In 2015 the DfE summoned our brightest and best teachers, consultants and educationalists and commissioned them to carry out a review of teachers’ workload, the findings of which can be found in this report. Having scrutinised marking policies, the Workload Review team concluded that marking should be underpinned by three key principles. It should be: meaningful, manageable and motivating.
Most of us know what meaningful marking looks like. We’ve experienced the satisfaction of a child being able to tackle an area of learning that they had previously struggled with as a result of our feedback. Meaningful marking motivates children to make progress. So that leaves “manageable.” How can we make marking manageable? Particularly now that so man marking policies seem to require an arsenal of stationery including at least three different coloured pens.
How to make marking manageable may well be the million dollar question but it’s one we need to start addressing. A third of teachers who qualified in 2010 have already left the profession, with 50% of them stating workload as one of the key reasons, schools need to start taking the issue of teacher workload seriously.
I’m interested to see the suggestions that come out of the #teacher5aday slow chat. So to get us started here are my suggestions for making marking manageable.
Plan Your Marking
One of the greatest challenges I faced as an Assistant Head was juggling my role as a full time class teacher with my leadership responsibilities. In an attempt to maintain some sanity, I created planning rotas for maths and English. No they weren’t always kept to, but more often than not I could get all my marking done between 7am-8:30am and 3:30pm – 6:00pm at school. Other than test papers, I never took marking home at the weekends.
Make planning for marking part of your weekly PPA session. Look at the week ahead and the lessons you have planned. Then look at your diary and look at everything you’re doing next week: clubs, INSET, parent workshops, staff meetings, social events (yes, they count.)
Now back to the lesson plans. If one of the lessons requires you to have marked the first drafts of their stories in detail – don’t pencil that first draft lesson in for Monday when you have both INSET and Dance Club. Schedule “heavy marking” days in and write them in your diary so you know not to take on too many extra-curricular activities on those days.
Obviously your marking plan should not guide the learning and sometimes a particular piece of work will HAVE to be done on a day when it’ll be difficult to get it marked but, for the most part, you can plan your marking so it is manageable.
Marking is just one of a variety of types of feedback and arguably not even the most effective for some pieces of work. Verbal feedback allows for a dialogue. The child can explain to you exactly what they haven’t understood and you can respond immediately. You or the child can make notes in the child’s book as you feedback so they have a few prompts to guide them once they return to work.
Verbal feedback can happen one-to-one during the lesson or, having looked at their books, by taking a small group who made similar mistakes last lesson and going through their work with them.
Live marking is similar to verbal feedback but can be done with the whole class rather than one on one. This works well with grammar exercises, calculations and short answer questions. The questions go up on the board and you go through them one by one – occasionally choosing a pair of children to explain the answer or the method. The children can mark their own work as they go and add in their own corrections.
The advantage of Live Marking is that you can get a whole set of books marked during the lesson and all children having the chance to discuss the answer, ask questions about the things they didn’t understand. Something to bear in mind is that this sort of marking takes time. We’re talking 10/15 minutes of the lesson. If you marked like this every lesson children wouldn’t be producing enough work for marking to be an issue in the first place but used occasionally it can be very effective.
Peer marking takes a lot of training but, done properly, it can be very valuable. I’ve seen effective peer marking in Year 2 and even peer “critique” in Year 1 where they go around and say what they like and what could be improved about the work on their table. Peer marking can work with the same sort of tasks as Live Marking – short answers that are either right or wrong. When it comes to more complex investigations or extended pieces of writing the quality of peer marking relies too heavily on the pupil’s knowledge.
A little tip: in the first week of a new school year mark a piece of shared writing as class and whilst you’re doing this create a “Class Marking Policy.” This could be an agreed list of symbols that you can all use. Keep those symbols on the wall all year and the children can then use this marking policy during peer marking.
Views about marking are changing. Last month Ofsted released a clarification document challenging the idea that they expect in depth marking@
Similarly, the Workload Review concluded that, “If the hours spent do not have the commensurate impact on student progress, stop [doing] it.” Spread the word: it isn’t about endless, in depth notes on children’s work it’s about effective feedback – the sort that will actually help the children learn.
If the last two comments you’ve left in Amber’s book are all about using captial letters and fulls stops, complete with a next step task for her to practise them, and two pages later she isn’t using capital letters and full stops – change your approach. Stop setting it as a next step and find some time during the lesson to go through sentence punctuation with her.
If your school’s policy is still demanding twelve “next steps” a week, written in nineteen different colours and adorned with post-its, stamps, and stickers then it’s time to start the conversation about marking in your school. You don’t have to have be in a leadership role to evoke change. So whether it’s at the next staff meeting, or just during a casual discussion in the staff room don’t be afraid to ask the question, “Does anyone else think we could be marking differently?”
The #teacher5aday slow chat on workload and marking will be taking place on Tuesday 10th January 2017. The discussions will take place on Twitter both before and after school. Take part by following the #Teacher5aday #SlowChat4 hashtags and share your ideas, thoughts and suggestions. You can find more information on the Slow Chat week here. Here are the questions we’ll be discussing on the day:
1) How much time do you spend marking each week? When and where do you mark?
2) What are the barriers to making marking manageable?
3) How can we overcome these?
4) If you were writing your school’s feedback policy from scratch what would it look like?
5) Is your marking monitored by SLT?
6) What tips/strategies have you got for teachers struggling to keep on top of their marking?
I’m looking forward to chatting with you all.