The Grey Area

grey

Over the last 18 months, politics has become more emotive, polarised and tribal than ever before. If you’re to believe social media, it would be easy to think the whole world divides neatly into two categories: you’re either a racist Brexiteer or a liberal Remoaner, a Corbynista or a Blairite, a Globalist or a Nationalist. The days of moderate, reasoned debate with people with opposing views are long gone. This is highlighted by a piece of research that found that 51% of voters who voted in the referendum felt disgust towards those who voted differently to them. It has stopped being about convincing others of your opinion and instead it’s about insisting that our “side” is right.

And it’s not just in politics. Increasingly debate about education is presented as binary choices: you’re either a traditionalist or a progressive, you can believe that the curriculum should be knowledge heavy or skill heavy, you believe learning should be teacher centred or child centred. Those debates aren’t new but recently we’ve gone further as we try and present how these two apparently opposing philosophies work in practice. There are no excuses, no PowerPoints, no worksheets, no textbooks, no teacher talk and, in some cases, no talking at all. Silence is either golden or oppressive, your desks are either in rows or grouped like a science lab, children should only be studying the classics or staring gormlessly at “Where’s Wally?” books. For someone who worked for seven years in the grey area, it’s maddening.

I’ve worked in schools that expected their teachers to have PowerPoint slides up for EVERY lesson. So you’d see teachers painstakingly creating slides to shoehorn into the lesson just so that box was ticked. More often than not these slides were a waste of the teachers’ valuable time and added nothing to the lesson. But that’s not to say I’d never use a  PowerPoint or that it can’t be a useful resource.

I’ve also worked in schools where teachers are always expected to be working with a guided group. Sometimes this worked brilliantly and provided an opportunity to work intensively with a small number of pupils. However there are plenty of examples that I can think of when the most useful place I could have been was at the front of the class. It wasn’t the guided groups that were the problem it was the fact that we had to ALWAYS be with  group that lead to it feeling restrictive.

I’ve also worked in schools who banned worksheets and others who expected them for every lesson.  These schools all believed they were doing the right thing for the children. They could provide you with justifications and probably at least one piece of research to support their ideas. But ultimately when you insist a teacher always or never adopts a certain method or practice then you are ignoring the fact there is always an exception (and there IS always an exception.) It ignores the grey area.

My first ever head teacher once told me he believed that a school should be like a laboratory. Every teacher would work away in their classroom with their class on different projects and trying new things and every once in a while a member of staff would stick their head out of the door and shout, “I’ve got something great – come and have a look.” We were free to teach how we wanted and it brought the best out of the staff. That school was, and remains to this day, outstanding by any measure.

For me, it’s the grey area where the learning happens. The teacher who one day imparts knowledge from the front of the class to children sat in rows but later that week pushes the tables together for group work. The teacher who knows that worksheets and PowerPoints are neither a silver bullet nor the root of all evil and uses them as and when they judge to be beneficial. It’s the teacher who has high expectations and understands that, “my dog ate my homework” is not an acceptable excuse but that doesn’t mean that there are no excuses. It’s the teacher who knows that silence is sometimes essential but a noisy, bustling classroom can be equally effective.

The problem with teaching in the grey area is that it’s complicated and messy. It’s a skill one hones over time which means sometimes getting it wrong but I believe, ultimately it creates a more skilled teacher than one who has never been encouraged to take risks, or explore the possibilities. It takes a strong school leader to leave their teachers to teach how they see fit. My favourite head teachers to work for have always been the ones who have said, “as long as I see evidence that what you’re doing works – you’ll be left alone.” But it takes a bold and brave leader to do that because it means they won’t always know exactly what is happening in every classroom.

As with so many things in our society at once, the debate about education is becoming a needlessly polarised debate between two arbitrary and absolute camps. Learning means coming to terms with complexity and understanding that what holds in one situation doesn’t necessarily hold in another. Beware the absolutists on both sides- freeing people from that sort of rigid thinking is one reason we have an education system in the first place.

What Should Children Be Reading?

childrens-books-1246675_1920

I don’t remember learning to read. I consider it a huge privilege that I only have memories of being a reader. I think it’s because I was quite nosy and once I’d mastered talking (which those that know me won’t be surprised to find out was at a very young age) I didn’t want to be locked out from this world the adults could access for a second longer than necessary. Walking came late, reading came early and that is reflected in how my spend my leisure time as an adult. I was surrounded by books growing up; they lined the walls of every room in our house. Whole worlds, carefully hidden between battered, worn covers just waiting to be explored. Reading introduced me to new ideas, people and places, some real and some fictitious, it enriched my life and fuelled my imagination. So it’s with interest that I read Katie Ashford’s article about what children should be reading. This is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about. And, as part of that thought process, I have decided to reflect on my own “reading journey” and the teachers who guided me through it.

