During a recent presentation, I mentioned the three pillars of effective marking that came out of the “Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking from the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group” report – bit.ly/uked16dec01 – They were meaningful, manageable and motivating, and in this article, I will give my interpretation and approach to these three pillars and how I make marking work for me.
I believe that for feedback to be meaningful it needs to be suitable for the age group, needs to provide students with something to act upon and given within a suitable time frame.
Therefore I find it hard to encourage teachers to mark after a set period of time. The sooner a student receives feedback about their work the sooner they can respond to it effectively. Leaving work for a few lessons or so before it is marked quite simply gives students time to forget. I’m not saying mark every piece of work after every lesson, but choose pieces of work that you want students to have time to improve on before it is given summative feedback. This could be an extended piece of writing, an assessment or a decision making exercise for instance; something that can generally be done over two or more lessons.
In order to make this manageable for myself, I’ve used feedback grids in the past, whereby I’ve given feedback in lessons to as many as possible through verbal discussion and highlighting achieved criteria on the grid and identifying what I’d like students to focus on for the remainder of the lesson to improve their work. Thus leaving me with fewer books to check at the end of the lesson. I then used 20 minutes or so before my next lesson with the students to finish marking any books I didn’t get to see in the lesson. I then used the criteria to give the whole class feedback and individual in the next lesson before students went on to make improvements to their work.
Nowadays I’m making use of the Feedback-Feedforward approach and have been using Feedforward Book Look Record Sheets. Quite simply, I have looked through the books, noted down any reoccurring misconceptions and areas for improvement and fed them back to students at the start of the next lesson. I’ve been putting a code in students’ books and they have then written the corresponding comment in their books and responded to it. Thus ensuring they are reacting to feedback immediately rather than weeks or even months later in some cases I’ve seen.
Another strategy I use in class to make marking meaningful is the use of peer assessment within lessons, ensuring students have time to act upon it there and then, and therefore don’t leave peer assessment until the end of a task or end of a lesson. Get students into the routine of checking each other’s work as they do it. Start by providing meaningful suggestions on the board and as students become more confident in what it is they should be looking for remove the scaffold and allow them to write their own constructive feedback.
I’m a strong believer that we as teachers should not have to mark everything in a student’s book, by which I mean the teacher can glance over it in lessons, and maybe out of lessons as well, but don’t sit down and give feedback on all of the work. Carry a pen around the class with you, use marking codes as you glance at students’ work or use dot marking e.g. put a dot in the margin where you see a SPaG error. If a student wants a particular piece of work checked, encourage them to highlight the work by putting a box around it.
I actively encourage teachers not to mark every piece of work. Glance at it, note any misconceptions and plan the following lessons to deal with any arising issues. Adapting planning in my view is far more effective than taking books home to mark, spending several hours marking them and creating a ‘visual’ dialogue between student and teacher.
This one is probably where I fall down. I don’t provide ‘well done, you’re work is great’ kind of comments. My comments are very much about the achievements and ways to improve, for example ‘you have effectively backed your explanation up with an example from the text’, and ‘next try to annotate your diagrams to demonstrate you understand them’.
In my NQT year, I was told by a parent I need to be more positive about the accomplishments of his daughter. A few messages of well done, a sticker or smiley face here or there, would make his daughter work harder for me. So I started doing it for her, no surprise she was still poorly behaved and made little effort. Besides, Ofsted praised my marking in both inspections I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, so I’ve not changed.
I’d rather give the well done, excellent effort etc. as verbal praise. In particular, I find that using student’s work as examples for the rest and asking students what they think has been done effectively has a far greater impact than me writing a well-done message in their book.
If the student is quiet or doesn’t accept praise well, I will say to them one-to-one how I like that they’ve done this or that in their work and they’re putting in significant effort. However, I will always then give suggestions for how to improve because there is always room for improvement.
I use loads of peer assessment, using the Kind, Helpful and Specific approach thus students receive some lovely comments from their peers in class. They are always forthcoming with praise but are also kindly constructive with how the work could be improved. From experience, I find students are more motivated when their peers are assessing their work, often apologising if their handwriting isn’t their neatest or they’ve made a number of spelling mistakes (why do they never do that for me?).
Returning to the “feedforward book look” record sheet I mentioned before, as I check a set of books, I’ve been writing down reoccurring misconceptions, SPaG errors and next steps. The only thing I’ve done in books is a double tick for successes and codes that relate to next steps, SPaG and/or misconceptions. I then simply scan the sheet and project it onto the whiteboard.
I verbally go through feedback and students write down the corresponding comments to their next steps and misconceptions. They then have 5-10 minutes depending on the work to be done to make improvements to SPaG and to react to the next steps.
In the praise section, I identify what double ticks or single ticks represent in the student’s books and students work out what is relevant to them. I also include any exceptional performance in the task e.g. full marks, significant effort, major improvements. It’s motivating for students to see their names in this section I think.
In the “Assessment of Understanding” I put students’ initials using a Red, Amber, Green system. Any students in the red section are my main concerns, so I will check their responses to feedback first, amber next and so on. I’ve told students that this is nothing to worry about, but it means that I know who to check in with first of all. I think however over time this will motivate students to push themselves out of the red and amber sections and into the green. I am wary this could upset students, however, so I don’t focus on it in my verbal feedback, I zoom in on the bits I’m discussing so most of my time is spent looking at the Praise, Misconceptions, SPaG and Next Steps sections of the sheet. If I find this to be demotivating at all, I will blank RAG section of the sheet out when I show the class.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine
Victoria Hewett is Head of Humanities at a secondary school in Kent. She freely shares whole school and subject specific teaching and learning resources via her blog at mrshumanities.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @mrshumanities.