This post is well a post from the heart. It’s a topic I feel passionate about.
During my PGCE I hated marking. It felt so tedious, ticking and flicking, in my second placement we didn’t even have to write any comments other than well done or great piece of work. It was boring and I didn’t see the value of it at the time, particularly as I had more important things to do like essays to write, lessons to plan, a dissertation to research etc. etc.
During my NQT year I was introduced to RAG rated marking. Using felt tips we’d put a coloured dot at the end of the work in the appropriate colour based on student achievement and effort and write a comment and target.
However, I can honestly say I barely gave students time to act on the target. They’d write the target in the table at the front of their book but that was pretty much it. I’d encourage them now and then to look at their target and reflect on whether or not they were working on it but yeah can honestly say I felt like the effort vs. impact was minimal. I was definitely working harder at marking their books than they were at taking feedback on board.
During my RQT year, I moved schools and became Head of Humanities. I now had the opportunity to develop a system that worked for me and my students, especially as the school was setting up from scratch. It was a blank canvas.
As a school we introduced DIRT, a dedicated time for students to read and act on feedback. I created DIRT sheets to help emphasis this work in student books. As a school we were using a generic marking system of codes for SPaG, positive comments and next steps. Each next steps comment was given a tick box for students to tick off once they’d acted on the feedback. In addition school policy was that we had to mark books every 4 lessons.
To keep on top of it I had to create a marking timetable. I’d be marking EVERY week night in order to get through the books each week. On a Monday night I would try to mark two sets of books in one night in order to be able to give books back the next day for DIRT to take place. This would take me over 6 hours; I had a couple of frees on the Monday when I had this timetable so would mark for about 1 hour during the school day but the rest would be attempted outside. As you can imagine, I didn’t always get it done which meant DIRT wouldn’t take place again for another fortnight. At which point students had forgotten the task we’d been working on; sometimes even the knowledge behind it which would lead to further teaching before they could act on feedback. Hectic!
Making a Change
I started to make a move towards a slightly different system with the introduction of marking and feedback grids. These allowed me to set up a task, wonder around the class, discuss with students the criteria they had already achieved and where I wanted them to go next. Live marking was made possible. I’d carry a highlighter and a pen, I’d highlight achieved success criteria and pop an asterisk next to anything I wanted them to focus on there and then. I’d take in work and spend about 20-30 minutes, highlighting any remaining criteria that had been achieved. It revolutionised the time I spent marking.
The marking and feedback grids meant I was still able to provide diagnostic feedback through success comments and next steps as well as the timely provision of the opportunity to act on the feedback without it taking over my life. This is when I realised ‘we’ needed a change in the way we mark and feedback. And so the work on this began.
Don't assess everything
During the summer holidays of 2015 I spent time identifying in the schemes of work, tasks that should be focused upon in regards to the provision of diagnostic feedback. We didn’t need to be marking and assessing everything so I picked out the important parts of each topic to assess in detail. Firstly some questions drove my planning – what were the skills, knowledge and understanding students needed to take away? Where would they be addressed again? How can we show progression? I mapped out in the schemes of work the skills to be used, lesson by lesson (ish). I looked at where peer assessment could be fitted in between teacher feedback and how that peer assessment could be used to progress students on. Honestly the peer assessment was okay, but there was definitely room for improvement to maximise its potential. In each unit of work, assessments were plotted based upon the school calender for data input and opportunities for DIRT to be undertaken mapped out in relation. All assessment work from each year group needed to be marked an assessed by data input week and since I taught almost every KS3 class as well as GCSE so had to ensure assessments were spaced out sufficiently to give me time to mark and assess them. In addition I wanted to ensure students had the opportunity to act on feedback before submitting work as completed.
Stop, peer assess, progress!
It was only when I started to assess, plan and teach in this manner that I began to recognise that giving students time to act on feedback at the end of a piece of work meant it was loosing some of its potential. Therefore since September in my new school I’ve started to implement opportunities to act on feedback within pieces of work.
We now stop part way through, peer assess using ACE or SpACE peer assessment and then continue with the work set. Students act on the feedback in pink pen. Sometimes improvements are made in the margins or at the end of the piece of work. As students continue the work they try to make the improvements in the rest of it. For instance if a peer has suggested adding evidence to support a particular point already made, the student will add evidence. Later on in their work each time they add evidence to support future points made they write this in pink pen or highlight it to demonstrate they are continuing to meet the target set.
Accepting Verbal Feedback
Verbal feedback in my opinion is significantly under valued and accepted as a form of effective feedback. It’s timely, differentiated and allows for immediate action. I’ve never understood the need to evidence verbal feedback, why do students need to write down what you said? why do we have to stamp or write VF in books? why can’t the student just spend the time acting on the feedback given. If they act on it, they are immediately making progress, they hadn’t done a, b and c before your feedback, now they have… that’s progress right?
I’m struggling to find an alternative to ‘evidencing’ verbal feedback, but personally believe we shouldn’t have to.
Whole class feedback
Save time marking each book individually, instead can we not move towards a whole class approach? I now mark books with detailed diagnostic feedback less frequently but that doesn’t mean I don’t know where my students are in terms of their understanding. Instead I’ve started using Whole Class Feedback Sheets I will go through a set of books in about 30-40 minutes, noting down the reoccurring successes, any stand out work by students, any misconceptions and reoccurring SPaG errors. In addition I will write several next steps that could be implemented in a 10-15 minute DIRT session.
In order to feedback to students, I scan and project the sheet on the whiteboard and verbally go through the feedback. Students write down any comments relevant to them and will give a round of applause to any students that have been highlighted for exceptional effort or achievement, this is probably the highlight of this approach – the shared appreciation of success.
In terms of making progress, at present in student’s books I draw a set of steps and write a number that corresponds to the Next Steps on the sheet . Eventually I will leave this to students to contemplate which ones apply to them. Students then have 10-15 minutes to act on the next steps. If any students do not have a next steps as they have met the relevant success criteria they are given the opportunity to reflect on their learning through the use of the plenary board.
Recording Next Steps/Targets
Now this is one that’s currently going through my mind, I think it’s important for students to have short term and long term targets for progression. In the Humanities we tend to teach by topic with reoccurring skills, I’m hoping that my plans for a spiralling curriculum in geography will hopefully help to improve this however I’m still to finalise these ideas. I’ll come back to this at a later date, but ideas are welcomed.
The Revolution Begins
So where am I going with this post. Well essentially I think we need a mass culture change towards marking, it should be more about the feedback in whatever form it takes. Students don’t need teachers that are too weighed down by the stresses of marking 30 books each night after teaching all day. They don’t need teachers that can only provide feedback on their work once every fortnight. They need be able to access timely feedback from their teachers and peers, feedback that allows for progress to take place. Feedback that allows them to act on it swiftly, not weeks later. They need teachers that are given the freedom to decide for themselves what needs to be assessed and how and when to do it.
These are my first steps towards reducing my marking workload, whilst maintaining a high standard of quality feedback for my students. It’s an ongoing process but something to think about for us all.
Your thoughts and comments are always welcomed.