How I’m Trying to Do More With Less Part 2: The New Pyramid of Writing Priorities

In my last post I explained that to start this new year, I will be writing about how I’m trying to maintain some semblance of balance–even as each week seemingly demands more–by looking for places where I can cut what I’m doing without negatively impacting (and sometimes improving) my instruction. If there is something you are doing, please share with me, as I’d love to pass it along to my readers!

This week, I want to rethink a topic that I explore a great deal in Flash Feedback: The Pyramid of Writing Priorities. The Pyramid is something I adapted from Dave Stuart Jr., who adapted it from The Core Six,  and over the years it has helped me to save hundreds of hours when providing feedback by acting as a guide for when and how to respond to student work. For those who don’t know it, here is what it looks like:

From Flash Feedback, adapted from Dave Stuart Jr. and The Core Six by Silver, Dewing, and Perini

The idea behind the pyramid is pretty simple: We do different types of writing in our classes, and so we should respond to each different type of writing in a different way. Practice Writing, or writing where students practice with new skills or ideas, should likely be mostly ungraded and probably unread; Targeted Writing, or writing that is focused on assessing or refining students’ understanding of a specific skill, should likely get a quick Targeted Response that focuses only on that skill; and Polished Writing, or larger writing that undergoes multiple rounds of revision, should get a greater, more comprehensive response. (This is a quick overview. For more on this pyramid, here is my original post discussing it).

While the idea of the pyramid is simple, using it isn’t always as straightforward because each rung holds a hidden potential pitfall that teachers often fall into, to the detriment of both students and the teacher.  Further, I’ve felt for some time that it needs another rung, something between practice and targeted writing, for reasons I’ll touch upon in a moment. With that in mind, today I want to unveil my new, updated pyramid of writing priorities, complete with annotations about the potential pitfalls that can lead us astray and how we can avoid them. Here it is:

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How I’m Trying to Do More With Less in 2022: Part I

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on

A RAND study from this last year confirmed what many teachers already know: that teacher workload spiked in the spring of 2020 and for many hasn’t stopped spiking since. Specifically, the study found that teachers have settled into working 6 hours more per week on average since the spring of 2020 and nearly 25% of teachers now work 56 hours or more a week, up from only 5% pre-pandemic who worked that much.

Accompanying this additional workload, the researchers also reported what others studies have consistently found, that we are facing a crisis of teacher morale and mental health, and with it a potential crisis of teachers leaving when the profession is already stretched too thin and facing critical shortages.

As fellow educators, I likely don’t have to tell you this, as many of you live the extra workload and burnout and worries about the future every day or know plenty of others who do. But I wanted to lead with it because, even when we know something is rotten in the state of Denmark, it is still useful at times to get confirmation. Further, like Marcellus in Hamlet after he offers that famous line about Denmark, once we acknowledge the larger systemic problems out loud, it can be easier to take action about what we can control.*

Specifically, while we can’t do much about staff shortages or contact tracing protocols or new time-intensive learning management systems, we can take action in regards to how we run our classes. That is why my first posts of this new year will all be focused on what I am doing to cut down my workload to maintain my sanity and some semblance of balance while also striving to maintain (or maybe even improving through working smarter instead of harder) the quality of my classes.

The first post is on a topic that I have written and thought about a fair amount recently, and yet, truth be told, I’m still not as good at it as I should be: Revisiting information multiple times to increase the likelihood it will get committed to longterm memory.

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