Leading Learning – Marking Smartly

The Problem!

THIS is what I am concerned about… We all know that marking can drain us. Most schools have a policy on marking. I know that many schools have a certain way to mark and do not allow any creativity or flexibility for the teacher when they mark. This can create a problem in itself; the marking becomes just another task which adds to many others that make the working day longer. It may even be that many teachers will complete the task with no real thought except that it must be done to please the likes of leadership, Ofsted, Local Authority etc. Lots of red/green pen with comments to show that it is being done. I can understand this. I have fallen into the trap on occasions. Yep all looks good! But what is the point?

Why should teachers mark work?

There are several reasons that I can think of why we would mark work and I will cover a few of them now. The first is that it informs our planning for the next lesson or term. Part of the planning is to include what progress the learner is making/has made and what the next steps are. The second is to help the learner think more deeply about their work. This will in turn create engagement in the subject and builds up their confidence. The third reason is to let the learner know how to improve their own work. This could include presentation points or a question for the learner to address. Finally for the learner to apply the learning to another question or problem to extend their thinking.

THIS is just s few tips about what I think a teacher can do. Firstly to make marking become less time consuming (work life balance). Secondly and importantly to focus the marking on progress and informing future learning (lesson planning).

Advice for completing marking smartly!

1) Look for opportunities to provide verbal feedback. How can this be recognised? Coach students to write a sentence/question about how they can improve their work using a different colour pen. This will put the onus on the learner to demonstrate their positive attitude to learning in taking advice to improve work from the verbal feedback given. This could be whole group or individual feedback. It takes time to coach the learners, but when they do it properly it helps them to think about what they have to do more deeply.

2) Never accept the first piece of work as complete. Coach learners to understand that they they will not get it perfect the first time and there is always room for improvement. This will help the learner to become resilient and understand that failure or gaining constructive comments can be positive for self improvement. It will help them to keep moving forward towards goals when plans don’t work out in life.

3) With a first draft especially, and if appropriate, give a grade as little as possible (I would advocate only completing a summative grade based piece of work once a half-term) to take the focus away from achievement and onto the process of learning. Creating a focus on the ‘process’ of learning is intended to help the young person become a lifelong learner and not one that stops learning when a grade is achieved. Do this by concentrating on the key formative comment/s and to make improvements. Do not do this by writing reams of comments, but by asking one question of each young person which is written onto their work. The question is always based on what they need to improve or whether they could apply the learning to another situation or problem (extended learning).

4) I mentioned DIRT (Directed Improvement and Reflection Time) earlier in this blog. It is very important that this time can feature in a lesson. I would suggest creating a 10-15 minute period in the lesson after the written marking has been given (written, verbal -written down by the learner- or peer) so reflection and further application of the learning can be considered. By using application and improvement learning you (the teacher) will be naturally differentiating the learning. This is done by extending the learning of the more able while giving time to other learners to catch up and improve.

5) Empowering the learners to develop peer marking can be seen as a little more difficult to carry out due to the nature of the learner not having the understanding and subject knowledge that the teacher does. This could however be carried out in two ways. The first is that the learners would swap work and ONLY mark the presentation of the piece of work. If learners have a set of clear rules for the presentation of work displayed in the classroom they can mark this part of the work effectively to agreed standards. This should only take 5 minutes, but already they are saving you time and they are learning through seeing good/not so good practice. You can then sample books yourself until you are confident that the learners are getting it right. The second way is that you provide a sheet with questions that learners have to answer about their peer’s work. They answer the questions then pass it back to the learner, who can then act upon it in DIRT. Again, using the idea of sampling the work yourself as an ongoing process would be a good idea when carrying out this strategy to develop and ensure effectiveness. The main advantage to Peer marking (again) is that learners start to gain a deeper understanding of the work by explaining/describing to others how to improve through the formative feedback that they give.

THIS will mean that marking is completed and progress is being shown over time for the learner through a concentrated effort on formative marking using different techniques. Young people will therefore concentrate on the process of learning that they are going through rather than the end product. The other reason for marking in this way is to save you (the teacher) time and to create further opportunity to focus on the important thing which is improve teaching and learning to benefit the progress being made by your learners.


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