An old colleague once said to me that when things get busy, the first thing to slip in teaching is marking. However, if we are to believe the studies of John Hattie (to name just one researcher) that feedback is so important to the impact of student outcomes, we must find a way, as teachers, to keep on top of it. Given its laborious nature, it is perhaps not surprising that often, when given the choice between relaxing with your family of an evening or marking those year nine books (which have already gone three weeks without a drop of red ink), it is overlooked. In conducting a survey in my school, I have found that staff have so much marking to do that our PPA alone does not cover it and I am confident that this is not dissimilar to most other schools. So, the question I have asked myself this year is; is there a way to reduce the amount of time I spend marking without reducing the impact that it has on student outcomes? I have found that, in fact, there is and have used a number of strategies to do so but I must stress, it is really down to mind-set i.e. not feeling that we have to mark absolutely everything. I will outline the strategies that I have trialed below that, I believe, reduce not just workload but also hopefully improve the feedback we give.
- Marking less and marking better – this year I have focused on deep marking only one piece of work when I take books in (we take them in roughly every three weeks). I used to mark every single piece of work and you could argue that this shows the value of the piece of work produced by the student but realistically, if the student doesn’t have time to respond to three pieces of work in the development time you give them in class, who are you marking it for? Value can be shown in a number of ways, when students are developing their work from written feedback, have a conversation with them about the bits you have and haven’t marked. Also, let’s get rid of ticks and token comments on pages that, let’s be honest, you haven’t even read and furthermore why mark notes that they have copied from the board? This should also mean that because you are reducing the time you spend marking, you are rushing less and thus the feedback given is more considered.
- Feedback codes – I often find that I am writing the same targets and positive comments over and over again. This is not new (frankly, none of this is, I’ve taken it from other articles and blogs and trialled it and now sharing it with you) but I have now linked these frequently used targets/EBIs and WWWs to codes and have written those in the books. Students then have to write them out, which takes them seconds and means that it is more likely that they will read and engage with them. This shaved a good 30mins off of marking a pile of year 8 books and students have found them very easy to use. Please see examples of these below in MFL and Business studies.
- Pre-marking pro forma – I took this idea from a recent visit to St Joseph’s School in Slough and you can find an article that I wrote about it here. Essentially, students use a list of success criteria and self-assess how well they have achieved each part, create a step forward and annotate/redraft their work accordingly so that a lot of the kinks are ironed out before it reaches the teacher’s desk and reinforces the idea of students creating work that is ‘publishable quality’ and the idea of independence and resilience. I also understand that in many instances this may give the teacher more to mark but in the long term, hopefully students will use this checklist mentally whilst they do the work and so the payoff is more long term.
- Wheel of everything – a coaching task that I wrote an article about here and based on an activity given to me by Barefoot Coaching. A similar premise to the activity above in that it is student led feedback. Students Write up to eight elements that make up a good piece of work (from the success criteria) and assess themselves by drawing an intersecting line through each section of the wheel (each section representing a part of the success criteria e.g. a variety of tenses). They then choose the three weakest areas and choose three steps forward and annotate accordingly.
- How many mistakes? – rather than highlighting all of the mistakes in a piece of work, simply write the number of mistakes at the end of the paragraph (or page if it is something like maths with a page full of equations). Students then have to revisit the work and find the mistakes for themselves and rectify them with green pen.
- Target met/not met – simply draw a red line with the highlighter through the title of the text, or around it or whatever works for you if the student didn’t meet their target. The students then use the mark scheme to diagnose what is missing for them to increase their mark; again this should iron out at least a few kinks before you mark the work.
- Stick assessments in books – as it says, because I am sure when we carry out assessments for data drops there are still people who mark their books, and if I refer you back to the first bullet point, will students have quality time to act on all feedback given? A colleague does this with treasury tags and hole-punches their books but I have gone for sticking assessments in purely because our assessments seem to be smaller. This way, the books don’t need to be marked whilst assessments are. Some schools have even gone down the route of having classwork books and assessed work books, of which only the latter is marked.