Tuesday 29 October 2013

Blogsync 8: This marking is killing me

Be assured that the title is not something I have said. It was, in fact, something a colleague said to me a few years ago. The teacher of a different subject turned to me and painfully said that the marking they were doing was killing them. They said to an English teacher that they had too much marking to do. I casually replied: ‘Yes, it might be.’

I never get into a debate about marking and who has the most to mark, as it always ends in bloodshed or death. For years, I have always stood back. There is always somebody worse off. I might have to read the termly equivalent of three ‘War and Peace’s a term, but the poor PE teacher has to spend most of their day in the rain outside. Yes, it might get warm in the summer, but rarely does it stop raining. The Drama teacher has to run after school sessions and the Science teacher has to prepare for an experiment. It is all relative, but just one day I’d love an English exam paper that was made up of simple right and wrong answers. Instead I get bucket loads of writing and I spend the time sifting for gold. Like those in the Gold Rush, there is a lot of effort and it rarely produces gold. Too many times it produces fool’s gold.

The problem I have with marking is time. The time it takes to mark it. The time left of my free time to do it. The time I have left over to call my life.  When I became an English teacher, I held a copy of the complete works of William Shakespeare and swore the following oath:

I, Chris, pledge my allegiance to all things related to literature. I swear to use well known quotes from books at any opportunity to show that I have read a lot. I promise to obsess over apostrophes and homophones used in Christmas cards.  I assure people that I will spend at least half of any free time I have marking or worrying about marking I have yet to do.
It is half-term for me and I am worrying about the marking I have yet to do. I have seen on twitter that people have spent days marking and I have just, well, done nothing. I know: I will write a blog about marking to avoid marking. I find that I have loads to do in the holidays, because there is very little time during the term to do it. I feel that we are constricted by an old framework. The PPA time, which is great, is based on an old model of teaching. A model that was very relaxed. It was based on a time when schools weren’t so data orientated.  Marking has changed over the years, but have the working practices of schools adapted to it as well? We are now expected to mark more often and more consistently over the term, yet there hasn’t been any extra time to support this. Look at NQTs and teachers in the first few years of teaching and you can see this. They are usually the last to leave the school; even then they don’t get everything done.  If established teachers even find the marking demands tough, then how will the younger members of staff find it?

So, what is my method of marking with impact? It is very ‘old school’ and I think it is very obvious, but I think it is occasionally neglected because we insist on doing something all the time.  I have tried some snazzy ways of spicing up marking, but I think there is no getting away from it: you have to read and write a comment on work. All the ‘verbal feedback’ stamps in the world do not replace the experience of reading and writing on work. It might emulate it a bit, but it doesn’t replace it. And it is a questionable substitute, in my opinion. Ofsted praised my marking at the last inspection we had and there was not one reference to verbal feedback in my books. I think it is a gimmick and a time saver, but not a strong tool, unless I am missing a key point.

Anyway, what is the method?

First you will need:
A table
A chair
A red (green if your school has gone P.C.) pen
A classroom full of students

 I did this last week and it works as a great way to show impact and to push students. Students were set the task of writing a description of a creepy room. They busily wrote for ten minutes. Then, I called students up to my desk one at a time, or, if they wanted to come me. I read the work and then scribbled some comment on their work. They then carried on writing or restarted the task. They could only write the work out in neat if they had passed my strict quality control procedures. Like a flowchart, they had to produce a certain quality before they could move on.

The instant nature of the feedback meant that students got a clear reaction immediately rather than three weeks later, when the teacher had final got around to marking things. It also meant that I could support students then and there and clarify things if they didn’t get it right. It was humorous too, as I said I felt sick if I saw work without full stops or a homophone error.  The student rushed away as they knew I wouldn’t even look at it without the basics of full stops and capital letters present.

Doing this last week meant that I marked every exercise book in the class and pushed and developed several students along the way. It also meant that I had one less thing in mark in the holidays. Furthermore, it has clear evidence of progress. There was a clear pattern of work, intervention and evidence of intervention in work. All this I did with a bottom set and the students improved several sub-levels because of the intervention. Students who normally forget full stops were now using them because the teacher almost vomited last.

Marking doesn’t have to be a disembodied or separate part of teaching. The lesson was great and the marking was at the heart of the learning taking place. This is something that we need to strongly work on. It looks like we are starting to get a bit smarter with how we mark. The recent comments about DIRT and MAD time embody this notion of putting the marking smack bang in the middle of the learning, not in the boot of my car waiting for me to mark it.

Thanks for reading,  


P.S. Verbal Feedback from my daughters

Lots of big words, but it would look better if it was pink.


  1. Thank you for the reminder that in-class marking is so rewarding - I must remember to do some this year: nothing quite like the feeling when you have 1. engaged directly in formative feedback with the student in question 2. can keep an eye on the class and see they're making progress too 3. can give praise/fun comments (love the 'vomit' idea) 4. and also feel so good at the end of the lesson that productive progress has been made.

    I will also make more effort to do it with my lower groups, as I've tended to reserve that method for the top groups - and my marking for the lower groups is piling up, especially for homeworks.

  2. I'm a teacher and would not agree more, marking is Soo time consuming. It is the worse part of teaching.

  3. Some colleagues use the 'Verbal Feedback' stamp at work, but they tell the student to write themselves targets based on what has been said. I think this sounds a good idea, but perhaps only for very focused work, eg on paragraphing or emotive language. Good post - I like the idea of in-class marking.

  4. What do the students do who have already finished but need to wait because you are busy with another student? I love the idea of live marking, but there's only one of me, and 30 students, so how do I avoid the lesson becoming chaos?


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