By the time I got to school, I would proudly announce that I could read “by myself” to anyone who would listen (I was probably quite annoying as a child.) My Reception teacher, Mrs Woodhams, gave me books from her own collection to take home once I’d worked my way through the class library. At home we’d read the Ahlbergs, Shirley Hughes, Jill Murphy,  oh and a book called “Bad Mood Bear” before bed. I read whatever I could get my hands on but there are a few books that stand out in my memories of my school years.

I think I’m right in saying that the “Puddle Lane” books were the 80s equivalent of “The Magic Key” series. I have a distinct memory of bringing them home and reading them to my brother. Lucky him. I remember being thrilled to be given the chance to read, “The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark” aloud to the class in Year 1. In Year 3 I became obsessed with the “Flossy Teacake” books – I must look those up again – they were brilliant. Bel Mooney’s “Kitty” books were another favourite, oh and not forgetting Jill Murphy’s “Worst Witch.” There was a series of books by Nigel Hinton that I loved called, “Beaver Towers” it was about a boy called Philip and his adventures with a family of beavers. Whenever I ran out of books – I’d scour my Mum’s bookshelves for anything I thought looked interesting – which is why by the time I’d left Primary School I’d read more Libby Purves than most 11-year-olds. Nothing was off limits. There were no “good books” or “bad books” there weren’t even “hard” or “easy” books there were just books to be enjoyed every day.

In Year 5 I read my first classic. As a class we read the “The Hobbit.” There was no film to rely on in 1995 and, even if there had been, we only had one twenty minute session in the TV room a week, it would have taken nearly a term to get through it. Instead we were skillfully guided through Tolkien’s Middle-Earth by Miss Fry. She would read it to us every day and photocopy chapters for us to read at home. We drew maps of Middle-Earth and even created a “life size” Smaug out of chicken wire and paper mâché. (Which I’ve since found out was rolled out to greet Ofsted when they turned up. It is my belief that all schools should have an Ofsted dragon.) This sculpture was so enormous that we had to move it out into the playground so we could all work on it. As well as grappling with Tolkien we were also treated to a poems by Michael Rosen and Spike Milligan. Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Tennyson were introduced to me in Year 6 and I loved them but after school I’d have my nose in the latest Babysitter’s Club or “Animal Ark” book.

Secondary school was where I was introduced to the big guns: Orwell, Hardy, Dickens, Austen and Keats. Some I loved and some I found insufferably dull. For GCSE I read, “The Handmaid’s Tale” the book that started my love affair with Margaret Atwood. 6 years later I wrote a dissertation about it.  Conversely, for  A-Level I had to read Thomas Hardy’s, “The Return of the Native” and I could not get to grips with it. My form tutor at the time, who was an English teacher herself, listened to me moaning about how complicated the plot was and how difficult I found it to keep up with what was going on. Her response was perfect and has always stayed with me: “Oh Zoe, come on now, the plot is no more complicated than the plot of ‘The OC.'” (‘The OC’ was a programme full of teen drama that I watched avidly at the age of 17.)

From then on she would ask me every day how much more I’d read until I finally got to the end. I am forever grateful to her for doing this. It got me the grades I needed to study English Literature at university and proved to me that I was capable of sticking with a book (a skill I had to draw on often when studying Anglo-Saxon literature in later years.) However, it was also the first time I’d ever had to really force myself to finish a book I wasn’t enjoying and it put me off reading Hardy for years (“Tess of the d’Urbervilles” changed my mind.)

I think we need a two-pronged approach when it comes to introducing children to books. The first thing we need to do is completely surround them with books without preference or prejudice. Picture books, graphic novels, classics, nonsense poems, everything from Jeff Kinney to C.S Lewis.  I disagree that “hooking” children in to reading with books based on their interests won’t lead to a life long love of literature. My brother grew up on a literary diet of football magazines, Liverpool FC annuals and the occasional “Goosebumps” book until the age of 14 and now reads widely and regularly. Let children read whatever they want at home, show that you’re interested in what they’re reading and encourage them to bring in their favourite books and share them with the class. Recommend other texts they might enjoy and please never tell a child, “you’re a bit too old to be reading that.”

