learning (more on that later). Stations are super easy to differentiate and can be used to meet the needs of all of your students. Also, they are easy to use and quick to set up. If you’ve never heard of stations, ever considered using stations, or if you currently use stations and they aren’t quite as effective as you’d like, keep reading.

Students practice identifying variables and writing hypotheses
with these Scientific Method Stations.

What are stations?

Stations are a way for students to practice lesson content while moving around the classroom instead of being seated at desks. (That might sound scary when considering certain classes—believe me, I’ve been there. However, I’ve used stations with even my most rambunctious, out of control classes of 35+ seventh grade students. It can be done successfully.) Stations can be questions or short tasks posted on the perimeter of the room. In my science classes I typically used questions that could be answered with students’ notes, textbooks, knowledge, or skills. I included a variety of question levels—some easy and straightforward and others rigorous and challenging. I have also set up measurement stations with tasks to complete such as finding the volume of an object using the water displacement method or predicting the mass of an object and then using a balance to see how close their predictions were. When I noticed students had a hard time finding information in textbooks, I had stations where students had to find a specific piece of information using glossaries, tables of contents, or indexes. I’ve even cut up a worksheet and posted it around the room as stations. Answering the questions on a worksheet can be tedious, but when that same worksheet is in station form it becomes more engaging and meaningful.

When students are up and around the room doing stations they’ll need to record their answers. This can be done on notebook paper that they hand in when they’re finished or in their interactive notebooks.

How do I set up stations in my classroom?

Start off by writing the questions or tasks you want your students to answer. Use fairly large font so they are easy to read from a distance of several feet. Then print them out and cut them up. If you want, you can laminate them so they are in good condition by the time the last class of students goes through them.  I personally did not laminate them, so I always had some rips or pencil marks on the papers by the end of the day. Instead of laminating I just used extra tape to prevent the majority of damage. 

Once you have your stations printed, cut out, and maybe laminated you can tape them around the room on walls, windows, or tables. Finding space in my classroom was always easy because my room was ginormous. I also had countertops bordering the walls of three-quarters of my classroom. The space you leave between stations obviously depends on how many stations you have, but whenever possible try to leave at least a yard between them. This helps the students stay focused on their task instead of socializing with nearby groups.  It also helps the teacher spot misbehavior earlier and sprout fewer gray hairs.

When should I use stations?

There were two purposes for using stations in my classroom: practice or review. If I was using the stations as a way to reinforce the material we learned, I scheduled them after taking notes and doing a whole class practice. Basically, I wanted my students to have the fundamentals down and the ability to be decently independent before beginning stations. If students needed to review material, I typically used stations as a review activity the day or two before a test.

I’ve also had luck using stations before big breaks like Thanksgiving break, winter break, spring break, or summer vacation. Whenever students are especially squirrelly, stations are usually a good choice because students can move around the room and still engage in the material they need to learn and understand instead of wasting learning time.  (Stations have kept me sane on more than one occasion before a break.)

What behavioral expectations should be established before beginning stations?

Before beginning stations, you MUST go over your behavior expectations. Otherwise, the students have a 95% chance of turning feral within three minutes. Here are the station expectations I went over every time we did stations. 
  • Students will have no more than three students to a station at any time. If there is already a group at that station, then they must go to another station.
  • Students do not have to go in order. They may skip around to any station as long as they write their answers in the correct location on their own papers. 
  • As long as students are on task and working, students may pick the student(s) they want to work with. Students may also work individually.
  • Students will receive only one warning for off task behavior. If they are off task a second time, they will have to complete the assignment individually in their seat using a worksheet form of the stations.
  • Students may only visit the answer sheet twice during the stations.
  • When students finish the stations they need to check all of their answers and return to their seats.

How do I monitor behavior during stations, and what do I do about misbehavior?

