Reduce Teacher Workload – Increase Student Learning

Colony teachers must be careful not to assign students too many items that require formal assessment. Whether we have 30 formal assessments or six report-card seasons, we still have to use our data to calculate report card marks. When working with Grades 4–8 students, I use percentage marks to arrive at their report card grade (i.e., the one-page summary I send home to provide parents a picture of how well students are doing).

Years ago, I had a computer in the school, and I used its spreadsheet program to calculate averages. When the computer was no longer at the school, I was surprised to find that calculating averages went just as quickly using a pen and calculator.

A couple of years ago, I invested a complete Saturday afternoon into calculating everyone’s averages before I could start doing report cards.

After investing that much time, I thought there had to be a better way to calculate averages.

So, when the time came for the next report cards, we had the first of our many “Calculator Days.”

The goal of calculator day is for students to use their own marks to figure out what their percentage is on each of the seven or eight categories we cover.

We begin by making photocopies of all the mark sheets that will apply to the report card in question. I then have some of the older students cut out the strips that apply to each student’s marks. All of Johnny’s marks are then stapled onto a sheet, ready to calculate. At this point, students know they have their own marks, but they don’t yet know what class topics those marks are for.

It takes students between five and 10 minutes to add up their marks and come up with an average. In less than an hour, all the averages have been accurately calculated and handed in. This, in and of itself, is a great time-saving step. The teacher no longer has to invest hours of time.

When we first started doing this, it was to save the teacher time. Now, I would argue that the student learning that comes from calculator day is even more significant than the time saved by teachers.

Here’s what students asked and observe when we first began this process:

  1. “So that’s how you get the mark for my report card.” They already knew that the teacher came up with an average based on their work—but, now that they were involved in the actual calculation, they understood the process: simply add up the marks and divide by the number of topics or tasks that marks were awarded for.
  2. For the first time, students could see how a poor score on one or two assignments could drag down their averages. When time permits, I’ll show a student that his average would have been “x” but with those two poor assignments, the overall report card average was dragged down to “y”.
  3. On the other hand, students all see how high marks on a test or big assignment bring their marks up.
  4. We began having Calculator Day a few years ago. It’s interesting to see the older students now teaching the younger ones how Calculator Day works. They explain how the teacher gets the average from the marks and how that students can now calculate their own averages. A few years ago, those older students didn’t even fully understand the process, and now they’re teaching it.
  5. In the past, the way I calculated report card marks was never a secret. However, once the students took over with pens and calculators, they experienced firsthand how marks were arrived at. Before they knew, now they understand.

I’m aware that students can cheat, so I watch for marks that seem a bit high. This, though, hasn’t been much of a problem—I’ve found that it’s actually about three times more likely that students have short-changed themselves.

Calculating report card marks now takes half an hour of class time instead of half a day of my time. At first, I felt guilty that somehow this shortcut was making students do my duty. However, the students’ comments and their better understanding of what an average is make Calculator Day an engaging learning experience for students and time-saving day for me.


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