Marking codes 2.0

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I have written about using marking codes to reduce workload before here. I have talked about using codes to speed up marking but these prepared for generic feedback in MFL. Whilst I have found these very useful, sometimes I still find myself resorting to giving written feedback (particularly for KS4 work) as the feedback I want to give is a bit more complex.

There are two ways around this. The first is to simply read through all of the assignments that you wish to mark and make a list of common targets on a PowerPoint (the second is using a VLookup command on a spreadsheet but I will blog about this in a separate article). This way, you can make them much more specific to the task as well as more detailed, below (see fig.1) is an example for a year 11 written assignment I am marking at the time of writing.

fig.1 Targets specific to the assignment which I am currently marking. 

The PowerPoint is not particularly flashy and yes it will need to be made a bit easier for students to read but in many ways, the words are all you need otherwise you fall back into the trap of increasing that workload again.

I think it is important to ensure that the target includes a question for reflection or guidance to improve both the work and the student’s knowledge of the wider topic. Mini activities such as ‘list the key verbs’ and ‘what would support you with this?’ are designed to elicit reflection and response from the student to improve the work and their skills/knowledge in the context of the subject.

I have previously asked students to write the target from the board in green and the use it to improve their work but recently I am questioning the need to actually get them to write it, as long as you can clearly see that they are carrying out the task/reflection/improvement in their work.

As ever, please feel free to use, loose or abuse or share ways in which your improving the feedback you give your students.



A strategy to fill the gap.

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When students finish an activity, often we ask them in a variety of ways to show how many answers they got right. The problem is then filling in the gaps in the student’s knowledge. In Carl Hendrick’s brilliant book “What does this look like in the classroom”, Dylan Wiliam says (and I’m paraphrasing) that essential if he were to rename what has now come to be know as AfL, he would call it ‘response teaching’. Thus, my response to the above issue is this.

When you are going through some work with students and have marked it, ask students to raise their hand if they got a question/problem/equation wrong. You can then take a tally and go through further examples of the question/problem etc which had the most incorrect answers. This instantly fills in the gap in their knowledge. I have used mini whiteboards for this as it suits the ‘ad hoc’ scenario of which I am describing but I am sure there are a number of other mediums through which to provide said feedback. If some students had the correct answer, why not get them to take the lead on creating and marking the new example?



Approaching the 40 word question for the new AQA GCSE languages exam.

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The changing of the new GCSE has brought with it lots of challenges and training students to develop their writing skills is one of those challenges. There is a much bigger emphasis on the accuracy and use of grammar in the mark scheme and this is a very difficult area to master for a lot of students. The 40 word mark scheme is relatively forgiving in that the accuracy of structures and grammar is not as prominent as in the 90 word or 150 word but students who have a range of memorised structures at their disposal will earn an easy 16 marks here.

I have therefore come up with the following scaffold for memorising structures for the 40 word question. This will also prove useful as a basis to work from for the 90 word question on the foundation paper. See fig.1 for an explanation.

40 word question scaffold
Fig.1 screenshot of the 40 word question scaffold.

I have taken each sub topic from each double page in the book. I have also taken the key structures from that section and translated them where possible (usually where you wouldn’t be able to use a dictionary) so that students can then write around 10 words per sub topic. The 40 word question looks like it will contain bullet points that are simply one word (e.g. amigo, cine, comida) and therefore students can practice writing these sentences, have them corrected by the teacher and learn these phrases from memory which will at least serve as a good basis from which to start. As I have said, this will also support the 90 word written question and the speaking test.

Additionally, I have asked students to upload a copy for themselves onto Google Drive, convert it to Google Docs and share it with me so that I can give them feedback in real time (see fig.2 below).

40 word question scaffold example
Fig.2 a screenshot of a student’s work with my feedback on the right hand side.

Below is a link to download a copy of the 40 word scaffold I have created, please feel free to use, loose or abuse.

40 word question topic scaffold

A concise resource for the STRIDE model of coaching in schools.

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I have blogged before about the benefits of the coaching approach within schools and the classroom and shared resources and so this post serves only to do the latter. So if coaching is your modus operandi this year, and you would like somewhere to start, then please feel free to use the very compact STRIDE model coaching booklet that I have created  here: STRIDE booklet.

Of course, any feedback, amendments or indeed suggestions for further reading would greatly be appreciated.

You may also want to consider the following for further reading:

  • The Coaching Toolkit: A practical guide for your School (Shaun Allison, Michael Harbour)
  • Coaching for Performance: Growing people, performance and purpose (John Whitmore)
  • The Perfect Teacher Coach (Jackie Beere)


Visual assessment tracking

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One of the resources that I have developed during the marking project that I have undertaken this year is an assessment tracker. Often, assessment trackers simply list the grades, marks or scores from a variety of summative assessments taken through the year and perhaps the WWW/EBI/Targets from those assessments.

I have found this unnecessarily repetitive. If the steps forward are written on the assessment and you have a dialogue with your students regarding ways to improve on the work or assessment they have just undertaken, why write them down again? When visiting St Joseph’s school in Slough, I found the following resource being used effectively in a Psychology lesson however, I have adapted the resource for my year 8 Spanish group. Students shade in green the band they would like to achieve in that term and then write in the assessments, skills and score (grade, mark etc) and then shade in black the band they have achieved. This is motivational for the students and it is easy to see progress made. When the students have consistently achieved that band in that term, they then increase their target for the following term. Referring to the band assessment criteria, you can then enter a dialogue into what the student would have to focus on in the following term to reach that target (see the first two terms of an example filled out below)

Fig.1. an example of the assessment tracker filled out by a year 8 student. You can download a copy on the link below.

