Arguably, marking is the most time consuming aspect of our job as teachers. No matter what year group, no matter what subject, it does take a great deal of our time and our effort. However, it is also arguably one of the most important aspects of our jobs if done right.
But is it always effective?
Is it always necessary?
How then should we mark?
For me this is a very personal post as I recall that after an inspection at my previous school I realised I needed to think long and hard about my own marking when I received some feedback that some of it was ‘unnecessary’ and ‘not useful for students’ progress’. It was hard to take – it always is. But, it was also very good for me.
In my previous school I was the joint KS2 Phase Leader, and so decided to act positively on the feedback and rethink my own marking, and how as a school we could make it more effective. Most importantly though I decided I needed to do so whilst not impacting on staff workload, in fact (if possible) reduce it.
My inspiration for this post also came after seeing several tweets from other teachers on a Sunday that were about marking. Tweets like ‘How do I do it?/’Am I marking right?/TOO MUCH MARKING!!!’.
My first thought…
why are you marking on a Sunday (though I can’t deny I was once the same)?
I’ve stated in previous posts that I truly believe work is work; home is home. We have to try and keep the two as separate as possible, and so school books should remain exactly there – in school.
However, if we have a marking scheme or policy that does not make this feasible, then what can we do?
I am going to offer a few little ideas in this post:
The first thing I did as phase leader in my old school (after speaking to SLT) was inform teachers that students could self-mark. Sometimes, they just can. If you teach them how, and use it at appropriate times, student marking is a massive time saver for you as a teacher, and also it gives your students a real sense of ownership of their work, and allows them to see first hand exactly how they have progressed in the lesson.
You still need to check it as a teacher after, but it is so much quicker having a quick scan of work, then adding a simple ‘SM’ (student marked for example) on the page to show you’ve done so.
You can’t use this all the time, but sometimes it is really effective.
The difference between ‘light’ and ‘deep’ marking
My next step was to have a clear differentiation between ‘light’ marking of work and ‘deep’ marking so teachers knew they weren’t always going to be overloaded with marking from every lesson.
‘Light’ marking constituted an acknowledgement that students had met the lesson objective. Sometimes a simple tick of the LO or WALT is enough. If students haven’t quite achieved it a WT (working towards) tells you, and those looking at the book, that more work is needed. Furthermore, a simple WS (with support) shows if students achieved, but with support from yourself or another adult.
‘Deep’ marking was something that I installed particularly for writing, and this was the idea that you really look at a piece of work in detail, focusing your marking directly to the lesson objective. For example if the objective was to use fronted adverbials, your focus is the a student’s effectiveness at using them. This does not mean you pick out every spelling, punctuation or grammar mistake in that piece of work. What’s the point? You lose focus from what the lesson focus was, and so to does the student.
What I then got teachers to also do though with ‘deep’ marking was to identify another area/areas of weakness (if it existed) and add this as a target for the student. Sometimes this might be the lesson objective itself, or something else entirely. What it did though was not overload the student (and the teacher) in picking out all the errors in a piece of work.
Moreover, think about how devastating it must be for a student to look at a piece of work and see it with lots of corrections in green (or whatever colour is used for marking).
Less is more. That was my approach with this style of marking, and the teachers at my school found it a positive approach that didn’t overload their students, or most importantly them as teachers. Also, Students reacted positively, understood it and knew exactly what to work on from their marking
NOTE- Before this in my previous school we also had a mark scheme for writing where we highlighted spelling, capitals, grammar etc. with a key for each thing. Not only did we find this heavy for teachers, but also that it had very little real impact for students as it was too much for them to take in.
The power of verbal feedback
Two little letters – verbal feedback. If you find a common error, or misunderstanding in your students’ work, why not feedback on this to the whole class, rather than write a note for every student in every book. This saves you time, and is much more effective at engaging all students. Even if there are some students who perhaps don’t need feedback on this area, why not use them to help the others learn from it, or to help you in addressing it.
Individually verbal feedback is really important as well. Sometimes I would keep 3 or 4 books of students who I saw had a small misunderstanding. For 5-10 minutes after lunch I’d call them to me whilst the others read or worked. Give them a quick feedback on it, then add VF (verbal feedback) on the page. Instant and effective.
Sometimes, especially with loner writing pieces, peer marking can be very effective. If you give the students the success criteria for their writing after they’ve completed it (before would be too scaffolded) then they could peer assess each other’s work using them. It is always easier to spot errors and edits needed in other people’s work. Peers really enjoy this, and it allows them to reflect on their own writing in comparison to those they are peer marking.
Of course as the teacher you still check this, however you will find students (if taught well) are very good at pulling out the features in the writing that you were looking for (and the errors you weren’t), so then you’ve got a much easier mark for yourself on that piece.
One thing I think we can all agree on though is that marking has to have a purpose, both for our students to get something from it, and for us as teachers. We can’t ever be marking and ask ourselves why we are doing it. Otherwise, we know our time is being wasted.
I’m really interested to see what other people think about marking, my ideas, and perhaps if they think they have better ones – I’m always open to other ideas.
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