If you aren’t directly supporting a group of students, walk around the room and monitor behavior. Keep an eye and ear out for horseplay. Whenever students misbehave or don’t follow a station expectation give them a warning. If students have a second problem, direct the offending students back to their seats and give them a worksheet form of the stations to complete individually. Remind students they cannot get out of their seats for the remaining station time, otherwise you might find them messing with their friends and wandering around the room “working on the stations.” Depending on whether your stations consist of questions or tasks, your students might not be able to do every station on their worksheet. In that case instruct them to skip the station or complete it individually later on.

Biggest advice here: don’t let small misbehaviors get out of hand. Immediately give the warning/consequence and briefly explain to the student what they did wrong and why it’s a problem. Here is an example of how that might sound: “Billybobjoe, you were visiting another group again. When you do this it is distracting to other students and you can’t learn. Because you didn’t follow the station expectations, now you will finish the stations at your desk by yourself on this worksheet.”

How can I use stations to meet the needs of all of my students?

Stations are excellent for differentiation purposes. Students can choose what works for them. For example, I let my students determine if they wanted to work independently, with a partner, or in a group of three. They also determined the order in which they completed the stations. They could skip around or go in numerical order while working at their own pace. Posting an answer sheet gave my students support by allowing them to check their work or get help with a problem they were struggling with. While my students were working, I was free to meet with a small group of students who needed extra support. Sometimes I determined ahead of time who should be in that day's support group and other times I left it up to the students to come to me for assistance.

Consider posting answer sheets (like I did with the
Changes in States of Matter Stations) so students can
check their work and get assistance if needed.

Another way to differentiate is by arranging the stations from easiest to hardest. For the most part, students are pretty good at determining their levels of understanding. Whenever I arranged the stations this way, I explained it to my students and let them choose where they needed to be. Providing the right context and reasoning is important for this. Don’t just say: left is easy, center is medium, and right is hard. Then you’d have a flock of students on the left with no one really benefiting. Explain that the stations on the left side are for students who feel they are having difficulty with the content and need to build up their knowledge and skills first. The stations in the center are a medium level of difficulty for students who feel they have a fairly good understanding of the content and are ready for reinforcement practice. The stations on the right side of the room are for students who feel they understand the material very well and need a challenge. When I explained it this way, my students didn’t feel bad if they were on the left side. As for the right side, many were eager for a challenge and would start by looking at the questions to see if they were ready or needed to go more towards the center.

When arranging by level of difficulty, give your students a number of stations to complete. If there are 30 stations, maybe have them choose any 10. Having students complete all of the stations can defeat the purpose of arranging them this way.

What do I do when students finish the stations at different times?

There are several solutions to this. You can set a timer and have students complete as many stations as they can in 20 minutes. If there are a small number of stations or if the questions/tasks are relatively quick to get through, you can start a five-minute timer after the first five students finish; then announce that everyone needs to be done in less than five minutes. You can have students begin their homework or an individual class assignment at their seats. They can read a book. I’ve tried all of these methods in my class and switched it up depending on the student or lesson needs.

What stations do you use in your own classroom?

I'm so glad you asked. :) In my Teachers Pay Teachers store you can find many of the stations I have used in my seventh grade science classroom. Currently, these are the stations in my store:
  • Scientific Method Stations: These can be used in a variety of ways. Most often my students used these stations to identify independent and dependent variables and write hypotheses.  
  • Changes in States of Matter Stations: These stations give students practice with the key points of melting, freezing, vaporization, condensation, and sublimation. 
  • Genetics and Heredity Stations: These stations give students practice with a variety of genetics topics. They are great to see what students know or to review key concepts.
  • Human Body Organ System Stations: Students practice the important characteristics of the skeletal system, circulatory system, respiratory system, muscular system, digestive system, and nervous system.
  • Properties of Matter/Physical Science Review Stations: I use these stations to review physical science concepts before the unit test. They go over atoms, states of matter, changes in states, physical and chemical changes, law of conservation of mass/matter, homogeneous and heterogeneous mixtures, elements, and compounds. 
  • Measurement in Science Stations: These stations are all about the tools and units used to measure metric length, volume, mass, and density.
  • Density Stations: My students always need extra practice with density before things really sink in. These stations help them understand.
  • Volume Stations: These stations focus on finding the volume of solids and liquids and measuring correctly.
  • Mass and Weight Stations: Students get practice with the difference between mass and weight with these stations.  

