Five Time-Saving Tips for Busy Teachers

1. Three-column rubrics. Teachers often bear the brunt of providing feedback to students, underestimating how accurately they can score their own work. The three-column rubric saves time and places the responsibility for assessment where it belongs: on the student. The left-hand column lists the explicit expectations of the teacher for the assignment. For a first grader, this might be in the form of “I can” or “I did” statements; for a high school lab report, the expectations will be more complex, but equally explicit. The middle column is the student’s self-assessment. Teachers don’t accept a piece of student work without one. The right-hand column is only where the teacher disagrees with the student self-assessment. This technique not only saves teachers lots of time (it cut my grading time by more than 60 percent) but also helps students develop a sense of personal responsibility and demystifies the entire process of assessment.

2. Pac Man. Technology in the classroom can be a boon or a bane, depending on how well students focus technology on the appropriate work of learning. The “Pac Man” announcement by the teacher instructs students to immediately -- in the time it takes for a Pac Man gobble -- to shut their computers and focus on the teacher or a peer. This does not eliminate the use of technology, but limits its use for instructional needs.  The evidence is clear: When one student is off-task on their screen, it not only diverts that student from learning, but diverts at least six other students who see the game, cartoon, shopping list, or other distracting content. Classrooms need more Pac Man and fewer distractions.  

3. Daily pre-assessments. It’s not unusual to hear a teacher begin a lesson by announcing what was covered the previous day. Although it follows the script of many lesson plans, it provides no assurance of what the students actually learned in the previous day. Before I launch into a 55-minute lesson on scale and ratio, I might want to devote five minutes to ensuring that students are ready for the multiplication and division we are about to do. When teachers fail to pre-assess -- not a long, drawn-out test, but a quick five-minute confirmation of what students know -- they can save hours of misdirected instruction.

4. Gold Standard Practice. Many teachers lose scores of hours every year grading homework. If the homework is completed, it may or may not represent real learning by the student and, for that matter, may or may not have been done by that student. If the homework is not completed, teachers lose even more hours hounding the student to turn in missing work. Here’s a better idea: Gold Standard Practice. The name comes from the book “Peak” by Poole and Ericsson. Teachers assign homework because students need practice. Gold Standard Practice is what great music teachers and athletic coaches do.  Students practice with a coach and then receive immediate feedback on their performance. Practice is differentiated to meet the needs of each student. Practice is slightly outside of the comfort zone of the student so that it is neither too easy (crushingly boring) nor too hard (discouraging and a waste of time). When teachers switch to Gold Standard Practice and away from traditional homework, the students learn more and the teachers save time.

5. Collaborative scoring of student work. Some teachers don’t like this because it seems to consume time rather than save it. That’s probably true the first time that people try it. The same rubric can be applied in different ways, and we sometimes need to talk it through or adjust the rubric to add greater clarity and specificity to it. But once that is done, the time devoted to scoring student work declines dramatically. I’ve measured the speed with which teachers score student work and, over the course of just four pieces of work, the time required is reduced by more than 80 percent. This is especially true on more complex student work products, such as essays, lab reports, and projects. Administrators: If you believe in the value of collaborative scoring, then be sure to give teachers time, not only in planning periods, but in regularly scheduled staff meetings, for collaborative scoring.

Do you have some other time-saving ideas? Please send them to me at  

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