“I have to plan the next unit.”

“What am I going to teach tomorrow? And how am I going to teach it?”

“But I have to grade these papers!”

Planning, instruction, and grading–if you’re like me, these three elements of teaching huddle up and, like specters, follow you around all year long. Each takes its turn whispering in your ear, especially grading.

It seems that right when you get one settled, one of the others crops up, jolting you with guilt, anxiety, or both. It seems never-ending.


About two years ago I began wondering what was stressing me out about teaching. I had already figured out the predictable pressure points in the year, but even when I was anticipating those times, I continued to experience the stress anew each time.

To my surprise, I discovered that the way I was stacking my responsibilities as an English teacher wasn’t doing my hairline any favors. Here’s a breakdown of my thought-process as I approached teaching in my classroom:

  • My daily classroom instruction needs to be focused around a goal and a purpose.
  • I will design a unit of study with that goal and a purpose.
  • How will I know if they have learned?
  • I will design a summative assessment that fits the goal and purpose of the unit.
  • English teachers don’t use multiple choice, they assign essays, right?
  • I will assign an essay as my summative assessment.
  • But they don’t really know how to write this essay.
  • I will teach them all the things about writing for this essay.
  • I have now collected all the essays.
  • I need to grade all the essays.
  • But I have to teach tomorrow.
  • I don’t know what I’m going to teach tomorrow.
  • But I have to grade all the essays.
  • My daily teaching needs a goal and a purpose.
  • I will design a unit of study.
  • But I have to grade all the essays.
  • I need to teach TOMORROW!
  • I can’t grade all the essays in one night, but I can plan a lesson!
  • Wow, lesson planning is so much fun, I’ll just do this instead of . . .
  • But I have to grade all the essays.
  • I know, I’ll just plan for a couple of days, and let the late papers come in, then I’ll get started grading all the essays.
  • I am now planning the next unit of study.
  • I am too busy planning; I can’t grade all the essays.
  • I will drive all the essays home, bring them in the house, then drive them back to school.
  • I will keep planning this new unit . . . which will end with an essay.
  • I will update my resume and LinkedIn Profile.
pile of covered books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Sound familiar? I hope not.

If this is your experience, then you are getting pushed around by the PIG–Planning, Instruction, and Grading. Depending on how a teacher approaches the PIG determines his or her level of stress.

Four approaches that will help you wrangle the PIG:

1. Plan short, engaging units between two complex units of study. This past school year, I planned two-week units the fit between larger, academically rigorous units at key points in the year. This gave me breathing room to assess complex student work, while the students worked through assignments where they could manage themselves without my direct involvement.

For example, I gave my seniors two weeks to plan, build, and deliver a speech about a life hack. They had a lot of fun, the presentations were entertaining, and we all walked away with a few tips on how to make life easier. It also gave me enough margin to assess the complex student writing they submitted in the previous unit before we jumped into the next complex unit of study.

2. Approach the writing assignment as a process instead of a product. This has been my approach the last couple of years, and it has been a game-changer. Instead of teaching a few concepts and giving students an extended deadline, I teach essay writing in small increments, moving students through the writing process piece by piece.

As students are crafting their essays, they are checking in with each other, and I am checking in with them. By the time they submit the essays, I am very familiar with their topics, their thinking, and their writing. This makes assessment easy to manage.

3. Make them score it. Yes, you heard me right. The students should score their own work! And you know what, they’re pretty good at it too. John Hattie, in Visible Learning for Teachers, discovered that students are more than capable of accurately reporting their own level of learning. In his mother of all meta-studies, self-report grading has the highest effect-size of influence out of all programs, policies, or practices known to impact a student’s learning.

Essentially, if a teacher (1) sets clear learning targets, (2) accurately demonstrates what the students need to do, and (3) gives precise instructions for evaluating the learning, students are capable of assessing their own work. The clearer we teachers are about what the students should be learning, the more accurately they can assess their own ability to do the work.Let that sink in. Students can score their own work. That means, that you don’t have to! That means, if you plan and instruct well, you won’t have to grade. You don’t have PIG anymore, you just have PI!

Let me give you an example of how this works with our students already. We have a lot of students who watch make up tutorials on YouTube. They are learning from someone who has posted a video, someone they will most likely never meet, who will never assess them with a test. The people who make the video plan and instruct, but they never grade. And the students understand when they have mastered the skill.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that a teacher fully hand over the responsibility of grading to each student and just wait for them to send you their report. Instead, make it a conversation between each student and the teacher, where the students demonstrate their learning and make the case that they have earned the mark.


There are many ways to make them score their own work. It can range from simple assignments to complex performance tasks. If you keep coming back to the blog, I will show you how I get my students to score their own work, reducing the amount of worry and time I spend grading.

And this is where I announce that this will be the topic of my next book (see more about my first book here). I have already given away the title: Make Them Score It. The book will cover the many different ways you can have students mark their own work, making them more active participants in the evaluation of their own learning. Over the course of the year, the students really can become self-governed learners. The more you get your students to take charge of their own learning, the more you get to focus on planning and instruction. The more you get to focus on planning and instruction, the more you will enjoy teaching!

What about you? How often do you get students to evaluate and score their own work? How do the students handle it? How do you wrangle the PIG? Leave a comment and share this post because you’re a hard working teacher with great insight!

One thought on “3 Ways to Wrangle the PIG!

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