Paper Schmaper: 5 Ways to Smack Down Your Paper Load

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I have a crate on wheels. I’ll bet you might have one too. Maybe it’s a backpack or a largish bag. Or maybe you’ve gone paperless. If so, it’s your laptop that’s calling your name.

It shakes you out of bed early on a Saturday, as you will yourself back to sleep for just a few more sacred moments.

It wakes you up at four a.m. on a Wednesday morning, hours before your actual work day begins.

It pokes you between the shoulder blades in the middle of your kid’s birthday party, as you make a mental list of all the work that will need to be done before you drop into bed that night.

When I was in the classroom, it was not uncommon for me to take home upwards of two hundred drafts of student writing on any given evening. It seemed as if those papers would follow me through each room of my house, hanging around in the corners while I went about the business of my daily life, patiently persisting until I was ready to give them my attention.

And it was never enough.

When I was new to the field, no one taught me how to manage the load of work that confronted me in my off hours, and so? There never were off hours.

Looking for a sure-fire way to create new teacher burnout?

Let that reality go unchecked.

It’s a fact that the single most important factor influencing growth in student performance is feedback. It’s also a fact that many public school teachers interface with thirty students per class daily. I taught five sections of English Language Arts when I was a middle school teacher, and there were years when my rosters topped 125 students.

That’s a pretty heavy bag.

As any veteran teacher will tell you, the first five years in the classroom are all about survival of the fittest, and much of what we learn happens through trial and error. Here’s how I learned to manage my paper load.

5 Ways to Smack Down Your Paper Load

1. Focus on Feedback

Expect all learners to attend to the task at hand, but rather than waiting on due dates, build a drafting or work day into your schedule, and use this time to peek into each student’s work. Make sure that every kid you serve receives high quality, over the shoulder feedback. Confer with them longer, if you are able.

2. Stagger Your Initial Due Dates

If you must collect drafts on set dates and you teach multiple sections of a course, stagger them. On Wednesday, assign periods 1 and 2 a due date of Monday. On Thursday, assign periods 3 and 4 a due date of Tuesday, and so on.

3. Distribute the Practice and Credit Consistent Effort

In order for learners to grow, they must be engaged in consistent, distributed practice. They must also receive high quality feedback from teachers and peers regularly. In any given week, strive to provide all learners verbal feedback on their works in progress. Then, credit each learner’s effort to complete the task at hand in all sections, but let them know that each week, you will provide written feedback to students in only one or two sections.

4. Review a Rotating Sample

When I was in the classroom, writers drafted new pieces or worked on revisions weekly. All received verbal feedback, but each weekend, my students knew that I would be toting home just two class periods’ worth of writing. This allowed me to provide them immediate and very detailed written feedback, and I no longer felt defeated by work that went unattended to. Mondays were much better days for all. Students never knew which two class periods would be called upon to formally submit work, and I shuffled the sections each week.

5. Reap the Rewards of Revision

Shifting my practice in this way resulted in unexpected gains. Learners received verbal feedback mid-process, enabling them to improve their work as they went. They began receiving criteria specific written feedback far more consistently as well, and this pushed their progress even further. Finally, students stopped perseverating on deadlines, due dates, and grades. They worked for feedback, and they used that feedback to revise. Their confidence and their investment in their learning grew exponentially. Every time I invited my students to reflect, they consistently told me that this approach was far more rewarding than completing assignments, turning them in, and waiting on grades.

In the end, my efforts to manage my paper load taught me something far more important: helping learners progress had little to do with assigning tasks, collecting all of them on the same day, and drowning myself in drafts to be reviewed. Increasing opportunities for practice, providing verbal feedback to all learners mid-process, and offering faster written feedback on a smaller sample of completed drafts seemed to have a greater influence on growth.

I’m wondering: how do you manage paper load without depleting learning opportunities?

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at

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