Marking has a certain quality about it, whereby however much you do, there always seems to be some left. For me, it’s a project never finished. There’s always another set of books, a few scraps of homework, some mock exam questions that I could be marking. There’s even marking in this room, neglected, making each further procrastination seem like a crime against education.
The familiar problem is that even though marking is potentially limitless, teacher time is very limited. I need to find the best ways to mark, which have the most impact on my student’s learning, in the most efficient way. And this probably isn’t slaving away for 3-4 hours marking one class of books.
Another consideration I face is that marking needs to be ‘seen’ to be done, either through book scrutinies or lesson observations. I suspect this need to be seen giving feedback helps explain the proliferation of ‘verbal feedback’ stamps.
Marking’s also a focus for Ofsted, and this extract from my school’s recent inspection indicates that the Ofsted focus is, quite rightly, towards what students do with the marking
Marking offers a good level of feedback for students through positive comments and by highlighting clearly what they need to do next. Not all teachers follow up marking by insisting that students improve a specific aspect of their work, for example by responding to a question, re-drafting an answer or by re-doing a problem they found difficult or did not complete.
Fortunately, this is a subject which has inspired some fantastic blog posts, many of which were collated on the blogsync site in October. After reading many of these posts, I decided to experiment with a few different techniques to improve my formative feedback, based on a few guiding principles:
- The more immediate the feedback, the better.
- I should only be marking work which represents the students’ best efforts.
- Students need dedicated time to respond to my marking, redrafting, redoing, or correcting misconceptions.
- Marking should help me plan.
- Marking shouldn’t take me ages.
Experiment One: Not marking 1st Drafts
In his post Marking is an act of love David Didau offers the following feedback flow chart, adapted from an original from Shaun Allison which he shared here. From this, two thoughts occurred to me, that peer assessment appears to be elevated, alongside teacher assessment, and the proofreading stage occurs before any assessment whatsoever. Immediately my year 7 class came to mind, who often hand in work with errors they might have spotted themselves if only a little more care had been deployed in the first place. So, I decided for this term’s writing unit, I would only mark work which has been thoroughly proofread by the writer, peer assessed, with improvements following this peer assessment.
Obviously, peer assessment can be a waste of time when done badly (so can teacher assessment I suppose) so I was keen that the peer assessments were done as well as possible. To that end, after students had completed a first draft, I selected an example to type up and use for some public critique – usually a strong piece for others to emulate and to provide a challenge when offering improvements. The idea from this come from Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence which I read in the summer and found fascinating. (An excellent review of this book, and how we might translate Berger’s ideas into the classroom can be found here courtesy of Harry Fletcher-Wood). The public critique process helped us provide useful feedback, reminded us to be kind when delivering the feedback, and helped us remember the success criteria for our writing. Most importantly, it gave each student a model of how peer assessments should look.
After the public critique, students would peer assess each other’s work, using the same model we had completed as a class. Then, there would be time in class for students to improve their work, through editing and redrafting, based on their peer’s comments. Obviously, these pairings had to be carefully considered. After improving their work, I asked each individual to highlight or underline the key improvements they made, and articulate how they felt their work had changed. The final step the cycle involved me marking the piece. Then, just like with their peers’ feedback, students redrafted / edited their pieces of writing, producing a final draft after two loops through the feedback flowchart.
Outcome: I’m not sure this saved me much time, I was still marking pieces to check that peer feedback had been responded to adequately, as well as checking the final pieces had acted on my feedback. It did help me plan lessons, and certainly meant that I had less small errors to mark than I had previously. The best outcome was the change in culture within the class. Redrafting has become normal, an expectation rather than a chore, and peer assessments are much better.
Experiment Two: Code Marking
During the October blogsync, Joe Kirby posed a fascinating question: “What if you marked every book, every lesson?” This idea becomes much more feasible when using codes to mark instead of comments, details from Joe’s blog here. I decided to trial the idea of code marking with my fairly challenging year 8 class. I need to mark their work as much as possible, as I can’t do as much in class checking as with other groups.
After students had completed an extended piece of writing, I would mark their books by providing a code. The codes looked something like this:
When receiving their books, students work was marked with a red, amber or green star. I also used the same coloured boxes on other occasions, so the box would be drawn, in colour, around the part of the work which most needed editing / redrafting. The codes were then displayed, and if a bit ‘wordy’ printed off and given to the class. The students’ job was to select the feedback which was most relevant to them, based on the colour / code received, before redrafting and improving their work.
It took the class a while getting use to, as finding their own feedback from the list proved challenging for some. It was easy enough to match the colours with the advice, but they needed some support selecting the most pertinent advice. I don’t this difficulty was a bad thing. It was actually quite refreshing to see so much time and energy go in to getting the feedback just right.
I used this proforma during these sessions: Reflection and Improvement. It helped formalise the redrafting, and gave a clear demand on students firstly to write down their own feedback / targets, and then articulate what they had improved afterwards.
Unfortunately, I didn’t manage marking the books every lesson. But I did manage once every four 50 minute sessions, which is more frequently than our school’s official marking policy and more than I would normally manage. It also saved on planning time as marking 25 books and planning a lesson took around 45 minutes, making it very easy to provide immediate feedback for the next lesson. Like with my other experiment, students soon found the improvement lessons as the norm, got quicker at finding their feedback, and more comfortable with redrafting their work. Definitley something I will peservere with, and continue to refine this year.
Other marking posts which I found useful:
- Tait Coles explains the process of Public Critique brilliantly here.
- A thought provoking and well argued post here on from Andrew Old on marking and workload.
- I constantly revisit these posts from Alex Quigley about improving written feedback and ‘DIRT’ time.