Marking: Why, What and How?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Week 1: Why?

As a PGCE Student going through two school placements in North Wales back in 2005, I found it hard to keep up with daily admin. Just planning lessons and trying to deliver stimulating content and keeping the students engaged throughout, was challenging enough. Marking: I dreaded it, and found it almost impossible to fit it into my weekly regimen of teaching, planning and completing assignments for university.

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Fast forward to today, and marking has become an enjoyable part of my job. I find it relaxing and I enjoy the thought of the motivational effect it will have when I write “Excellent effort. Well done for…..” on a student’s assignment. 

Marking is an essential part of a teacher’s job. Get it right, and you’ll have a massive impact on the success and emotional well being of your students. Neglect to do it, and students will become lethargic and lack-luster, and may even resent you personally (or, at the very least, dislike the subject). 

Why should we mark our students’ work?

#1. Acknowledgement

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First and foremost: marking provides acknowledgement for work completed. This is essential, as all students need to know that their time and effort has been noticed, is being monitored and has been recognised.

Whilst working in a previous school some years back I was immediately hit with the reality of this truth.

At the start of the academic year, students handed in reams and reams of homework that they had been assigned over the summer. Thankfully, none of it fell on my shoulders, as it was my first year there.

Stacks and stacks of Physics booklets, Maths past-paper questions and English assignments were handed in and piled on a large table in a special room. It was quite a sight to see. Lots of marking for many teachers and they hadn’t even taught their first lessons of the year yet!

Teacher-led assessment

Three months later and I remember walking in to that room just out of curiosity. I was shocked to see that many (but not all) of the student work was still there and hadn’t been marked at all. One student confided to the Head of Department that she would “Never do summer homework again. Teachers don’t even look at it!”. This was then passed on to us in a departmental meeting. Needless to say, there were some very sad-looking faces sat around the table that day. 

Students have to know that their teachers care about the work that they do. They need to know that it matters, and that their time and effort is appreciated.

If you’re finding it hard to get your marking done quickly because of other commitments, then at least give your students some specific verbal acknowledgement before they get their work back. “I was looking through your Chemistry homework on Acids and Bases, Jonathan, and I have to say that I was very impressed with your Kc calculations. Well done for learning the correct formulae. I appreciate your time and effort in doing this work. You’ll get it back at some point next week.”

#2. Praise

Every human being responds positively to sincere praise. It motivates us, keeps us working hard and provides us with a sense of validation.

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A nice personal story I experienced some years back illustrates this point.

I had just started as a Science teacher at a school in the U.K. and I was given a Year 9 bottom set class to teach, and they were quite a challenge both behaviorally and academically. 

Conversations about this class, and individuals in it, were overwhelmingly negative whenever it was raised in the staff-room coffee break. This negativity became quite infectious, and many teachers saw little hope for many of the kids in this class.

I decided on a different tactic. I had learnt on my PGCE that praise always works better than sanctions (NB. Excellent article from Trinity College London here.). I decided to find anything I could to praise these students for. I decided that for two weeks I would not reprimand them for anything unless it was serious. I would ignore low level disruption and just focus on praise. 

Quite a bold move some would say, but the effect was dramatic.

If a student drew a half-neat diagram, I would notice the straight lines and colors. If a kid underlined the date I would acknowledge that and say “Brilliant! I’m so pleased that you’re taking great care to present your notes properly”. Handing in homework – instant praise for being organised and responsible.

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The result was that by the end of two weeks my students were literally running down the corridor to get to Science class (a little too excited!). They all worked well and behavior management became rather easy. There were marked changes in student attitude, and many confided in me to say that Science was their favorite subject. 

This was a good start, but it wasn’t enough to be sustainable.

#3. Correction

Overwhelming praise is great in the initial stages of getting to know a class, but eventually errors in work must be addressed.

So how do you do this in a way that isn’t confrontational or demotivating?

The best way I’ve found is to mention one improvement area first, before addressing a number of praiseworthy acts. This improvement area can be phrased as a ‘target’. This can be done verbally, one-to-one or can be written as a comment:

“Target: Your handwriting a little unclear. Try to make this neater next time. I love your description of solids, liquids and gases. Well done for making your particle diagrams so neat and clear!”

#4. Practice

Assessment for Learning pedagogy, which has been active for around 15 years now, identifies student self-reflection and a mindset of “taking responsibility for my own learning” as key impact areas for marking to be successful.

In short, it means that students should be encouraged to go back over their work, correct it, and formulate targets for improvement and growth.

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It can be time-consuming to get the kids used to this and trained up, but once embedded it can be used throughout a child’s schooling as a very powerful way to catalyse improvement and encourage a ‘growth mindset’.

Try writing questions on pieces of student work (see below). “Whats the name of this part”. “How did the Montague’s react to this?”, “Well done for mentioning the word “deforestation’. How could this be a contributing factor in localised flooding”

Especially important for exam-level classes is repeated past-paper practice. Get your students familiar with the language of official mark schemes. Encourage them to correct the papers they’ve done by being very strict with themselves when following the mark scheme. 