This is not to say that children should leave school without any experience of the classics – they absolutely should. But it can be a two-pronged approach. Whilst the works of Shakespeare, Tolkien and Dickens should not be the preserve of the most able pupils, neither should they replace “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” It is our responsibility to guide pupils through these more challenging texts and make them accessible. I’ve taught “The Tempest” to 6-year-olds. It was the year of the 2012 Olympics and the class had seen Kenneth Brannagh read Caliban’s speech in the opening ceremony. Given that they were already interested in the speech, I decided to run with it and introduce them to the play. I taught from both an abridged children’s version and the original. As Shakespeare plays go, “The Tempest” is a good one to start with as it’s full of magic, a wizard, a storm and a monster. I know people will pipe up with, “But if you feel that you have to “sell” Shakespeare to children you are suggesting it isn’t interesting or worthwhile.” I’m not. I’m suggesting that if you want six-year-olds to read Early Modern English don’t expect them to be immediately interested. That’s not a new, radical idea – the first children’s Bible was published in 1759 in an attempt to make it more accessible to children.

By the end of that term, the entire class knew Caliban’s speech by heart and we took turns performing it from the top of the playground equipment. Gimmicky? Perhaps. Sugar coating? Possibly. But there are 30 children who are no longer intimidated when they read Shakespeare. That particular class also know Michael Rosen’s “Chocolate Cake”  by heart because we read it so many times and they in turn introduced me to the delights of “Mr Gum.”

I hate this notion that some books are too “easy.” Learning to read isn’t easy and it isn’t always interesting and I don’t believe that it’s selling children the assumption reading is dull by finding them books they’re interested in. The books you first read for yourself and actually enjoy are so special they stay with you for the rest of your life. A book that sparks interest and inspires a child to pick up another is like a magic key (not that one) that unlocks the world of reading.

All that said, I am the teacher that hid the “Where’s Wally?” books from my Year 5 class…

 

 

Do I Miss Teaching?

teacher

Next week it will be six months since I taught my last lesson. That sounds a bit like an AA introduction doesn’t it?

“Hi my name is Zoe.” 

“Hi Zoe!”

“It has been six months since my last lesson.”

And then you all clap. I think. I’ve never been to AA but I’ve seen films.

Last year my resignation letter caused far more drama than I’d anticipated. I wrote it on a Saturday night whilst babysitting my nephew (he was only 18 months old at the time and asleep – I wasn’t just ignoring him for the whole evening.) It had been in my drafts since I’d told my head teacher I was leaving in the January (much to the disappointment of one breakfast TV show that rang to ask if I’d like to resign live on air – no I bloody don’t.) I posted it at about midnight and went to bed. The following morning I woke up to nine missed calls, a flurry emails and an invitation to go on BBC Breakfast the next day. By the time I got hold of my Head of school he told me he’d already read the post because a member of his family had shared it on Facebook. The week that followed was surreal and hugely overwhelming: from press turning up on my Mum’s doorstep,  to supportive phone calls from the wonderful Kevin Courtney and Martin Ellis-Hall.

Anyway. Now I’ve left. I didn’t have much time to process that over the summer as we were finishing the preparations for our wedding. Then we took 10 weeks to channel our inner-Palin and circumnavigate the globe and now we’re now settled into our new life in Amsterdam pursuing careers in writing.

amsterdam

An entire term has passed by without me entering a school. Do I miss it? Yes. I miss the teaching. Those sacred hours between 9am and 3pm when it was just me with my class hammering out how to multiply fractions, reading endlessly and learning about the world. I miss seeing children succeed and make progress, not always in neat, measurable steps, but progress nonetheless. I miss finding new ways to challenge my pupils, researching new ideas and trying them out. I miss laughing with (ok sometimes at) my class every single day.

monsters
I miss these monsters.
I miss the colleagues: teachers are some of the smartest, funniest and most interesting people I’ve ever met and our colleagues from the six schools we’ve worked in made up over 70% of our wedding guests and remain our dear friends. I miss the sense of community and camaraderie that comes from working in a school.

