Correcting papers is a form of data analysis. Data can be misused, but can also be incredibly helpful to a classroom teacher who is seeking to maximize her impact on student learning.
How does an individual teacher collect data?
Well, obviously, from quizzes, tests, and assessments. But there is a lot that can be learned – and quickly implemented – by simply correcting papers.
Insights gained from correcting student work will impact your future lesson plans as you modify them to ensure mastery of standards.
Data can do more than guide your next few lesson plans, however; it can also help you to deliver better and more engaging lessons year after year and improve your overall abilities as a professional educator.
Let’s get into those details.
We've already undertaken a little bit of data collection by asking students to self-assess their level of mastery at the end of our lesson, so we have some idea of how well they “got it.”
The proof – one way or the other – will come from the independent work they did. But to get this valuable data, you have to actually look at it.
“Well, no kidding!” you may be thinking. But there are a very large number of teachers who do not review every piece of work that students complete. I have an issue with this, as you might imagine!
I strongly believe in correcting every single item on every single paper that a student completes. I believe that if you mark a paper as “complete” without looking at it, then you are not honoring the work that you ask students to do. You are also giving up a huge opportunity to assess mastery.
How would you feel if your boss (in any job) asked you to spend your valuable time on an assignment, then put a check mark on it and handed it back without reading it or commenting on it?
Worse, what if he did this repeatedly, then one day nailed you for making a mistake – a mistake you had been making for weeks and that he could have corrected early on? This is the very definition of demotivation. So, I check every item on every paper.
The Paper-correcting process
I start by sorting all of the papers from a single assignment so that they are together. Then I put the answers very briefly on a sticky note on the top so that I can correct a few at a moment’s notice.
Usually, I’ll get the homework corrected after attendance is taken and the children are working on the entry task. During lunch, I will often be correcting papers from the morning assignments (I’ve never been one to hang out in the teachers’ lounge during lunch – too much to do!).
During preps or breaks, I’ll often be able to get the rest done. Diligently using these little slices of time keeps me from taking most papers home to correct…
… except for writing and some reading assignments. It takes too long to correct and provide feedback on them, so home they go – but at least they are not accompanied by papers from math, spelling, and other subjects.
Most corrected papers will go into student mailboxes for them to grab before they go home. However, when it's clear that some students need extra attention on a topic, those papers are bundled up so that I can pull kids aside for a review.
This individual attention should happen within 24 hours, if at all possible, so the concept is still fresh in their minds. Once they rework the incorrect items, they can turn them in again for a final review.
Having students correct their own papers can be a huge time-saver, or a full-blow lesson in itself. It all depends on the circumstances.
For fairly simplistic assignments (meaning the answers are not super-long), it's very efficient to have children score their own papers before handing them in. This applies to such items as a sheet of entry-task problems (also know as bell work).
It's most effective to ask for volunteers to put their own papers under the document camera and share their thinking. If you have built a respectful and caring classroom community, most won't have any fear of doing this.
Of course, you must keep an eye on this process to ensure that they actually got the correct answer! But don't be surprised if you find out a few different ways of arriving at the same destination, especially in math.
The self-assessment scale
After the last problem is reviewed, have each student rate themselves by writing a number on their paper:
- 4 = Nailed it with no errors, ready to do harder work.
- 3 = I got this but I really could use more practice.
- 2 = I’m sort of getting it, but I need a little help and practice.
- 1 = Teacher, rescue me! I need some one-on-one.
The kids then turn in their scored papers and you can glance over them as usual.
The slower self-correction process is a thoughtful, step-by-step review of an applicable rubric and often involves partner work as well. It's most effective with writing instruction, and I cover it in greater depth here.
Video tips: student self-scoring process
Providing student feedback
Correcting papers does much more than provide data for teachers – it provides performance feedback for students. When you think about it, it's a constant feedback loop: students are working on concepts all day long and getting a steady stream of feedback from their teachers.
This is for more than the students, of course; feedback is very important for parents, as well. One of my son’s elementary teachers had a policy of holding all corrected papers until the parent/teacher conference. It was not pleasant to discover that he had been struggling in a particular subject for a while.
Note: Don’t do this.
It’s a great idea to keep some papers to show evidence of student growth and mastery at conferences, but not all of them. If necessary, make a copy of ones that parents really should see right away but that should also go in a student’s conference folder.
Knowing the importance of a corrected paper, you can see that your feedback comments are very important. Here's my general rule:
Always provide feedback in the form of questions.
We want students to rework the items to arrive at the correct answer on their own so that they internalize it. You're just giving little hints to send them down the correct path.
Applying student data
Now that we've collected data and even taken some immediate steps to use it (circling back with certain students and sending papers home), we must consider how this data will impact our future lessons.
In the ideal scenario, you'll find that there are only a few kids who had difficulties, whom you can work with individually to bring them to mastery. Is quite common, however, to find a trend that many of your students are not “getting it.”
In that situation, you will need to decide what to do. Never just move on; you can't leave a building block that will crumble when you place other levels of knowledge upon it. Here are your options:
- A quick review of a particular part of the standard that seems to be the sticking point
- Re-teaching the entire lesson, taking a different approach
- Pulling small groups so you can give kids almost one-on-one attention to bring them up to speed
- Adding some problems to their entry task (bell work) in order to provide reinforcement
Some of these approaches may impact the content of your future lesson plans, while others may simply need to be squeezed into your routine.
It’s not always a case of, “Why did they struggle?”; you may find upon reflection (and upon considering their individual work scores) that your kids got it right away.
If they are flying through a concept, don’t belabor it… move on to the next standard in the unit – but ensure that you have appropriate reviews in the future to be certain that their mastery “stuck.”
Likewise, you may find that backing up and re-teaching a prior standard is necessary – even if it’s a standard from an earlier grade level. There is no point in trudging forward if the kids aren’t learning.
Now, let's get our substitute teacher lesson plans all set up.