If you haven’t already, try using stations in your classroom. With the correct implementation, they can really benefit your students. Plus, you don’t have to make a bazillion copies ;)

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Ways to Grow as a Teacher in a Secondary Classroom

In my classroom, I’m always looking for ways to improve. To grow as a teacher, I reflect on my lessons and consider what went well, what could have been better, and different methods to try in the future. In addition to self-reflection, I welcome feedback from others—administrators, mentors, other teachers, and my students. I’ve even participated in Great Teachers, Great Feedback, which is a virtual coaching service.

I’ve been observed countless times during my teaching career. My first year teaching I was observed by my mentor multiple times each month and my program director several times a year. A couple of years later when I was a part of Teach for America I had advisers in and out of my room on a regular basis in addition to visits from the principal and vice principals. While I’ve never enjoyed being observed (who does, right?), I looked forward to hearing their thoughts and ideas. Whether the feedback was good or bad, I wanted to hear all about it. I grew into a strong teacher quickly because I was so eager to learn from others. I’ve always been naturally reflective, but the comments from administrators, advisers, mentors, and fellow teachers showed me where to place my concentration.

No matter how often you’re observed and receive feedback, you won’t grow as a teacher unless you are willing to listen to advice and try out new ideas. Don’t shut down when an observer shares a criticism.  Ask questions about turning things around instead.  True, not all of the advice you’ll receive will be helpful. For example, one of my observers always told me to rank my students from highest performers to lowest performers and create an elaborate seating chart based off of that ranking system. It was such a time consuming process with seven classes of around 30 students each. However, I tried it anyway. For several weeks, I used this new seating chart system.  When no benefits of the new seating chart showed themselves I went back to my old arrangements. Out of all of the advice I received and tried over the years, this was the only one that stands out as impractical. While the idea didn’t work out, it did get me thinking about other options for seating charts and table arrangements. Not every idea will be beneficial, but most of them are worth considering. I’ve discovered a lot of wonderful teaching methods this way.    

Self-reflection and routine observations aren’t the only things that shaped me into the teacher I am today.  Some of the best feedback came from the people who were in my classroom every day: my students. Simply watching your students can tell you so much about the efficacy of your lessons and teaching methods.  I think most teachers can tell when their students are bored. There are many hard to miss signs there—slouching, open mouths, excessive doodling, drooling, sleeping, acting out... You can tell when your students are engaged, eager to learn, and excited. A quick assessment can tell you how much each student understood the content. There are many informal ways to learn from your students.

Besides observing students’ behavior and assessing their work, you can do something as simple as asking questions. Ask your students how you’re doing. Ask what they liked and didn’t like about a lesson. Ask them what was clear and what was confusing. Ask them what helps and what doesn’t. Many students will be hesitant to answer, especially at first. Not many teachers ask their students’ opinions on lessons and teaching practices. If you can get them talking, you might be surprised at their insight.

One version of my teacher report card
Several times a year I have my students give me a more formal assessment. Most students are more candid about their thoughts when they don’t have to express themselves in front of a classroom full of students and their teacher. To give the formal assessment, I have my students grade me at the end of each quarter. Basically, whenever my students get report cards I get one too.  Or, in particularly challenging classes, I have students complete a formal assessment ASAP to help identify the problem and get students back on track to learning as much as they can in the short amount of time they have in my class. 

