After my recent rant on the sad state of technology in schools, Gerry Varty — a regular Radical reader and good friend working as an assistant superintendent for the Wolf Creek Public Schools in Canada — dropped me an email looking to cheer me up.
He pointed me to this hilarious clip from a new Canadian #educentered sitcom. In it, Mr. D figures out a new way to speed-grade essays written by his students and then ropes a buddy into helping him work through the stack over beers at the bar:
Here’s what worries me, y’all: I’ve BEEN Mr. D more than once during the course of my career. The truth is that grading essays can be a grind — and even when I use rubrics to give targeted feedback or when I focus on ONE criteria — student voice, proper mechanics, organization, content — to save time while grading a written task, I end up overwhelmed.
This is nothing more than a function of simple math: I serve 120 students every day. Giving good feedback on an individual essay takes about 5-7 minutes. That’s 12 hours of grading per task. After attending meetings, filling out paperwork and answering my email, I have about 30 minutes free each day to plan and to give students feedback.
The result: I skim my way through papers on a good day and I completely stop asking challenging questions that require anything more than multiple choice responses on a bad one.
To be honest, that confession leaves me just short of completely ashamed.
Out of all of the tasks that I’m charged with, NOTHING is more important than giving my students tasks that challenge their thinking and force them to demonstrate sophisticated understandings of the content and skills that we all care about.
More importantly, NOTHING is more important than giving my students timely, targeted feedback on their levels of mastery. Without detailed feedback highlighting strengths and weaknesses, students don’t grow as learners.
But NOTHING about the current structure of schools makes timely, targeted feedback on tasks that require complex responses from kids doable. Our class periods are too short, our student loads are too large, and our time away from students is increasingly filled by requirements that draw us away from important individual tasks like planning and grading.
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