The Majesty of the Markbook

‘Ergonomic Classroom Advisers’.

If such a thing doesn’t already exist, I’d be surprised. An advisory group must be out there somewhere; checking teachers are looking at their PCs from the correct angle; that their chairs provide the maximal support for their aching backs; that their coffee cups contain precisely the right amount to last the entirety of a morning briefing.

And whilst my first reaction towards such a group would probably be a very deep skepticism- there’s definitely something to be said for finding ways to make our lives a little easier, our classrooms better organised and our routines a little more efficient.

I’ve made a couple of slight changes this year for the same reasons. I’ve bulk-bought some cheap boxed tissues. It’s snot-season, but no-one needs a luxurious 5 minute trip to the toilets in Mr. Bunker’s lesson. I’ve created a clear ‘in tray’ with an accompanying sign so work can always be handed in when I’m not in my room. I’ve also acquired put my most used resources (scissors, glues, rules) on a newly acquired spare desk so they’re always accessible.

But, my favourite improvement is the additional single desk annexed to my desk at the front of the room- adding an extra 50% to my space. The great thing about this space is that I can keep a sensible amount of mess, and have enough room (and a designated area) for my treasured mark book.

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My mark book is on my desk every lesson. Much more than a record of grades and levels, it is helping me record patterns in behaviour and helps maintain a sense of accountability in the classroom.

As well as student data (levels, targets, any SEN), I also record a mark for every time a student is late, I’ll-equipped, misses homework or happens to chew gum. I’m finding this a very quick and easy way to record misdemeanors – it also demonstrates to the students that even small actions are recorded. They can also see this happening, watch me gaze down at the mark book, scan for the correct box and write their misgiving into my permanent record.

When a certain amount of marks are accumulated, more serious conversations occur, and the marks I record are proving invaluable when contacting parents. My classes’ first homework this year was to sign their class contract and collect an up to date and preferred contact number or email. I know we have some of these on Sims, but these go out of date quickly- and jotted in my mark-book, these contacts are easily accessible without any precious time battling with a computer system. With my mark-book in hand, I can be absolutely precise about how serious/ often different issues occur when calling parents. No more ‘he’s not great with homework’. Now I can relay precisely how serious and often certain behaviours occur. The accuracy of these conversations adds real clout and legitimacy to any complaints I might have.

There’s also a record of positives. I record positive phone calls / postcards home, so I don’t forget which families I’ve spoken to. Like most teachers, I would like to contact home much more than I presently do. By recording every instance of contact, I know exactly which parents I’m yet to speak to. Hopefully, for probably the first year in my career I can speak to every single parent this year at least once this year and know exactly when I’ve done this. Who knows, maybe I’ll manage 2-3 phone calls for most.

One of the upshots of my new, luxuriously spacious desk arrangement is that I have plenty of room for a student to sit next to me and discuss their work. If the lesson allows, I’m trying to spend more one on one with students, to mark their work and discuss their progress. The in lesson marking provides intervention at perhaps the most crucial point, often mid task. It also, I believe, shows students that I want to speak to them, and value them as individuals. By recording this conversations, I can ensure that all students get this opportunity. Here, I’m the one being held to account

I’m also trying to spend more time listening to my year 8 tutor group read. Every Wednesday we spend our 20 minute tutor time session silent reading. This gives me a great opportunity to talk to individuals about their books, listen to them read and generally talk about their reading habits. This 20 minutes is often the highlight of my week. Of course, I’m recording this too.

I know mark books aren’t for everyone, but there’s something majestic hidden in those pages. There’s no logging on required and they’re easy to transport. The technology of the mark book never fails. Each tick may only take a second, but it will last the whole year. And, most importantly every student is accountable for the patterns they create.

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