Marking is Feedback is Differentiation is Planning

For the #blogsync project  “A Teaching and Learning strategy intended to elicit the highest levels of student motivation in my subject”

I may be opening myself up to ridicule here but, as an English teacher, I don’t think I’ve ever been as good as I can be when it comes to marking. I’ve always done it, always kept as up-to-date as possible with the mountains of papers we see sometimes as teachers. Especially when, like me, you plan essay returns badly and end up with five class sets at the same time.  However, since Christmas I’ve tried to completely change my approach to marking. Reading about what better teachers than me do successfully (see the list below) has turned my approach around and I love it.

penOn closer inspection I was going for an outcome over process strategy. I spent too long marking, correcting, commenting on what became summative pieces of writing which were rarely used to set next steps. Class jotters were often neglected as I focused on the nice, final product, concerned that inspection, parents, management team would be more concerned with those. So, if I changed from outcome to process – which I should have been doing all along – what would happen?

Here’s a question for you. When you look at your class books/ jotters are you ever embarrassed? Would you be ashamed if a parent had a close look at their child’s book? Would they often see graffiti, empty pages, and unfinished work? Even worse, unmarked work? My books certainly didn’t have all of these flaws…but they occasionally did. Sometimes the odd one slipped through the net. Well, you can’t mark everything, can you? Well, there’s the rub.

‘All the other stuff is of no use whatsoever if you don’t mark your books properly.’ Phil Beadle  ‘How to Teach’

One Monday I sat down with a pile of books. There was a lot of good work in there, a lot of effort and evidence of improvement. Some good advice. Some. But what was more noticeable to me was the odd occasion when students hadn’t worked on the advice I’d given them. Whether that was because of time constraints or I hadn’t bothered to check whether they had is beside the point. I was missing real opportunities for writing progress. At that point I took advice from David Didau and made the decision to plan for one lesson a week to work on feedback. At least then I would know that pupils were working on my comments and that my marking would not be a waste of time.

Now I read every word they write. I correct every mistake, or at least highlight using the school’s correction code. I comment on every piece that they will work on, using questions, mostly, but with the odd reminder about apostrophe use or whatever. Most importantly I give them time to work on my comments. Every week. If I can’t do that, for whatever reason, I will not ask them to write it. I will grade only final drafts but will not correct or comment. This is where I find the time. I am not working harder or longer but smarter. Everything I say or write is used, more or less, and my students are taking more pride in their work. Jotters are neater as they look every week for questions to work on and address. The disengaged, reluctant writers are now seeing a point.

‘…when a kid writes a piece of work for you to read, and you do not read it, it is, to them, like they haven’t written it at all. Not reading it sends all manner of negative messages to the child: effort is pointless, their work is of no value to you and they could have got away with not bothering.’ Phil Beadle ‘How to Teach’

Now in my class, every student is guaranteed an individual lesson plan at least once a week and, while this is not the only differentiation I attempt, it is as good  a Personal Learning Plan as I could ever come up with. How else will I know how much writing help individuals need if I don’t read their writing correctly?

I can also use specific problems which arise to plan next steps. When I fist sat down to address my weakness in marking it took me an age. I worked through every single book – near 150 – and addressed any issues. Now, it takes about an hour a day, throughout the day. S1 books on a Monday, S2 on a Tuesday etc. And do you know what? I love it. It has given me a renewed vigor for correcting. I don’t have the wearying suspicion that I am wasting my time with endless comments. Writing is improving in my class.

It is embarrassing to me that I haven’t been doing this before. I started this post by assuming that I was opening myself up to ridicule and I stand by that but please believe me when I say that my marking was decent. I wasn’t the teacher who never touches books, ignores graffiti. But I wasn’t good enough. Now I’m better.

Headguruteacher Making Feedback Count

Learning Spy Making Feedback Stick

Learning Spy Building Challenge

Goldfish Bowl More Effective Written Feedback

Tait Coles Public Critique

Phil Beadle ‘How To Teach’

16 thoughts on “Marking is Feedback is Differentiation is Planning

  1. As a fellow English teacher I too worry my marking isn’t good enough. This has made me stop & think. And yes, it’s made me want to be better than yesterday (when I did my last lot of marking!) Thanks – will share this with my department.

  2. Yes, I too am one of those who consistently worries her marking isn’t quite good enough, especially lower down the school when 6th form essays take so much time! Definitely some interesting things to ponder here.

  3. Pingback: Marking is Feedback is Differentiation is Planning | Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday | Learning Curve

  4. Gosh, Kenny. I have started many years trying to mark as you describe and it has always fallen by the wayside. Perhaps the feedback lesson is key. Tell me how your week works then? We have a weekly literacy lesson and 3 teaching periods for S1-S4. Would you advise taking one of the 3 periods for feedback?

    • Absolutely. We have four periods in S2 and 3, five in all the others. I have been setting aside one period a week to deal with feedback alone. Since Christmas. Working well so far.

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  7. This is a great article. I love your answer to the problem and agree with you about only giving feedback when it will help move your students forward. Otherwise, your time is best spent elsewhere. It is a also a good role model for them.

  8. Pingback: Marking work twice – Are you mad?! | missdcoxblog

  9. Excellent post – if your students aren’t spending at least as much time using your feedback, then it was a waste of time. You could have been down the pub. You give the enterprise proper value when you create time to respond to feedback during the lesson.

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