The Great Marking Debate
Let’s be honest, the biggest drain on your time is marking. You take it home in the evenings and pour over it on the weekend. You spend many half terms marking projects that sounded like such a good idea at the time.
Even at the end of the teaching day, you face the prospect of marking at least 60 books. You know your eyes will eventually glaze over and the caretaker will throw you out in order to lock up. Cue a large coffee and a wall to bang your head against.
Marking is a tricky subject to tackle.
Because every school’s policy is different. You follow the marking guidelines given to you, even if they were created in the Victorian era by a head who assumed teachers wanted to be married to the job, rather than to another human being.
And the worst part?
How much of it do the children actually read and act upon? How much of your paragraph of ‘feedback’ is really useful to them?
You desperately try to find time for the children to ‘respond to marking’ but your timetable is so full. Then you’ve got the children who can’t read what you’ve written or don’t understand what you mean.
By the end of the session, you feel like you’ve run a marathon and the TA is hiding in the cupboard.
Who is it for?
Most importantly, who are you marking for anyway?
The kids or SLT?
Marking has to be purposeful and move the children on, that’s all. It shouldn’t be about the length of the feedback or which pens you’re using.
Even Ofsted and the government have addressed the great marking debate. Last year, Nick Gibb said that ‘teachers are spending too much time over-marking.’
Apparently, ‘giving feedback in exercise books and marking in different coloured pens’ has never been a requirement. Could someone tattoo this on to headteachers’ foreheads, please?
So why oh why is it still an issue? Surely it’s down to schools to create a marking policy that gives the children what they need yet ensures the wellbeing of the teachers?
In the meantime, what can you do to help with your marking workload? Try these on for size…
1. Mark as the children work
Once you’ve got your focus group underway, get around the rest of the class and mark what they’ve done. Not only is this a real time-saver, but it also gives instant feedback to children and this is a powerful thing for a child.
They can make changes there and then, rather than the next day. They can have help there and then, rather than a rushed attempt at fixing the problem during the popular ‘respond to marking’ session.
2. Mark to extend the children’s thinking or to consolidate what they’ve learned
This is particularly relevant if it took them a while to get the hang of things. Ask a question to get the children thinking or have a go at a ‘now try this’ challenge so they can prove their understanding. A simple question can make marking topic work much less of a hassle.
3. Have a bank of questions ready
Prepare some to use in your marking or in your verbal feedback to demonstrate the children’s learning. I’ve seen question starters put on sticky labels so that they can be stuck in and you can pop the end of the question into the book. Saves writing the whole question each time!
4. Use a highlighter
You can highlight the learning objective in red, orange or green to show the children’s understanding of that particular objective – it is quick way of showing if the children have understood a concept and when they need to progress on to the next stage.
You might also adopt a code for marking, so that children know what certain symbols mean. Have this displayed in your classroom for them to refer back to.
5. Use marking to inform planning
Make a pile of books to match children’s understanding of the LO, i.e. a red pile, an orange pile and a green pile. You’ll know which children to ‘move on’ and which children need further input on the day’s learning objective during the following session, usually as part of an adult-led focus group.
6. Use different colours for marking if the children know what they mean
Highlighting evidence of how the child has met the learning objective in green can work well. But don’t just make that part of the process if you’re still writing in-depth comments etc… You’re looking to save time here. Be careful not to combine loads of different marking strategies-it’ll make marking take longer than is needed.
7. Assign marking time
Grab a drink and something to eat at the end of the day and then get cracking. Don’t put off the inevitable by chatting for hours in the staff room.
Shut your classroom door, get everything you need and begin marking the work using one of the time-saving strategies above. Every 20 minutes, get up and walk around for a bit. Put some of your favourite music on and have a little dance…whatever tickles your fancy.
8. Use peer feedback
Children can provide useful feedback to each other, if they’re taught how to do it effectively. Give them some sentence prompts on the board so that they know how to phrase their feedback correctly and model how it’s done.
Can they jot down their comments on a post-it note for you to add a tick/further question to?
Unfortunately marking policy and practice is different in each and every school. You’re bound by your school’s policy to some degree, but try some of these tips out with your class and feed back to your mentor about the strategies that work.
If you’ve got other things that you’ve tried, leave them in the comments box below so that other members of our NQT community can try them out too.