3 Tips for Reducing Your Teacher Workload

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management). 

Illustrated by  Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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Before I give my general tips on how to reduce your workload as a teacher, please remember that if you are facing extreme pressure from work (e.g. unrealistic deadlines), then you MUST tell your line-manager. If nothing gets done about it, and you’re facing long-term unsustainable pressure, then simply leave: life is too precious to be bullied around by people who want to crack the whip but don’t realize that you are a human and you need down-time.

For the rest of us, here are some tips to help us reduce our general workload:

1. Do more peer and self-assessment

You’ve probably heard this one a thousand times, but it’s at the top of the list because it’s one of the best ways to keep your marking down to a minimum. Besides, the benefits of peer and self-assessment go way beyond the reduction of workload:

  • Peer-assessment encourages “student involvement and ownership of learning”, and self-assessment “encourages students to critically reflect on their learning progress” (The Center for Education Innovation of Hong Kong [Online])
  • Both self and peer- assessment Focus “on the development of students’ judgment skills.” (the University of Sydney [Online])

But we don’t need the experts to tell us that peer and self-assessment are both really cool. Experience shows teachers that both techniques are simply a very efficient way to get our marking done, whilst reinforcing the concepts tested in the assignment being marked.

Q & A

I know that some people will say “but what if the students cheat?” – that’s why we reserve teacher-driven marking for big final-assessments and tests, and coursework.

Besides, in my experience, when self and peer-assessment are done properly, it’s actually very hard for the kids to cheat.

Here are my top 3 tips for peer and self-assessment:

  1. Make sure you have an official mark-scheme/set of answers ready for those kids to use. I would advise against projecting the answers on the whiteboard and going through each question one-at-a-time: that just takes ages, and kids always have disputes and questions. Print the mark scheme or distribute it electronically.
  2. Sit at your desk, or at an accessible point in the classroom, and let the students come and see you if they have a doubt about how many marks to award to a question, or what the correct answer is. Don’t walk around the classroom and help the kids – it’ll drive you crazy and is very inefficient.
  3. Always insist that the students write the final mark/percentage at the top/front of the assignment – this will make your data-entry easy. Also, make sure you collect the work in after the peer/self-assessment and just have a quick glance though it – perhaps focusing on those questions where common misconceptions are likely to crop-up. This has the added benefit of deterring student-cheating: the kids know you have collected in the work after they have marked it.

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2. Use ‘Live Marking’

Live marking is a brilliant and simple technique that I picked up far too late in my teaching career. It would have saved me many a late-night had I have conceived of it earlier.

You see, I now know that feedback only works if it is relevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.

As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:

  1. Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around. 
  2. For larger pieces of work, set the kids on a task and call the students to your desk one at a time. Sit with the student and discuss the work, adding written comments in front of the student along the way. Use praise effectively and remember – praise only works if it is sincere, specific and collective (tell your colleagues and get them to praise the student too). 
  3. Use peer-assessment and self-assessment, but don’t do this for everything. Students still need to receive acknowledgement from their teacher.

Here’s a video I made about live-marking:

You may also like this blog post of mine, which goes into more detail: The ‘Four Pillars’ of Time-Saving Marking

3. Use recurring homework

sit n talk

This a simple idea that can (must?) be used right the way up to Year 13/Grade 12.

Set homework on the same day each week. Collect homework on the same day each week. Plan your marking around this schedule.

That’s the essence of it. This is a practice I currently use with my Learning Journals system for older students (well worth a read!)

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

2 thoughts on “3 Tips for Reducing Your Teacher Workload

  1. I’m all about tips #1 & #2—fantastic stuff. #3 makes sense in terms of just collecting weekly instead of daily, if I’m understanding your purpose here. Is that right? Also with regards to #3: we’re starting to move away from assigning homework based on current research. Do you offer students choices in terms of how much/what they do for homework?

    1. Hi. Some very good points you’ve raised here. You’re spot on about #3 – it works best on a weekly basis. In terms of homework I personally feel that the research is not being communicated correctly with teachers – the general conclusion is really that homework is pointless only if the feedback for it is poor/non-existent. I believe we need to design homework tasks that we, as teachers, can easily mark and provide high-quality feedback for (and this, for me, almost always involves 1-1 conversations with the kids as I use ‘live-marking’ a lot). When designing homework with feedback in mind, I think teachers tend to set manageable tasks that don’t take up too much of the students’ time. I often use homework to feed into class work too – e.g. creating Google slides presentations so that groups can present them in class.

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