Recommended Book: Mark, Plan, Teach

This is a great book that puts the importance of marking in it’s full context as a means to enhance teaching and learning. Full of great examples and practical advice. Highly recommended. By Ross Morrison McGill (Twitter: @teachertoolkit).

Available at Amazon.

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Back To School After Christmas: Teacher Survival Guide

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Firstly, may I say Happy New Year to all of my readers! May I wish you and your families a happy and successful 2018. May we all learn from the past, regret nothing (we can’t change it), and use our experiences to inform our decisions this year. Good luck to everyone!

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2017 has certainly been eventful for me. A number of my articles have passed 10,000 views, including my pieces on Spatial Learning, The War on Masculinity in Schools and Efficient Lesson Planning. On top of this, sales of my book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, were up by 40% in 2017 compared with the previous year. The book also reached number one in the Amazon Bestsellers list for Classroom Management in December: a first for me! Thank you so, so much to all of my followers and fans – your support keeps me going despite the obstacles of life that we all face. 

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“An AMAZING book!”

I’m truly humbled and honored to be able to help so many teachers with my writing. I don’t always get it spot on, and I’m never perfect, but I do try to offer ideas that are easy to implement and quick to put into action in the classroom. 

Keep following my blog and social media channels (such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) for future book giveaways, Amazon promo codes (for discounts on my books) and the future release of my next book: Classroom Genius: Top Teaching Tips.

Back to school after Christmas

I happened to be very ill for almost the entirety of the three weeks that I was off school for Christmas. Bad luck I guess, but I still managed to squeeze in a 3-day trip to Jeju Island, South Korea (highly recommended). I didn’t get everything done on my list that I wanted too, but I did manage to get a few items checked off (including writing a reference for a former colleague – so pleased I could that done). 

Let’s go through a few checklist items for primary and secondary teachers: top priorities upon returning to school.

Secondary School Teachers

  • Mock exams: Make sure papers are printed and ready and are easy to read and that the rules, length of the paper and space for candidate details are clearly displayed on the front page
  • Have you already prepared the mark schemes for your mocks? Get those done ASAP because both you and your students will need those model answers for assessment and reflection.
  • Termly plan: for your own personal use. Do you know where you are up to and where you are going? Are you ahead or behind schedule with your teaching? Have you planned in adjustments? 
  • Personal targets: Is there anything you could have done better last term? For me, my marking of student notebooks was regular but I know it could have been better. My target for this term is to get a good weekly marking schedule in place so that I can provide my students with even more regular feedback to inspire and motivate them (and to plan ahead when I know that school events are going to affect my personal marking schedule). Want to improve your teaching skills? Check out this great book list on Amazon. 
  • Coursework: Do you know all of the deadlines? When will it be sent off for moderation/marking? What do you need to do to make the process as helpful to the assessor as possible? Are your students clear about what’s expected?
  • Revision: Term 2 will move like a steam train. Before you know it, your kids will be sitting their final exams. Have you worked revision time into your schedule? Maybe some after-school sessions will work for you?
  • Take a look at the primary school teacher list below: some things apply to us too. 

Primary School Teachers

I might need your comments and help with this one, as I’m not a primary specialist. However, after some careful research, the consensus seems to be that you should be focused on the following:

Start easy. Don’t overwhelm your kids. Many of them will have been waking up late in their pyjamas over Christmas. Starting the day with a printable worksheet reviewing 10 maths problems they’ve covered since September wont go down too well. Try the following open ended tasks to ease them in:

  • Blank paper to colour and draw on
  • Morning boxes to explore (unifix cubes, pattern blocks, play dough, lego, etc.)
  • Journaling
  • Drawing or writing about Winter break
  • Puzzles
  • “Make a list” (For example: Make a list of as many Christmas words as you can think of. Draw or write the words on your paper.)
  • Create a “Welcome Back” greeting card for a friend

I have to give credit to Christina Decarbo for these excellent ideas here. This article of hers is filled with great after-Christmas tips for primary teachers. It’s well worth a visit! 

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Get organised. Plan your outfit –  for me that involves a lot of washing and ironing so all the better to start now! Pack your teacher bag. Clean out any remnants of holiday treats. You may find that the bottom of your teacher bag is pretty much coated in glitter from sweet cards from students and candy that escaped from cookies on the last day before break. It’s time to avoid an ant infestation! Plan and pack your meals and snacks for the first week and be sure to go to bed early.

Expect the worst. Some kids will be late. Some will not turn up for a few days. Some will forget things – they’re getting back into the swing of things too. Be prepared, Have extra pens and materials on hand for kids who forget stuff. Maybe plan for kids who forget their packed lunch. 

Once again – I can’t take credit for these last two ideas. This article at the Happy Teacher Happy Kids blog is filled with great advice for surviving the first few weeks back after Winter. 

Have a great second term everyone! Don’t forget to comment below or contact me if you have any questions or comments – your feedback is my lifeblood! 

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