My Favorite Teacher Hack – Stop Collecting Papers!
Updated: Aug 26, 2019
My dislike of clutter drove me to stop collecting papers. I had no idea that I would find a powerful strategy that would transform the dynamics of my classroom and enhance student achievement. It’s really very simple, students bring me their work as they finish instead of me collecting their papers. Usually the rest of the class is either finishing the assignment or has begun another individual or group project, allowing me to speak with each student individually. No more desk piles that would end up in my trunk on Friday afternoons – and often stay there until Monday morning. Better yet, feedback has gone from red pen markings to real dialogue. Having feedback conversations has transformed my relationships with my students, encourages students to take pride in their work, advocate for themselves, and creates the space for frequent one on one conversations.
Ideally there should be a shift in responsibility from the teacher to the student. My students keep portfolios of their work. If something is missing, they should be able to produce it from their binder or an online platform. If a grade is missing, I ask them to show it to me and if it is my mistake I adjust the grade book immediately and apologize. Portfolios, whether physical or digital, are a source of pride as students can reflect on their growth. I never collect written assignments and I do not write or comment all over their work either. I encourage students to take notes of our conversations as I give feedback instead. It is very different to meet with your teacher and discuss your writing than to slip a paper into a pile or press send. I was surprised to see that most kids suddenly had better handwriting and I saw a sharp decline in incomplete assignments. Generally when they have not completed an assignment, we discuss their time constraints and come up with a reasonable time frame for them to complete and for us to speak again.
Creating the space in my classroom for frequent individual conversations has strengthened my connection with my students. Not only do we have more opportunities for small talk but we also establish a strong partnership. Taking the time to review each students’ work AND to speak with them sends a strong message about the importance of the work that they produce and of the students themselves. I highly encourage students to advocate for themselves and these conversations are a great place for kids to practice this skill. Many times I have changed a grade based on our conversations because a student successfully argued that they should earn more points because I overlooked something or because they were able to provide a strong rationale for their approach. This practice also has the advantage of providing clarity for everyone involved; I don’t have students that are surprised, upset, or confused about their grade.
Have you tried this approach? Do you have an addition to this method? Please comment below and let’s share ideas. We are BETTER together.
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