N.B. Between term 1-2 and term 2-3 students are asked in what areas of their Spanish they will need to improve in order to reach their target next term. You can download it by clicking the following link : Assessment tracker v3 ENG

The three terms on the tracker follow the topics of the scheme of work (for this particularly year group) and have enough boxes for the summative assessments as well as feedback from pieces of work throughout the year. As a department, we have decided how many pieces we will mark in consistency with our marking policy in order to reduce unnecessary workload (which you can see in my blog post on this topic called ‘Mark less, mark better’ here). You could be more prescriptive and write in the titles of the pieces of work that you will mark but I have let students do this to allow some form of flexibility.

Mindfulness in education: when less really is more.

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How often do you get to the end of your day and wonder what even happened between dragging yourself out of bed and that final bell (or, as is more and more the case, several hours afterwards)? How long do we spend on autopilot? And how much of that time are you trying to do more than one task at once? More alarmingly, what affect is it having on us and, indeed, our students?

If you are like I was, the answers to the above are obvious and realistically, it will only end in stress, inefficiency and in not being the teacher our children deserve. I was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to take part in a Mindfulness course run by Dawn Green of Your Mind Matters Ltd. I can’t say enough about the course and it’s content however you can find out more here. In short, I have become calmer, less anxious, more energised and my work has improved because of it. Mindfulness gives you the ability recharge your frazzled batteries by way of meditative techniques. Much of the course is practical but it is the shift in mindset and approach to work which has had the greatest holistic impact on my life, particularly minimalising multi-tasking. In the course, we follow the teachings in the book Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams. The way in which teachers live their lives means that we are often multi-tasking, spreading ourselves too thinly and emotionally it can be very challenging. A lot is asked of us and we will not last in the profession if we don’t look after our well being. I mean, why are so many leaving teaching? The purpose of this post is to outline how I have implemented mindfulness in the classroom:

  • One track mind – I would always have my email open when teaching, or when planning lessons (as well as my phone out for the latter) and this tiny distraction will through us off course and actually reduce our productivity (as well as raise our stress levels). The fix? Turn it off. Focus on one task at a time, do it and do it well. This also applies to our students. Focus on one task at a time, do it well, complete it and then move one whether this be no talking in the classroom or having the TV on when revising. In theory, you can do better quality work in less time.
  • Mindful meetings – I now hold a 3 minute breathing space at the beginning of meetings which allows staff to switch off from the stresses of the day and sets the tone for the meeting. Also, I now insist on turning off distractions (mobiles and laptops) whilst delivering notices or discussions.
  • Mindful teaching – I have used the 3 minute breathing space with my form at the beginning of the day, rowdy groups coming in from lunch and in the middle of our double lessons and this has had a very positive effect on behaviour and most students have said how much they enjoyed it. Sure, they’re not doing work for three minutes, but I have noticed the calming effect it has had on all of the groups with which I have tried it.
  • Mindful revision – I found a very useful resource on Twitter (originally posted by the @HecticTeacher) and have adapted it for our current year 11 students who are at risk of burn out before they even enter the exam hall – hopefully the videos (linked by QR code) on this mindfulness bookmark will help them reduce stress and anxiety as well as focus during a very tough time for them. You can download it here and feel free to adapt it.
  • Finding space for yourself – As I have said above, I can often go through the whole day without really stopping to think and now I have started to use the first 10 minutes of lunch time to meditate (I usually use the body and breath meditation here) and I feel this has had a positive impact on my stress levels and efficiency for the rest of the day.
  • Mindful music – I have started to play ambient music in the classroom whilst students are completing a large task in which focus is paramount, there is an article here that talks about mood changing music but I cannot recommend enough Marconi Union – Weightless (a song created to reduce anxiety levels) or Music for Airports by Brian Eno.

All comments and feedback welcome.

Using a PLC style matrix to target revision.

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In such a stressful time as these coming months are for both students and teachers alike, it can be easy for students to widen their focus of revision and spread themselves too thinly when really a more targeted focus might reap more fruitful rewards.

One way in which I’ve supported year 11 students in my department this year is by creating a PLC matrix to track assessment against specific topics in the scheme of work (please see a picture below).


The above matrix is for assessment of the reading skill by topic from the AQA SoW. The theory behind is that for each topic there is a test that the student sits (I have created these on Alfiesoft, but you could use Exampro or create your own). They then put their score into the cell in the column below the topic assessed and in the row in line with their name (as a percentage). I have put a conditional equation in each cell so that the score is accompanied by a red, amber or green colour fill depending on the score (I have set mine to 0-33% = red, 34-74% = amber and 75-100% and you can see how to do this here).

I have then created higher and foundation tests based on the GCSE AQA topics from the Spanish SoW by using the online test software Alfiesoft and have put the links on our VLE (see below).

Spanish Alfiesoft tests created

The students can then independently click the links on the page, take the tests and input their scores onto the PLC matrix.

The beauty of the format is that students can look along their row to see which topics need to be target but also teachers can look vertically down each column to see which topics need to be retaught to the class as a matter of priority.

I have uploaded a blank matrix below with the conditional formatting already carried out so please feel free to use, loose or abuse.