I don’t miss how much of my life I had to sacrifice to do the job well. I don’t miss: leaving the house before 7am, working until 7pm, working some more at weekends, inputting data, analysing data, feeling guilty about the data. Worrying about the results, worrying about forced academisation and worrying about Ofsted. I don’t miss the fear. The fear that’s felt by both my head teacher friends and my NQT friends.  Fear of being caught out, or of failing – because there is no time to fail any more. A head teacher cannot have a bad set of results and an NQT cannot have a bad lesson observation without questions being asked. I appreciate this isn’t true of every school. I was part of a new SLT who were hired to help improve an “RI school”  – which let’s face it was never going to be a straightforward job but it isn’t just RI schools feeling the fear. I don’t miss the frustration at having to tell parents of able writers that, because their child hadn’t used what the DfE call exclamation sentences, they were not meeting national expectations. Actually whilst we’re on it – I don’t miss the DfE at all.

I now have two things I never have as a teacher: time and energy. I exercise every day. There are some incredible people that can do that as well as work a 60 hour week but I was never one of them. I have time to speak to my husband – as in properly speak to him for hours. He’s one of my favourite people in the whole world but when we were both senior leaders we’d stagger through the weeks barely acknowledging one another, sleep and drink through the weekends and repeat. Now we have time to visit new places, go and see exhibitions, I even stay awake when we go to the cinema. I’m not too tired to answer the phone. The number of phone calls I didn’t answer simply because I couldn’t face talking. Not talking to that person just talking in general. I really noticed it this Christmas. In the past the Christmas holidays were a lighthouse in a rough sea that called to me throughout that long autumn term. It was a time to recover and recharge. This year I relaxed and took three days off from responding to emails etc… and I actually had enough energy to get out and see people. I was present for entire conversations and not thinking about work.

We have one life and I am determined not to spend mine working 60 hours a week for 40 years. I just can’t. Not because I’m afraid of hard work – I got my first job at 14, held down two jobs whilst studying at University, helped set up a business in my year out and then went into teaching. I am happy to work hard but I will no longer sacrifice my relationships with my friends and family, my health and my wellbeing for my career – no matter how worthy or noble the profession. Life is too short to only work.

I’m sure there are plenty of people reading this thinking, “What a load of crap – teaching doesn’t have to be like that and it isn’t at my school.” And that’s great. But it was very much my experience. The hours and energy it required were just not sustainable long term.

But I do miss it. And if the time or school came along where I could do the job well on a 40-45 hour week and if we ever get past this high-stakes testing and schools being judged on their ability to jump over an ever-raising bar then yeah, I’d be back.

Is There Something Wrong With How We Teach Children To Write?

child-865116_1920

The idea for this post came to me at 10:35am whilst I was boarding a train at Amsterdam Centraal.  We were heading to Cologne to check out the Christmas markets. I spent the entire two-hour journey scribbling down the idea on a piece of paper my husband had been using as a bookmark. (I normally carry a notebook but on this occasion, had left it at home to make more room for Cologne Christmas purchases.) My notes were messy and incoherent as I rushed to get everything down:

notes

The next day I sat at my desk and transferred my notes into a first draft. It was still incoherent: just a list of points I wanted to make that needed to be fleshed out into full sentences. During the drafting stage I am always comforted by Hemingway’s claim that, “the first draft of everything is shit.” I used to have this quote written on a post-it and stuck to my laptop as a reminder for those “this is so crap and you’re deluded if you think anyone will ever read it” days.

That draft was written about a month ago and since then I’ve been editing and rewriting. The idea that had come so suddenly and easily proved to be harder to write than I’d thought.  But I liked the idea so I stayed with it. Yesterday I had 1,700 words in a sort of coherent structure but still wasn’t happy; I dropped the laptop into my husband’s lap and said, “Can you work out why this is so rubbish?” I just couldn’t get it right – I had been so enthusiastic about the initial idea it was as if any attempt to create the post didn’t do the idea justice. Once he’d read it he commented how ironic it was, given the subject matter of the post, that I was struggling with it so much.

Then last night, as I was getting into bed, it clicked; I realised what I’d been doing wrong. I grabbed my notebook and quickly scribbled out a new plan ready to be typed up the next day. And here it is- you’re reading it which means I’m finally happy enough with it to post it – hooray!

You’ll notice I haven’t actually mentioned the idea that came to me on the train to Cologne – so far this has just been a blog about blogging (meta-blogging?) The idea itself is something that I was always slightly aware of as a teacher but has been highlighted since I started writing professionally:

Why is there such disconnect between how we as adults write and the processes we ask pupils in schools to follow?

