That ‘phantom’ third party that haunts teachers when they’re marking
Let’s just admit it – we’ve all done it. We’ve found ourselves writing comments on exercise books thinking, “What will the book scrutiniser think of this?” rather than “what feedback would best help this pupil?” But what if it’s not just an occasional thought of the phantom inspector that interrupts our pile of marking? What happens if teachers become so anxious about how their feedback will be judged by a 3rd party that it’s pretty much ALL they think about when they’re marking pupils’ work?
The answer is simple. Hours of teachers’ valuable time gets wasted, and a corrosive de-professionalisation of teachers starts to take hold. When a teacher is so worried about adhering to a complicated marking policy or – worse – proving to a line-manager what has taken place in the classroom, the teacher has to stop acting with common sense. Because of common sense, when we’re marking, means simply considering this question: “What marks can I make on this pupil’s work to help them want and understand how to make progress?”
If you suspect that you or your colleagues need to exorcise the Marking Monster from your midst once and for all, then you can use the following practical steps to help you bury the beast:
1. Firstly, ask yourself and your colleagues: “What is the purpose of marking?” It’s useful to bear in mind, that whilst we know that feedback is incredibly important to a learner’s progress, there is no law stating that any feedback must come in written form. (That’s right – it’s not even an Ofsted expectation!) Perhaps you feel that marking is a good way to differentiate for each pupil’s needs, to inform future planning, to check whether learning has “stuck” and to move the learners forward? With your colleagues, make a note of what you all feel are the key purposes and discuss the unhelpful nature of any erroneous suggestions, such as “because Ofsted expects it” or “to prove we have looked at the children’s work”.
2. Next, check yourself for hard-wired habits that might not keep pupil progress as central. If you’re recording “VF” on a piece of work just to prove to your line-manager that you gave “Verbal Feedback” – Why? Surely Records of verbal feedback only need to be kept if they help you or the pupil? And can you justify writing lengthy sentences on the work of a child who can’t yet read polysyllabic words? Sean Harford @HarfordSean Ofsted’s National Director has worked to bust myths around marking so make sure that your school’s policy doesn’t have you all working under a misguided notion of “what Ofsted expects”.
3. Conduct an investigation into whether the written feedback is being acted upon. Remember, there’s no point giving feedback if it doesn’t get used – yes, even if it’s in 3 different colours and comes with a sparkly sticker! If pupils aren’t acting on the written feedback they’re receiving then they may need more time allocated for this purpose, or it could be that the feedback needs to be phrased in a more accessible, action-focused way. Requiring the recipient to engage in some serious contemplation – for example, by asking the learner questions or highlighting areas and asking them to identify the problem, will not only save you time but will also make the feedback process more interesting for the learner.
4. Take a close look at whether your marking leads to progress? Is the feedback you’re giving actually moving your learners forward? If you’re writing on a 7-year-old’s work with the sole intention of impressing a book scrutiniser, you might write: “You have described physical features accurately and used appropriate vocab to convey a character’s personality. Try to use more interesting adjectives in future”. Whereas, if you’re writing with the true intention of actually getting through to the 7-year-old, you’d be more likely to write: “Use a thesaurus now to find interesting alternatives for the words I’ve underlined”. Notice what type of feedback works best for each learner. Do some of them respond better to written feedback than verbal feedback and vice versa? Make use of this information!
In Best of the Best: Feedback, we’ve brought together advice from some of the biggest names in Education globally, and we’ve given you practical strategies for putting their insights to use in your own classroom. You’ll also find invaluable guidance from David Weston @informed_edu on how to set up an action research group to investigate and enhance the feedback process in your school.
So next time that Marking Monster comes lurking over your shoulder on a Sunday evening, give it a good kick up the bum and, instead, mentally conjure up the little face of the learner you’re really making marks for!
Isabella Wallace @WallaceIsabella is co-author of the best-selling teaching guides, “Pimp Your Lesson!”, “Talk-Less Teaching”, and the new “Best of the Best” Classroom Guides for Teachers. An experienced teacher and keynote speaker, she presents nationally and internationally on teaching and learning.