October and March are hard months for educators–too far from the start of the year to be excited by the newness and too far from winter or summer break to find the motivation to finish strong.
For many of us, this October came fast. Some of us began school earlier than usual, trying to get ahead of a fall outbreak of COVID, and many of us are also giving up fall holidays, including fall break, to allow for an earlier end to the semester. We’ve been going, going, going since early August, and there is no break in sight. Students may head home at Thanksgiving, but that’s just an opportunity to switch to fully online classes and finals. There is no rest ahead.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, here are six suggestions for lightening your load. They might not apply to every class, of course, but if there is something useful, use it.
- Review your learning outcomes, then compare them to your assignments. If an assignment doesn’t support the learning outcome, make it optional. (If “learning outcomes” makes you barf a little, I understand. Today, they are your friend because they tell you what you can cut.) Since canceling an assignment altogether would deprive students with an opportunity to improve their grade, don’t ditch it altogether; instead, let students choose to do it for credit, or make it exempt from the score (easy to do in your gradebook if you use weighted grades). Alternatively, offer it as extra credit for up to its original contribution to the final grade, allowing students to turn it in up to the last day of the course so they have time to decide if they need to do it (and so you don’t have to grade it until finals week, when you won’t offer many comments on it).
- Notice where students are both practicing and performing work and stop evaluating both if students are practicing well. If, for example, they are practicing a skill in class that they will later be assessed on, allow outstanding practice to take the place of the later assessment. If a student is nailing every question on the quiz and the quiz covers the same material as the exam, why have the exam? Don’t test twice over the same content. Again, though, allow this to be an option, since some students need the practice to prepare for the formal assessment.
- Grade work as complete/incomplete or use a holistic rubric. 0/5 means they didn’t do it; 2/5 means it was attempted by the core purpose of the assignment not done; 5/5 means that core purpose was achieved ; 6/5 means that the purpose was accomplished in a particularly impressive way. Give students this scale and don’t make comments unless they earned a 2 or a 6.
- Reduce the minimum number of contributions, quizzes, posts, journal entries, or pages from here on out. Tell students you are doing it because they’re doing so well that you don’t all the practice you’d scheduled is necessary. (This works if you are grading using grade categories with weighted grades. If you are using a points-based system, you have to allow the opportunity for students to complete the work.)
- Make the major project an optional group project if it’s not already. Allow students who want to do the project solo to do it as designed; if they want to do it as a group, it has to be more ambitious.
- If you’re not using your LMS to grade objective assignments, learn how. Your LMS support team can show you how to upload test questions from a Word document into the LMS in a matter of minutes. (You should never have to load questions one at a time.) Grading of these is then automatic, and your LMS will give you a nice analysis of commonly missed questions so you can see what students aren’t understanding or what you need to re-teach. If you teach in person, you can still have students bring their personal computers to class to do this assignment or schedule the computer lab for students to use.
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