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Reducing teacher workload: 4 strategies to digitise assessment

I’m sure you’re feeling it too. The complete shift to distance learning and working online with people has made for some long working days. It has come about rather quickly. With it, some tried and true teaching practices are out of reach for now. One-to-one conferences with a class of 30 students about a formative quiz in under an hour — via Zoom? Doubt it.

Feedback is still every teacher’s remit though. We recently held a webinar on reducing teacher workload and in particular, teachers mentioned that providing feedback digitally was a challenge. How can we effectively bring our marking and feedback strategies online? 

This will be easier for some than others. When I first made this transition, I had to find ways that made the most of time and didn’t have me staring at a screen all evening. I got there in time. Here are a few strategies I learned and some tools that might help you as well:


Standardise feedback

Let’s start with a quick win: self-marking assignments. Your assessment reduces down to the process of assigning a mark which saves time for feedback and intervention. Firefly has its own options which allows you to provide stock feedback once work has been marked, but you can also embed Google Forms using our embed tool if you’re not keeping the marks in Firefly’s markbook.

If you’re looking to enhance your feedback further, consider making use of diagnostic feedback. Tools like Diagnostic Questions will make effective intervention all the easier. You can link specific feedback to particular responses in order to address the related misconceptions. Standards-based rubrics are a step in the right direction.

A bit of work on a rubric can go a long way to standardising feedback. By marking against clear criteria you’ve set in advance, a little copy and paste or even a built-in rubric will save you a lot of time. Google your curriculum standards and the phrase “student friendly language”. You’ll be halfway there.

I’ve done quite a bit of work in the realm of standards-based marking, so I could go on here. For now, I’ll suggest the work of Robert Marzano and Rick Wormeli. Single point rubrics are also a great place to start if nothing else.


Assess what counts

I don’t mean this flippantly. Assessing what counts is pretty standard assessment advice. However, I think it takes on added gravity when trying to balance the responsibility to assess with the curve thrown by distance learning.

Standards-based marking is certainly foundational here as with the last point. You can assess the student’s learning journey toward attainment across multiple activities, assignments, etc. Once your assessment standards are sorted, it’s just a matter of aligning content and learning activities to those standards.  

On the learning activities side of this process, extended and even interdisciplinary projects have a lot to offer. Instead of shorter units or modules that are simply skills driven, you can design projects that allow students to address the same skills while exploring a larger issue or question. Further, you can differentiate based on individual progress.

Students can explore real-world, timely questions that can make the most of learning at home. Your job is then to guide and manage the extended project, providing learning resources and assessing as students are ready.

This saves you time in the long run because you aren’t switching between units regularly. I like sites like the Buck Institute and Edutopia if you’re new to project based learning. 


Get everyone involved

You likely have in-class protocols and activities that allow students to give each other feedback. In a structured way, this allows you to make sure students get feedback without it all having to come from you. 

The details may be different, but I think the same value can be applied to our season of distance learning. Some basic Google Doc sharing might get you started as long as you also have access to it as the teacher. Flipgrid might deepen the social connection that feedback can offer. In Firefly, you might consider how using moderated editing permissions, enabled comments or even a forum page might facilitate feedback.  

You can also consider how students might take a more active role in the assessment of their own work. As an English teacher, I spent a lot of time reviewing student essays. I eventually reduced some of my workload by implementing the “class letter” approach to the first drafts of an essay. See Arthur Chiaravalli’s blogging about this technique for more details.

In brief, I wrote a letter to the class that highlighted common strengths and mistakes.  I would provide a brief explanation of how to fix the issue or link to related learning resources. Then, students’ next assignment was to review and annotate their own work to see if the strengths and weaknesses applied to their piece.

Alex Handy at Caludon Castle gave a great talk for Firefly on a similar process using the audio feedback feature in Firefly’s teacher app. Students had to annotate their work based on his audio feedback. When trying to manage your screen time, this can be a big time saver.

Collaborative assessment could be a post in itself. The opportunity to co-assess tasks with other teachers (think interdisciplinary project based learning) is an opportunity to manage your workload as well as a student’s. Parents and even siblings might be able to get involved using some of the techniques mentioned above or submitting a quick form on Firefly as long as they’ve been given the right information.


Pulling it all together…

There are plenty of options listed above. Pick one tool or strategy you think you could implement without too much headache. Give it a go for a few weeks. The key is to give it a proper attempt and letting students get used to it. Less is more in the coming weeks.

If you’re interested to find out more, I recently ran a webinar on reducing teacher workloads and how Firefly can support digital marking. Have a watch when you get a spare moment.

As you’re getting adjusted, let us know how you’re getting on by tagging us on social media using #KeepLearningGoing. I’d love to see how you get on.

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