Marking – Getting it Right Or Getting it Done?

Before beginning, I have to point out that the two approaches in the title are not mutually exclusive! You can get marking done and get it done right. But a recent shift in focus to student progress over time has translated, unfortunately, by some leadership teams in schools, to more getting marking with specific criteria, to produce a watertight OFSTED trail all underpinned by a school calendar stacked to the gills with monitoring of marking activities.

As a teacher, typically you have to comment on the reasons why the work was done was good, how to improve it and the next things to do. Nothing wrong with that right? Well, there is when it leads to a square peg/round hole scenario. You know the thing – you’re trying hard to think of a ‘what went well’ comment with an associated ‘even better if’ statement that will put enough red ink on the page to appease the DH, Assessment and Monitoring on his or her work sampling.

But, as we know, good feedback on a student’s work can lead to improved learning and if done well, has a real impact. Feedback studies seem to show very high effects on learning with gains of up to 8 months if done properly. Unfortunately if done badly, it can have negative effects.

So how can you mark effectively in the time you have? The first thing is to keep in mind who the marking is for. Unfortunately, some schools get this very wrong. The answer, of course, is obvious – it’s for the student. But too often a climate is created where the teacher ends up doing it for the SLT (who are doing it for OFSTED) or for the parents, or for anyone else who might look at the books. Marking is undoubted, unequivocally for the student. If you do right by the student, everything else falls into place.

Here are some ideas. These might or might not help, and of course, might conflict with the school policy of death by marking, but a couple of these you can sneak in under the radar, with little effort and a reasonable amount of impact. So here goes:

Strategy number 1. After a lesson, flick through the students’ books, for five minutes and pick two or three pieces of work to go through with the class together that highlights specific aspects that you think are important. Then get the students to re-do the work based on the feedback generated by the class.

  • Time: very low
  • Impact: medium to high

Strategy number 2. Responding to your feedback. Give the students time in the lesson to respond to your written formative comments. Insist that they do it there and then. This means that your lesson becomes more of a tutorial than a lesson, but that is a good thing. A very good thing. With the very best will in the world, all of the class of students is not going to respond with anything useful to your comments at home or during lunchtime.

  • Out of lesson marking time: high.
  • Potential impact: high

Strategy number 3. Peer assessment. A retiring teacher I knew said in his retirement speech that the greatest thing ever invented in teaching was peer assessment. He obviously got the wrong end of the stick and thought it was all about getting kids to do the teacher’s job. But well-constructed peer assessment activities can be very powerful. And the feedback in instant. And the icing on the cake is, you just need to run your eye over quickly to check it.

  • Out of lesson marking time: low (planning needed though)
  • Potential impact: medium

Strategy number 4. For some activities, you won’t need more than a quick check. (Notes/self marked quiz/diagram/etc.) Don’t feel bad about a tick and flick approach here. As long as it’s not the whole book, this approach is fine. Contriving comments for response is not going to be helpful and sometimes can actually be unhelpful.

  • Out of lesson marking time: low
  • Potential impact: low (unless you look at it from the point of view of time that can be spent on other useful things like planning)

Strategy number 5. Technology can be very useful here. It allows you to manage how and when you collect the work, and with a bit of creativity, it allows you to mark quickly and effectively. Some activities can benefit massively from instant feedback and adjustment of the lesson based on results of say, a survey or voting software. I’ll be writing more about this so keep an eye out.

  • Out of lesson marking time: low to medium
  • Potential impact: medium to high

If you have a mix of marking strategies that are appropriate to the work done and have an appropriate level of impact, then you can’t go wrong. It takes a brave school who will have a belief that marking is for the benefit of the kids over and above anyone else, and forget inspectors. But you know what, if they got it right, the inspectors would be impressed.

This article was originally published in 2014 by Keith Sure, and updated in 2020 by the UKEd Editorial team in accordance with policy and website updates.

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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