September 30, 2010

On the clock

It’s that time of year again. I spent all of yesterday locked in my home office with a stack of essays that needed to be graded.

Well, maybe I didn’t spend the whole day grading. I did take breaks to eat, to play the piano, and to chat on the phone with a friend. My afternoon grading time was interrupted for a couple of hours by the little neighbor kids, who got off the bus to find that their mother wasn’t home, and so came over here. And my grading officially ended at about suppertime, when my husband, With-a-Why, and I picked up Chinese food and drove up to the older kids’ apartment for supper.

But still, I had a bunch of time to grade papers: I had set aside the time specifically for grading.

And so I timed myself. With-a-Why had left his chess clock out near the piano, and I decided to experiment and see how long it takes me to grade a single 1000-word essay. I turned the chess clock on, hit the button, and began grading a paper. When I was done, I hit the button the chess clock again. Then when I began grading the next paper, I punched the clock again. I figured I would grade a bunch of papers and come up with an average.

Here’s the funny thing about a chess clock, though. It’s designed for two players. So while I was recording the time I spent grading each paper, the clock also kept track of the time I spent NOT grading papers. Yep. All those breaks to check my email, surf the internet, get a snack, walk aimlessly about the house – all recorded.

Here is what I discovered. For every 15 minutes I spend grading a paper, I spend at least that much time taking a break. Yep. When I set aside 8 hours to grade papers, for instance, I’m on task for only half that time. And to be honest, without that clock ticking on my desk, I suspect that I would have taken even more breaks.

It’s humbling to realize that I am easily distracted as any of my students.


YourFireAnt said...

Well you've got to grade papers. Otherwise what's the fun of taking breaks.??


patti said...

I usually force myself to finish a whole class until I take a break. Of course, my 5th graders only write 5 paragraph essays.

Lomagirl said...

Good point YourFireAnt!
I figure- the kids get to choose the topics more or less, right? So they shouldn't be as bored as we get with grading. Sometimes I have to watch t.v. while I'm grading.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

Jmeloni on Twitter was doing a cool series of timed work periods a couple of days ago, with half an hour of work (ready-set-go!) and fifteen minutes of downtime. I found it a great way to get a bunch of work done - I was more focused during the work time and more relaxed during the down time.

jo(e) said...

Lomagirl: I don't get bored with the initial reading of each paper; my students tend to pick really interesting topics, and I learn a lot. The part I hate is trying to figure out how to explain why I gave the grade I did -- and trying to explain how the paper can be improved. I find that part really tedious.

Pligrim/Heretic: My problem is I'd prefer a ratio of 15 minutes of work to 45 minutes of downtime. Plus additional time for snacking ....