Originally posted Sept. 10, 2008
By Lisa Dieker, Ph.D.
Professor, University of Central Florida, Orlando
As a new teacher I bet you are already overwhelmed with needing to be accountable for grades, assessments, homework, and parent communication. Here are some simple things that you might consider to do/use to make your job a little easier.
1. Remember daily assessments can really help you understand what students know or don't know.
a. Consider starting and ending with a KWL strategy (What I Know, What I Want to Know, What I Learned). This site provides more info on the KWL strategy and a form you might want to use in your classroom.
b. Try giving students an entrance and exit slip: as they enter, on a scrap piece of paper write what knowledge they are entering with related to today's topic. As they exit, they are to provide a three-sentence summary of what they know (can be for a grade or does not have to be graded but should be reviewed).
2. Try giving students a rubric for any assignment that might take more than a day to complete so they clearly know how they will be graded. If you align the rubric with your state standards, then you have a great assessment tool and a way for students to think about those standards. Consider using pre-made rubrics from Rubistar.
3. Make sure you, your students, and their families are clear about how you will grade versus assess. Do students understand that homework is only 20% of their grade, for example, but a test is 30%? Do they understand how citizenship plays into overall assessments in activities such as cooperative groups? Students tend to do better in classes where grading expectations are clear and they understand what they are to do and why it is important.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Set up a system to let parents know when students are doing well (everyone loves a happy phone call or e-mail) as well as when students are falling behind. This ongoing communication can be hard to manage in your first year or few weeks of teaching, but get some solid management techniques that work for you. Scholastic provides some additional ideas for grading student work.
5. Only assign homework that is of value. Worksheets can be useful occasionally, but if you find you are overwhelmed, ask if you are assigning too much busy work. Students are filled with opportunities to learn that are not paper and pencil, so try some nontraditional assignments. Bring in a newspaper clip, watch a news channel, visit the internet, or call a family member with a question. Make it easy to grade but fun for the students. They will like it better and so will you.
6. Monitor students who are failing and get help as soon as possible. Call the child's parent or guardian or talk to a school counselor, past teacher, or anyone else on your staff who can help. Student failure can often turn into behavior challenges — no one wants to come to school daily if they know there is no payoff. Try to stay on top of student success and failure as much as possible. Don't forget behavior is a form of communication, so listen to students' behavior.
7. Have a system for turning in work, sending home notes, and communicating student progress in general. One idea is to get a bunch of envelopes and have students address them the first week of school. Then when you need to send something home, just drop it in an envelope. Of course be sensitive to the fact that some students move often, but use these envelopes to send home positive notes as well as concerns.
8. Last but not least, remember to assess yourself. Remember that teaching is hard work, so be willing to give yourself a break. I like to try and remember Dewey's philosophy: "Look not for fault in the child but in the teaching of the child." This quote puts pressure on me to be a strong teacher and to try and stay positive about the power I have to engage students. So just like you assess student learning daily, remember to give yourself praise and to assess areas you want to improve daily.