Mark less, mark better.

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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.



codes bs

  • 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.

Wheel of Everything 2


  • 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.
The green pen marking is not in response to the numbers given but to the pre-marking sheet and so this student hasn’t responded to that marking yet.
  • 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.




Is that work your best? One way to ensure reflection and improvement.

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No matter how clear I am with my instructions, how well I drill students on structures and vocabulary or how much ownership  I give students over the success criteria of their work; I still find what is written or spoken doesn’t quite meet my (perhaps naive) expectations. However, whilst visiting St Joseph’s school in Slough (a very good school with a superb atmosphere and vision) I did find some inspiration.

When observing a year 12 Sociology lesson, I saw that the teacher in question (life long pal and Head of Sixth, Rhian Morgans) was using a pre-marking pro-forma. Previously, I have just asked students to check through the self-created success criteria on the board and make sure they’ve added it all in; often, this didn’t translate to the expected work. However, the sheet contains carefully selected ingredients that make up a ‘good piece of writing’ in the left hand column. The student then goes through and considers the criteria and simple ticks Yes/No. For the areas which they have ticked No, they then write a strategy to move that aspect of their work forward. Finally, the student annotates their own work in green pen with phrases, full sentences or even paragraphs that specifically address that area for development in their work. Please see the pro-forma by clicking the link below and then how one of my year 10 students has used it for their Spanish work in the picture.

Click here: pre-marking-checklist-ks4-mfl


The student here has simply drawn a line and added in a full paragraph but some students may just add in key words or a phrases here or there.

The work I think receive is far higher in quality, which reduces my marking workload but also means the feedback given (by me, in the WWW/EBI/MRI section at the bottom of the page…yet to be done here, naughty me) will make their second draft better still. Perhaps what I expect first time from students is too high, and the idea of drafting, redrafting and marginal gains are all part of the improvement process and, in the really world, ‘normal’. Hopefully, using strategies such as the above will help our students to become more reflective and develop their work independently.

As always, all feedback welcome;pleas feel free to use, lose or abuse.

Make detentions a time for reflection and relationship building.

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We’ve all been there, the downward spiral that is the relationship you have with one particular child how just will not behave. You try everything; the hard approach, the soft approach, the reasoned approach and by the end of it doing the same old thing becomes no approach.

As Head of Spanish, I have to hold departmental detentions for repeat classroom offenders and although my staff are truly doing the best they can (straight out of Behaviour for Learning 101), with some students there appears to be no progress.

One thing however that we are trying appears to be working, and it is giving the students time to reflect, in the form of the sheet below:


Students simply fill out the sheet in the 30 minute detention to get them to drill down into where the behaviour is coming from as often it is communicating a need. Now, I’m not saying some children don’t just act up for the sake of acting up, but for some, this may go some way to building a bridge between a student and teacher whose relationship may appear to have gone past the point of now return. It may help the student to see their behaviour through the eyes of others, or give them the opportunity to explain what is going on in their lives and this is invaluable information for the teacher. Also, it gives ownership over the student’s way forward making solutions and not excuses.

Please feel free to use, loose or abuse by clicking the following link mfl-detention-student-reflection-sheet.

The Language Gym and deliberate practice.

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Recently, I listened to a Freakanomics podcasts entitled How to become great at just about anything in which the research of Pyschologist Anders Ericsson is discussed; particularly his work on deliberate practice. Ericsson talks about the idea of deliberate practice. This is the idea that practice is more important than IQ when it comes to student outcomes, I mean, how often do we see this at GCSE? The lazy MAT student vs the industrious and driven. Furthermore, practice should be increasingly challenging and allow students to come out of their comfort zone, much like when a bodybuilder increases his weight so that his muscle fibers break under the pressure and grow back stronger; lifting a light weight that he is used to will not allow him to grow. I would like to return to this idea and dedicate a whole blog post to it as I feel it is an interesting subject and goes hand in hand with the idea of desirable difficulty. However, today’s post is about a very useful tool for allowing MFL students to practice conjugation until they can do it with eyes closed, asleep and/or whilst watching the Kardashians.

The Language Gym is a website that allows students to practice conjugating a range of verbs online and against the clock. The programme gives the user an infinitive, a tense and a pronoun and the verb must be conjugate. Furthermore, it keeps your score and so you can compete against others but more importantly; yourself.

The website allows students to make the task more challenging by including a range of tenses, forms and types of verbs (e.g. AR regular, reflexive, stem changing etc…) or they can filter out to hone in on one particular group of verbs. I have also set them challenges, such as a particular combination which I know will take them out of their comfort zone. I often set this as a homework task but this does raise the question of how do we know that they are completing it? I ask my students to share a Google Doc with that has the test type (e.g. group of verbs, tense) the date, the score and the words that they found difficult/got wrong. They can then target those specific words in future homework/independent study to close the gap.

I hope you find this useful, there are other aspects of the website that exist so if you do find something else that you think is interesting or you think of a new way of using the verb gym, then do please comment on this blog post.





The Wheel of Everything

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Recently a company called Barefoot Coaching came into our school to deliver an INSET session on coaching techniques. We learnt a range of techniques but it was the Wheel of Everything that stuck most in my mind and I have since used it in the classroom as an effective way of students providing peer assessment and providing their own steps forward as a result. Also, it is entirely student led so it is definitely what I would consider a high impact (on the student) and low stress (on the teacher) activity.

Below is an image of the worksheet that I have adapted from the Barefoot activity that they carried out with us. I will then explain how it works.