When my students “Grade the Teacher” they fill out the answers to questions on a piece of paper. It’s fairly quick: between five to ten minutes. You can ask questions about whatever you think would be useful like classroom management, lesson pacing, types of homework, how students feel in your class, clearness of expectations, etc.  I often change up the questions each quarter. I always include a portion about what letter grade I deserve and why. I usually include a question about what unit they learned the most from and why. If you’re considering letting your students grade you like this, I recommend you read through the advice below.

  • Explain to the students that you are giving them the feedback form because you want to know how to improve your teaching. Encourage details and examples because those will give you a better idea of how to improve.
  • Tell students to focus on your teaching, the lessons, and the classroom environment. Not your clothing choices or appearance or other irrelevant things! When students first started grading me, I got comments about how I’m stylish and have beautiful eyes.  Flattering, yes. A little creepy, also yes.  Helpful, no.
  • Clarify that students should be completely honest but not hurtful. Giving examples of what is and isn’t acceptable is helpful. Example: Mr. Dude sometimes seems mad and yells and it makes students feel uncomfortable. Non-example: Mr. Dude is a mean teacher and everyone hates him.   
  • If you want, you can have students complete their evaluations anonymously. This might help them be more comfortable being honest. Personally, I like to have students put their names on the evaluations so I can follow up with them if I have any questions or need clarification.
  • Consider having a question about the student’s level of effort in class. I’ve found this helps the students consider their role in how class goes on a daily basis, and this causes them to be more fair and reasonable in their evaluation of me.
  • This part is hard: Try not to take criticisms personally. Not every student will give you glowing reviews. That’s okay! Remember, you gave them this evaluation to improve and their ideas can often help you with that goal.
  • You can use the Grade the Teacher feedback form I created with your students. I use some version of this with my students every quarter.  It’s in English and Spanish so all the voices in my classroom are heard.

If you’re serious about improving as a teacher you should reflect on your lessons, invite people into your classroom to observe you, try new teaching methods, and get feedback from your students.

Want to get feedback from your students? Try my "Grade the Teacher" reflection tool.

 Grade the Teacher: teacher evaluation tool
Get a "Grade the Teacher" form for your own classroom!

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A Different Approach to Teaching the Scientific Method

In middle school science, I feel like it is important for students to really understand the steps of the scientific method. Knowing the order of the steps isn’t necessarily that important to me, but understanding each of the steps and what they entail is. I view the steps of the scientific method more as a way of thinking and problem solving than simply a way to conduct an experiment. Yes, students should know how to conduct an experiment correctly and they’ll need the steps for their future science classes. However, I realize most of my students won’t become scientists and won’t use the steps outside of school. What all of my students will need, regardless of their future career choices, is a way to approach and solve the problems that come their way. The scientific method can help with that, so that’s how I choose to present it to my students.  Consider the six steps of the scientific method.
  1. Make an observation and ask a question about it
  2. Research if needed
  3. Make a hypothesis
  4. Test the hypothesis in an experiment
  5. Record and analyze the data
  6. Write a conclusion
Students can use these steps to solve problems in their everyday, middle school lives. When I introduce the scientific method, I bring in a problem they can relate to.  I don’t know about your students, but my students are always having some kind of friendship drama.  So I walk my students through the steps of the scientific method in relation to a quarrel with a buddy.
  1. Make an observation and ask a question about it: You notice your best friend Ashleigh is being frosty to you but extra friendly to everyone else in your friend group. You ask yourself “Why is Ashleigh mad at me?”
  2.  Research if needed: You ask your friends why Ashleigh is mad.  Then you look through your Facebook posts to see if you wrote anything offensive. You see that yesterday you wrote a post saying Ashleigh’s skinny jeans don’t make her look very skinny.
  3. Make a hypothesis: You’re pretty sure Ashleigh is mad about your post. You think to yourself “If I remove the skinny jeans post and make a new Facebook post about my insensitivity, then Ashleigh will stop being mad at me.”
  4. Test the hypothesis in an experiment: As soon as you get home from school, you delete the old post and write a new Facebook post about how you made a mean and unfunny joke about a friend and how sorry you are about hurting her feelings. For good measure, you add that you’re a little jealous because you wish you had her curves.
  5. Record and analyze the data: Within an hour you have 67 likes on your new post and 13 comments praising your apology. You also have one rude comment from your annoying little brother, but he’s stupid and doesn’t matter. You get a message from Ashleigh saying that she forgives you and asks if you want to go shopping this weekend. 
  6. Write a conclusion: You learned you shouldn’t write or say mean things about your friends (or anyone else…except your annoying little brother), and apologizing and admitting you’re wrong is important. In the future, you will treat your friends better.