It starts with asking children to generate ideas on demand. Yes, we provide plenty of discussion and stimulus but essentially a child can walk into a classroom and be told that in that hour they have to come up with an idea for a report/story/diary entry etc… That’s a big ask. Even when I’m pitching ideas to my editor they are ideas I’ve developed in my own time. Of course time is the main constraint here and generating ideas is just one part of writing (and the part that normally involves the least writing) so we can’t afford the luxury of allowing children endless time to generate ideas and develop them. Equally, if the objective is “To write a diary entry” there is no reason why you can’t provide the pupil with the idea just to get them writing.

Once they’ve had/been given the idea it is commonplace to ask children to complete some sort of plan. Google “KS1/KS2 planning formats” and you’ll be presented with dozens of versions of essentially the same document: a page of boxes for the children to complete.

 

In the early stages of their education, when children need to be taught HOW to plan, there is certainly a place for these but once they’ve learnt the process I would argue that these templates can be more of a hindrance than a help. On a practical level the boxes are small which means you have to think about keeping your handwriting neat to make sure your ideas fit in. It also limits the amount you can write which doesn’t allow for those ideas to lead to other ideas – there just isn’t the space for that!

My plans are messy and illegible to anyone else and that’s fine because nobody else needs to read them. What is the main barrier to children being allowed to plan their writing freely? I would argue it’s presentation policies and policies that state there should be a certain number of completed pieces of work in a book each week. I’m not saying children shouldn’t take care over their presentation and learn to underline the date etc… but it shouldn’t take priority over the learning. Children need a space where they can write freely without worrying about cursive script or drawing in a margin. Some schools have draft books or jotters for this purpose but I’ve heard of schools getting rid of these books because they were “messy” or hiding them when Ofsted turn up.

Once they’ve planned, children start their first draft. In the ideal world the children would have the option of typing a first draft because the process of editing and rewriting is laborious enough without having to do it by hand. If you’ve written a four-page draft that you want to edit and then rewrite, it means turning back and forth between pages and squashing notes into a margin or rewriting sentences in that little gap between the original sentence and the line. Once again, when you’re first teaching editing, it’s essential that children see the process modelled, either by watching you mark their work or editing a piece of work together as class. By upper KS2 children should be able to edit their own work with the support of a checklist of criteria and a dictionary. Their editing would need to be checked by the class teacher but most of it could be done independently. The problem with editing is that it takes time – time that schools don’t have. This post took weeks to edit but even when I’m on a deadline the process can take days and includes a cooling off period where I walk away from the piece for anything from an hour to a day.

Finally we ask children to write up their work. As in rewrite the whole piece again. By hand. For what could be the third or fourth time depending how many drafts they’ve done. Out come the line guides, paperclips and ruled margins which will end up being elaborately decorated. Had they been word processing from the beginning the final draft would be there waiting to print once they’d finished editing and even if that isn’t an option I question how valuable “copying up” lessons are. You could perhaps argue it is a handwriting exercise but there are other ways to teach handwriting. By the “copying up” stage only the keenest of children are still interested in this piece of writing.

Conversely, how often do children get to scrap their work and start again from the very beginning if they want to? I had a child ask to do exactly that when the rest of the class were on their final drafts and I said no because we only had one more lesson to spend on this and next week we’d be moving on to something new. That was the right answer. Children have to learn to meet deadlines and follow instructions and I’m not suggesting we abandon our plans every time a child changes their mind but I do wonder whether if I’d agreed that he could start again on the condition he’d have to work on it at home he might have produced a better piece.

Obviously we’re not teaching children to be “writers” any more than we’re teaching them to be astronauts, doctors or civil servants. We are teaching them to write which requires practising the basics over and over again. It means showing them how to construct complex sentences and how to use punctuation and grammar and giving them time to practise it. Writing is bloody hard work and learning to write even more so.

This post isn’t a criticism – just a general musing. I would love to hear about how different schools teach writing  – please get in touch. I’m also not suggesting that the way I write is how we should teach children to write – I’m not Michael Gove. It’s just that if we are serious about children mastering a “writer’s voice” we should, at least occasionally, allow them to behave like writers.

 

#Teacher5aday Day 2 – Managing Workload & Marking

highlighters

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.

marking

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.

Verbal Feedback

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

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

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.

Speak Up

Views about marking are changing. Last month Ofsted released a clarification document challenging the idea that they expect in depth marking@

oftsed-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.

slowchat4