About a year ago, I wrote this post about marking which proved to be somewhat popular compared to my usual widely unread subject matter. Perhaps the topic hit home with teachers. In it, I described a change in my marking approach which was completely altering my practice. Some people thought I was being ambitious in what seemed to be a mammoth workload issue. How could I possibly maintain the marking load while attending to other matters at the same time? Well, since then, I have adapted things to suit my routine but still manage to correct and feedback to every pupil in S1 to S3 (year 8 to year 10?) every week.
So what has changed? Every morning – almost without fail – I arrive at school at 7.45. I place fifteen class books on the desks of the pupils, make myself a cup of coffee and get going. I mark 2-3 pages, depending on what we’ve done that week, and leave a comment or two. It takes about half an hour. The most important thing I’ve learned doing this is that it is essential that I take care to write clearly and carefully while giving my feedback. On the odd day when I’ve rushed that, when my own handwriting hadn’t been given the attention it deserved, I’ve been faced with a hold load of problems when the books are returned. Some pupils will be confused, some will find excuses to question. Now I ensure I am clear both in handwriting and in feedback.
I think it was Phil Beadle who wrote about showing the class you care, especially the ‘challenging’ bottom sets. This is so true when it comes to marking. I find it essential to return work as quickly as possible if the pupils are to gain most benefit. The longer time passes before returning work the more chance of pupils forgetting or losing interest in the work into which they put a lot of initial care and attention. If you can return books the next day it also reminds individuals that you are right on top of them. No graffiti, no messing around, no lack of care. Hugely informative from a teaching perspective.
I try to respond to every piece of work with questions now. ‘How might you use a rhetorical question, here?’; ‘What alternative adjectives could you have used?’ It takes the follow up work beyond a simple correction exercise and promotes deeper thinking, producing much better work. I see it every day. It has been, perhaps, the most pleasing change in all my years of teaching. A light bulb moment. Something I used to think of as a burden has become the most essential part of my week. My workload is more manageable as I’ve prioritised marking and attempted to dismiss anything which has little effect on pupil learning; not always possible at times but I try.
David Didau described marking as and act of love and of course he is right. There were times in the past when I would be embarrassed to look at class books on Parents Nights and would try to convince myself that it was a collection of notes and not the real work. What was most damaging about that was that I was, inadvertently, embedding bad habits. My new approach means the books are well-presented and the pupils take pride in their work, especially during first draft. Marking is feedback is differentiation is planning. It is also essential.