I think it’s important for students to realize the scientific method reaches beyond the science classroom. Besides the example above, I also use the Steps of the Scientific Method Activity with Rappers Scenarios. (You can learn more about the rapper activity here.) Using examples students can relate to and seeing how they and others can use the steps in their daily lives will help them remember the steps and actually understand them. With practice, they’ll begin to approach problems and work towards solutions differently.

In order to give my students more practice with the steps of the scientific method, I use card sorting activities. My students enjoy them and the activities are more hands on than other approaches. In my Teachers Pay Teachers store you’ll find a set of three card sorting lessons about the scientific method. Each lesson can be used in multiple ways and comes in both English and Spanish so I can reach all of my students. (You can purchase the card sorting activities here.)

Lesson Option 1
The first lesson option is a group card sorting activity.  I use this activity as practice for my students at the beginning of the year when they’re first learning about the scientific method and again after winter break as a review. In this activity, the students work together to sort the cards into the six steps of the scientific method. For each step, there are five cards: a number card, a step description card, a step explanation card, and two example cards. Take a look at the picture below to see an example of each type of card.

This activity gets students to understand what is involved in each step and see what it might look like in an experiment or a problem a student might encounter. The students can work together and discuss the groupings of the cards. After all the cards have been grouped, I have my students complete a two-part reflection sheet individually. The first part is about how well they would have done by themselves. For part two, the students pick out key words and phrases from the example cards and explain how those key words indicate what step the example was a part of. I like it because it gets the students thinking about why it represents a step and not just where a card should be placed.

Lesson Option 2
The second lesson option is an individual card sorting activity.  I use this activity instead of the group activity for my classes that get a little wild when given any kind of freedom. (It seems like there is always one of those that needs a constant thumb pushing down on it.) Alternatively, I sometimes use it in all of my classes as an assessment part way through the scientific method unit. I do this by having the students glue the cards on a paper to hand in. This lesson option has a lot of possible purposes: a review, a pre-assessment, formative assessment, or summative assessment. I’ve used it as a quick activity where students just sort the cards. And I’ve extended it by having students complete a reflection sheet where they explain how the examples represent each step.

Lesson Option 3
The third lesson option I use with our interactive notebooks. The students sort the cards and glue them into their interactive notebooks instead of taking traditional notes. When they’re done gluing the cards, they have the steps in order, a description of what the steps contain, and an example of each step to refer back to in the future.  You can use the cards as a part of your lesson and arrange the cards together as a class. Or you can give your lesson about the steps and then have the students arrange the cards afterward as a way to practice what they just learned. If there is time left over in class, I encourage my students to color their cards in a way that is meaningful for them. For example, they might color all of the steps in yellow, the descriptions in red, and the examples in blue.  Or they might color all of the step one cards in red and step two cards orange and continue on in the order of the rainbow.

While the steps of the scientific method are important for students to learn for their future classes and possible future science careers, I think it is more important for students to learn about the steps so they can use them in their everyday lives as a problem solving technique. When the steps are presented in this way, alongside of the typical science context, I find this approach helps students remember the order of the steps, understand why each step is important, be more motivated to learn the material, and be more likely to use the steps in real life outside of school. If you're interested in using these any of these card sorting activities in your classroom, take a look at the Steps of the Scientific Method Card Sorting Activities in my TpT store. 

 Steps of the Scientific Method Card Sorting Activities

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