Wheel of Everything 3

When students have completed a piece of writing, they then work in pairs to decide on the factors that make up a good piece of writing (or indeed, it could be used to assess a speaking piece). They then write the factors (e.g. use of opinions) on the outside of the circle, one per section. Students then swap books and complete the evaluation of their partner’s work on the wheel, by drawing a line that connects the two sides of that one section. The closer to the centre of the wheel signifies that the chosen factor is an area for development, and a line draw to the outer edge of the circle shows that the particular factor is a clear strength of the text. Obviously, you can shade or represent it as you like, no need to be constrained by what I’ve suggested!

Once this has been completed, the student hands the book and the sheet back to their partner. Their partner then fills out the rest of the sheet with their three weakest areas for development and devises their own independent steps forward that will improve their writing, as seen below.

Wheel of Everything 2

I have attached the sheet below so please feel free to download, use, adapt or chuck in the bin. Why not comment on the article saying how you’ve used it?

Wheel of Everything for students_1

Feedback – how are you using it?

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During feedback for a recent observation, my observer and I discussed (in true coaching form) the way in which students use feedback in my lessons. Although students in my classroom do make good use of DIRT/green pen marking and other such AfL techniques, the point was that after an activity, what are students doing with the information that they  got 6/10 in a listening test, for example? How helpful is that information to me but most importantly to them? I have always just thought that because most of the class got most of the answers correct then it is fine to move on as ‘they’ve more or less got it’.But…what are they doing with the three or four answers that were incorrect? How are they closing that gap?

In response to this, I have come up with the following vocabulary sheet. This is specific to one situation but can be adapted; I think it would work well for listening activities.

How it is used:

  • Students fill in the test from English to TL, in silence without help.
  • If students finish before the allotted time, they can go through their test with a green pen and fill in the gaps using their books.
  • When students finish mark in green pen (so that they can see visually the words that the knew and those that they didn’t).
  • Ask students to complete a SMART target at the bottom that will be used as part of their homework e.g. “I will create a set of flash cards that includes the green words from my test and revise them as part of my homework by the next lesson”.
  • N.B. I have included a list of vocabulary from throughout the whole topic which reinforces the spiral nature of learning.


  • Include the common unknown words into your lesson planning.
  • Customise a test for each student on their unknown words in the next lesson.
  • Create a whole class resource (e.g. Quizlet) that students could use for homework and upload it to Firefly).
  • Ask students to write their words into a glossary in the back of the book, which they could use to ‘look, say, cover, write and repeat’.
  • Create a bank of common misconceptions that occur and use this to inform your scheme of work.

Below is the first version that I have created, please feel free to give feedback where you think it is appropriate e.g. examples of SMART style targets to guide students.

feedback sheet pic

Download a blank copy Vocab Evaluation Sheet. Please feel free to adapt and change it.


Student character – do students have a stake in the ‘how’ of their own learning process?

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It has been a long held view in my school that learning is a process in which students take part; it is not something that is done to them. Not only should students know what they are learning and why they are learning it, but  how they are learning. Once they are able to hold a stake in this discussion, they are then able learn ‘it’ better.

Essentially, students should be able to self-regulate and plan accordingly. They know best their process of learning and if they are finding a task ‘too difficult’, and then what their natural response is to this situation (e.g. poor behaviour, avoidance or procrastiantion to name but a few responses). Our task is to help students to intervene at this point, so that they manage their own effort levels and approach through meta cognitive strategies. There a number of ways in which students can do this and in future posts I will share some (most of which I have ripped off and adapted from other sources, and will credit accordingly where possible).

Some of our students work hard, very hard, but there is always a way to improve, to work harder and to challenge themselves. Particular texts that deal with this concept are Phil Beadle’s ‘The Book of Plenary‘ (the latter section which talks about meta-cognitive strategies students can use to plan their won learning) and the ‘Growth Mindset Pocketbook‘ by Barry Hymer. The former for its ideas that students should plan for how they learn i.e. if they are to go off task, why is this and what is their plan to be back on task. The latter as I feel that all far too often students are not resilient to failure and miss the opportunity to turn a fail into a First Attempt in Learning.

I feel that, from what I have observed, that often students lack independence and qualities such as grit and resilience; as soon as something is too hard or challenging, that they resort to off task behaviour and then there is lost learning time. There is a host of material which covers this very concept; from a recent Educators Podcast (click here) about the KIPP school in the USA, which teaches character (grit, determination, empathy etc) to Angela Duckworth’s Ted talk “The key to success? Grit” (click here).

In summary, I am starting to drip feed in to my lessons more resources which will allow students the opportunity to manage and regulate their own learning, which in turn will give them the opportunity to develop those key characteristics of grit: growth, resilience, integrity and tenacity. I will make these resources available for all to use, reinvent or ignore and please do feel free to leave any feedback in how they could be work even better!

In this post, I will start with the Effort Level Regulation Sheet that I have produced for KS3 Spanish lessons, which was developed from something which a colleague handed to me (which in turn means it was taken from somewhere else and I therefore do in no way present this resource as entirely my own work). The idea is that they read the effort descriptors and decide at which level they currently are. They write a next step into the box, to which I have responded in a red pen to make sure that targets set are SMART as well as to maintain a student-teacher dialogue. We will then review this at a later date (I did it at the beginning of this half term and will revisit it just before the Christmas holidays to see if students feel there has been a shift in their effort levels).  Click Effort Level Reflection Sheet Spanish to download.

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