Sunday, 8 March 2015

Marking - The Circles of Correction

One of the frustrations we face daily in marking is that students don’t read our corrections. Their eyes search avidly for the final level and comment, but the rest gets no thought at all. Nothing. Zilch.  The time spent tireless correcting the incorrect use of ‘their’ or ‘a lot’ instead of ‘alot’ can often be useless. It is merely a PR stunt for anyone looking at the books. Parents can see that I have read the work and spotted the errors. Teaching observers can see that I have picked up an exercise book and actually looked at it in the last few weeks. But, what students do with the work is another thing.

Now, there are lots of approaches that people use successfully and unsuccessfully in the classroom to combat this issue. Some might hide the level until the student has read all the work. Others, might get students to complete some action based on highlighted mistake. The problem becomes a simple case of fixing things. I have marked several drafts of work for students and the difference between the first and second draft is the correction of the errors I have highlighted. There’s been no other thought process involved.

Marking policies for years have included marking keys to: (A) help teachers mark quickly; (B) help students decode what their teacher means. I don’t mind having a marking key, but, to be honest, they can be a bit like the ‘Da Vinci Code’. You need the equivalent of the Enigma machine to work out that a student needs to use paragraphs and check that he/she uses capital letters correctly. It makes the student work, but maybe not it the way we want them to. They work out what is wrong and then shrug their shoulders. Yeah, I knew that.

This year, I started circling errors. I such a lazy teacher. Can’t even be bothered to say what is wrong with their writing. Yes, that’s me! Hands up. I read the work. Comment if I like something and, if there is a technical error, I will circle it. Then, I circle the next error I spot. And so on. I measure the amount of circling I do, so their piece of work does not resemble someone with chicken pox. Finally, I write a comment and a target.

When I return the work to students, I get them to do two things. One: write down next to the circle the mistake. Two: write down the correction. The students work hard and I don’t. They have to solve what is wrong with the aspect highlighted and fix it. Rather than simply decode a key, they are engaging with their mistakes and going through the thought processes - which they should have done when writing it in the first place. The two parts to the circling are important. Identifying the mistake is crucial. They need to understand the mistake made. What rule have they broken? Then, the student writing the correction reinforces the correct way of doing things.  If they can’t work it out, they ask the person next to them. If that person can’t work it out, I step in and help them.  


I find that this approach has really helped me with my marking and with how students respond to marking. You could spend three lessons looking at contractions and still find errors with them in the work produced, but this way, students do seem to be less blasé about making mistakes. They know that it will come back to haunt them. It really does help things to stick. After all, it is them trying to learn from their mistakes - by themselves.

Thanks for reading,



  1. I use circling for Y6 writing. It's great for helping them think about the nature of their mistakes: punctuation? Spelling? Something else? I like the idea of getting them to write down what they are changing - will try this.

  2. Fantastic post - I too use a key but am definitely going to try this in my next piece of year 6 writing. Thanks very much, Xris.

  3. I've resisted this for years because I thought they wouldn't know what was wrong, but more and more I realise they DO know once they think about it. Great advice in your post. Thanks. I will do this more.

  4. Great I will use. As an informal educator who doesn't mark very often I had become bogged down in a whole plethora of symbols and codes and colours in an effort to create clarity and still had to explain what I meant far too often. This way, as you say is more engaging and I would imagine of greater impact and longer lasting - Thanks

  5. Love this idea. Never been 100% comfortable with marking codes. This seems a much better idea :)

  6. Quite agree. I am now happily retired but you're entirely right - marking is pointless if they don't think about what's wrong and often, yes, they do actually know if they think about it.

  7. Our school has decided to not indicate the actual errors in student work.We use a simple code but it appears in the margin of the line where the error was made and the student has to find it.If they have trouble finding the error, they can ask their learning partner to help them.Once they have corrected all errors, they show the teacher and discuss it. This aims to eventually make them more independent editors. Fingers crossed. Students seem to like the system and find it challenging.