How to keep up with grading paperwork in 6 easy steps

Heeeeeey October! My favorite season is finally here, weather-wise. Today was the first rain of the fall/winter season. I opened my classroom for movie watching at lunch time and we watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was super fun, and they were super good about cleaning up after themselves, so I decided that we can do it again next rainy day and continue where we left off in the movie.

Today, my co-department chair and I took a newbie math teacher to task with GRADING. She was drowning in the paperwork, and her system just didn’t work. We use an online grade book, which is also our primary communication device with the families of students – and when you have gaps in your grade book…let’s just say it was a very NOT GOOD situation.


Her previous methods of collecting, storing, grading, and passing back papers:

  • Volunteer student collects homework and tosses it in an inbox. ONE SINGLE INBOX. For all 5 of her classes.
  • Without sorting, she grabs a handful from the inbox and enters scores into the grade book, switching between students, classes, and assignments as is from whatever handful she grabbed.
  • These papers are then placed in an out box. WITHOUT ANY SORTING BY CLASS.
  • Passing back papers was non-existent.

This system created an inbox of a random assortment of ungraded, un-scored papers. Tests mixed with homework, periods mixed with other periods, assignment types mixed with other assignment types. This has been going on since the first day of school. I knew about it, and I’ve tried to help her, but no amount of telling or showing was enough.

I finally intervened yesterday by going to her room, looking at the physical results of her system (piles on the floor, overflowing inbox, papers everywhere), and pressing her with questions. I took 5 papers from the top of her inbox and took a look at them. Each one of them was from a different period, was a different assignment, and from different students.


It had to stop. We worked on setting up a ‘To Be Returned’ filing crate, a ‘No Name’ bin, and then started to sort the inbox yesterday. Today, we finished sorting the inbox, placed all of the outbox papers in the ‘To Be Returned’ filing crate, sorted by period. I made her work on her inbox and enter scores as I sorted. It’s not entirely done yet, but it’s miles better than before.

Which made me think: As difficult as grading is, teacher preparation programs don’t really train you in how to do it. Only your master teacher does. And if you haven’t had a master teacher yet (this newbie teacher is an intern), then you really don’t know how to handle the masses of paperwork.

So. Here’s how to keep up with grading paperwork in 6 easy steps. These are all things I personally do.


Do not let it pile up. Don’t wait. Don’t procrastinate. Schedule time into your daily routine by carving out the time – enter a stack of homework scores into your grade book every morning, lunch time, and after school. Hunker down, close the doors, eliminate distractions, make some coffee or tea (and have a snack ready), stay up late, get up early. Just. Get. It. Done.

2. Have a place for everything. Put everything in its place.

Plastic 5-drawer rolling carts, filing crates, stackable paper trays. Label, label, label! Make the labels pretty, and eye-catching. Any student will know that you put to-be-returned papers here. Any sub that comes into your room will know to put any collected work into that drawer.

3. Group papers by type and period.

Put the stacks in order by period, by due date. Keep tests and homework separate. Binder clips, rubber bands, file folders. These things are your friends. Use them even if the drawer you use for 1st period holds nothing else. Because at some point or other, it will hold something else.

4. Train students how you want the work to look like.

I know that when a stack of papers looks similar to all the others, it’s way easier to keep them organized, even if I end up running out of binder clips all of a sudden and mixing up stacks in a drawer.

Is there a specific heading? Assignment numbers? Page and problem numbers? How do students number the problems? How do students layout their work so that you can read it easily, but also conserves paper? What do you expect all papers to have? Do you consistently mark off points if these things don’t occur? Do you reward and recognize the students who do what you expect them to?

5. Put student helpers to work.

One of the best methods I use to learn all my students names are to pass back the work myself. I remember where they sit. I match a face to the name, and the name to the work. I get a chance to speak to students, even if it’s just a short ‘Good job on this one’ or ‘Make sure you redo this and resubmit it.’

But after I learn all their names, I relinquish the paper-passing-back responsibility to a student. Usually the ones finished with their appetizer problems. Train them to do this. What should they do if they don’t know the name? What should they do if the student is absent? When can they stop passing back papers? Where do they put the left-over papers that need to wait until next time? They can do it.

I also have student TAs or CJSF volunteers every so often. These students have a homework rubric in front of them and score the papers for me (although now, I stamp them in class, so my TAs only score the papers that didn’t get a stamp before in-class homework check). My TAs retrieve the papers I want them to score from their proper place (see #2 above), record the score on a paper roster, and place them in the proper place again (#2!). They leave the roster for me, and then I go into my online grade book and just plug them in.

For the really trustworthy, solid TAs, I let them also grade tests. They are only allowed to mark the correct problems, however. Any thing that doesn’t match my key, they leave for me to take care of. When I’ve taken a look at it and scored it, the TAs get it back and tally up the points. They also do the roster thing again.

6. Let technology be your friend.

If you have an online or electronic grade book, there’s no real need to have a paper grade book as well (which is what this newbie teacher was doing…). Back up the info every so often of course.

My school’s online grade book – and most electronic grade books, I’m sure – have an ’email grade reports’ function that will send grade reports to students and families. It may also have a ‘send email’ function where you can type in a message to be massed-emailed out to all your students and families. The whole point of the internet is for communication, at its heart.

There are other tools as well. Here are some:

QuickGrade is a free online percentage calculator. You set the number of problems (or points) and it’ll chug out a chart with percentages. Super nice if you want to write the percent on each paper. But to be honest, I no longer do this. My students are in my math classes. They better be able to calculate their percentages on their own!

Grade Scope is a new tool I learned only last weekend. Scan your papers, score them digitally, keep a rubric digitally, and give the results digitally! I haven’t tried this yet myself, but I’m going to very soon.

Grades (the app) is something a student showed me and I think it’s awesome. It’s an app that links to most online grade book programs and shows students what will happen to their grade if they turn in that assignment, or get this score on a test. There’s a slider button they can control. Saves time when students quit asking those ‘What grade will I have if I ____?’ questions.

Go Formative is a web based formative assessment tool. It has many functions, but the one I use the most for math is scanning a worksheet, creating an assignment, having students show their work and answers with the drawing and text tools, and then scoring them right away. It’s a good record of what students know at that point in time without a bunch of half-sheet exit tickets floating around, needing organizing. Great for keeping track of participation assignments.

How do you keep the paperwork manageable?


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