My Achilles' Heel

Thursday, September 26, 2013
your curly contributor, Suzanne

An Achilles’ heel is a deadly weakness in spite of overall strength, that can actually or potentially lead to downfall.     -from Wikipedia, so you know it's true

I'm a pretty good teacher.  I work hard to be.  But despite my resolutions, plans and attempts, there is still an area of my job where I'm no good.  My downfall lies in passing back graded work.  Each new school year brings about a new system that will be abandoned by Fair Day.  (That's right- we love us some Texas State Fair so much that it's a student holiday around these parts.  It's okay to be jealous!)  

Now in case your playing a sad song for me on the world's tiniest violin (A.K.A. you don't feel sorry for me in this struggle), here's why it really is a big deal:  As you'll recall, Robert Marzano includes providing feedback as one of his nine high-yield strategies.  In fact, he argues that it can produce a 23% gain.  In the battle my students and I are in this year, I want every possible point gained.  

Last semester, I remember laughing as a wrote a well-intentioned note on the top of a student's paper, praising their hard work and offering a suggestion for future success.  My chuckle was induced by the knowledge that this paper would never reach the hands of my eager learner.  It would eventually emerge from my "teacher bag" and meet it's demise in graded paper purgatory- a precarious stack on the top of my filing cabinet.  I'm blushing as I write this.  Confession is good for the soul.  

Well no more!  This year I've got a plan, and I'm sticking to it!  In no way is this a stroke of innovation or genius, but it's working for me.  As I've shared before, my students are in groups.  I have given each group a laminated folder with their group number on it.  

These folders are passed out in the first 5 minutes of class.  If students have homework to turn in or complete an assignment I intend to take up, I ask that they turn it into the folder.  
Well, would you look at that...a Shared Reading!

At the end of class, I take up the six folders, one from each group.  These papers stay in their humble abode to be graded.  The next class period, I hand the folders back out to their respective  groups, they collect the graded work and are ready to turn in their next masterpiece.  

Reasons I love this:
1. I touch each paper once- a sharp decline from the 476 I was averaging last year. Take paper from student-put in pile on desk-sort through because stack has now formed on top of pile on desk-into teacher bag- out of teacher bag only to be neglected during conference period-back in bag- back to pile on desk-finally frustrated with pile on desk, stack of doom on filing cabinet.  See, 476! 
2.  There is pressure on me to return papers the next class period.  In the event that this can't happen, I paper clip the work so that I still have only six stacks and can easily plop them into their respective folder.
3.  In five weeks of school, my students have received more work that my students did collectively last year.  Shameful but true.

For accountability: Fair Day is October 7th.


  1. Hi ladies!

    Pardon me, but I don't understand where this is any different than turning papers in to a stackable tray, as I call mine, "Power Tower". Could you please advise?

    Amy, L.A. in Ohio

    1. I love the name for yours! I too had a "Power Tower", but my graded papers would get stuck there. I am desperate for every spare minute of class time and never used those minutes to pass back work. Then I'd suffer teacher guilt. The folders keep me from "handling" the papers as much. They stay in one place, I grade, hand back one thing, and all the students have their graded work. It's what works for me.

  2. This is my problem! I am definitely going to try this next year!