It’s all well and good to say we should spend less time marking, but how do we do it? School policies can be thorough, and some schools require you follow them to the letter. Schools of course need policies to encourage quality and consistency. While I was teaching and completing my training, I worked with many marking policies. Some much more flexible than others. From my experience, marking polices seem to be prone to change, with new things added or removed each year.
What I’ve seen work more effectively in schools is a ‘feedback policy,’ as this implies that the value for pupils is in the feedback they receive, and this doesn’t have to be written. Verbal feedback is the most effective way to support students in their learning, especially if you catch them there and then. Although there can be a place for visual or written marking, particularly if you want a student to revisit learning at a later date, verbal feedback should be first and foremost the most important part of how you respond to student work and help them with their next steps. Some schools have excellent policies in place that put student engagement at the forefront and also carefully consider teacher workload and stress. They work with teachers to create their policies and respond to teacher feedback. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky, so here are some general tips for making marking more manageable.
Mark on the go
Give verbal feedback there and then where possible, e.g. “’Bouncy’ is an excellent word for the trampoline, good job, but are trampolines rough? What word could you use instead?” This can also apply to visual and written feedback, for example, if your school uses green and pink highlighters, as you gave the above feedback, you could have highlighted the book in the respective colours at the same time, rather than doing this from your sofa at seven o’ clock in the evening. If your policy requires you to write your next steps, you could have written something like “Swap ‘rough’ for a better word choice.” Again, this means one less book for you to mark when you get home. Obviously, it would be very difficult, nigh impossible, to get around every student like this in a lesson, but even one or two groups can make a huge difference. This also means you are progress checking your students rather than potentially leaving them to struggle for the rest of the lesson or be bored from a lack of challenge.
Using voice recordings and videos gives students access to your verbal feedback post-lesson. This is a great way to give them praise for their work and support them in their next learning steps. There any many tools and apps you can use to do this. When it comes to marking, it’s a good idea to think, if I wrote this feedback down, could this student read it and understand it? If the answer is no, then you should definitely give them verbal feedback.
Introducing peer marking is not only a great tool for collaborative working and teaching children editing skills but it’s also another great way to save on marking time. When teaching peer marking, I would start by modelling using a child’s book, explaining how to give constructive feedback. The child would be in charge of ‘the purple pen’ so they would have ownership of making the actual changes, especially as they may not always agree with their partner’s advice. Then we would swap over. I would also tell the class specific things to look for e.g. “I want you to check your partner’s spelling, full stops and capital letters.” This would help them focus on specific writing aspects, rather than trying to change everything. I would also give them a limit for how many changes they could make. This was to prevent their partner from being distressed by being given a huge number of corrections that could knock their confidence. Sometimes pupils would want to change things that didn’t really need changing or would alter spellings in the wrong way, so we combated this with lots of practice and adult support. I also encouraged the children to ask me or my TA if they were unsure about any changes. For example, a child may have known a sentence didn’t make sense but was unsure how to change it. We also modeled how to use use word banks, dictionaries and thesauruses to support the editing process.
Once your pupils are secure at peer marking and editing, they can move on to self-editing; checking through their own work to see what they could change and improve. You could have cut up sentences ready to stick in books or pre-record a video/audio clip of yourself saying something like “Now check through your work and see how you can improve it”, “Now edit your sentences so they make sense”, “Now see if you can hook your reader by making your writing more exciting” etc. This gives them an editing focus. You could also ask them to explain how they think they have done in that lesson and if they need any help with anything. This can help form your feedback and inform your future planning. This could be done during the lesson or they could record themselves explaining this to you, or write it on a Post-It for you to see when you’re giving distance marking/feedback. If your pupils find self-editing difficult, because for example, they can’t read their own sentences back, then use adult or peer support. This support could simply be someone to read their sentences so they can hear and identify if they have made an error.
Praise stamps, stickers and certificates
Stamps, stickers and certificates easily and visually tell a child that they have done well and save valuable time when you are distance marking. Pupils will feel excited to see these in their books and it sparks a curiosity about why they received it. This is a great way for them to start a conversation with you or their friends about what they think they have done well and it encourages them to start self-evaluating. I wouldn’t use praise stamps etc. on their own too often, as its important for children to have plenty of opportunities to have direct feedback, that clearly explains what they have done well. Praise stamps etc. are useful if you have given verbal feedback, but you have to have some sort of marking in your books. This way you are not wasting time copying out what you just said. Using certificates is a really easy way to communicate with parents too!
Group your books based on next steps
Instead of grouping your books (ready to mark) based on who the pupils worked with or their ability groups or such like, group your books based on common issues or misconceptions that you spotted during the lesson. For example, if you noticed six children had lots of spelling errors when you did your progress check, mark these books together. You may find they would be a great group to grab next lesson for a bit of extra input, or you might want to give them all a similar scaffold, the same few words to practice etc. Grouping your books like this can save you time and help you plan next steps for groups of children.