This article follows on from last week’s popular ‘Marking: Why, What and How?‘ blog post: A highly recommended read!
Week 2: What and How?
The long, dark journey of my PGCE was long over. Gone were the constant lesson observations, full-page lesson plans and intense work-scrutiny from my university tutors and in-school mentors. Now I had autonomy. Now I was trusted.
With the onset of my first year as a qualified teacher came the intense sense of duty that one acquires when realizing that this is your chance to ‘sink or swim’.
And swim I did: as hard as I could with the tools I had at the time. But it wasn’t enough.
At about this time of the year in 2006 I was entering my February half-term holiday with an absolute ton of marking to complete. I took inventory of my week’s stock of coffee-inducing baggage and found that it contained:
- Online work
- Journals (which I’d just started after receiving the idea from a friend)
- Classwork/homework in the form of loose bits of paper and worksheets
- Coursework for GCSE Science
- The data entry that would come with recording all of this stuff
It was quite a sight to see and I remember Friday drinks with my colleagues that week in which I brought a huge sports bag into the pub. “What’s in the bag, Richard” some said; to which I replied “Marking”. The place erupted with laughter as my friends saw the gritty and not-so-pleased look on my face!
I’m sure they sympathized with me deep-down inside as they were merrily propping-up the bar.
Get a Marking Timetable in Place!
Back then I didn’t have a marking schedule in place and that was a bad idea! Work would just come to me as and when I set the deadlines and I would let it accumulate until I had some semblance of free time in which I would mark, say; four notebooks!
It just wasn’t sustainable.
Nowadays, I follow a very strict marking timetable so that I spread out my marking evenly across a recurring two-week period. I’m happy because I’m getting things done, my students are happy because they are receiving acknowledgement and feedback and parents are happy because they can see measurable steps of improvement due to the way that I mark (more on that later).
I know, for example, that on Tuesday Week 2 I am marking Year 10 IGCSE books. I see them that day so I can easily collect their books. I also know that I’m marking Year 13 IB Diploma books on Friday Week 1; so I’d best get those done on Friday otherwise I’ll have two loads to do the following Monday.
Get a marking timetable in place if you don’t already have one. It’s a self-discipline tool that will set you apart as an organized teacher who actually cares about the everyday work that your students do.
Some types of marking must take priority over others.
Take Year 11 GCSE coursework, for example. Now if you had a choice between marking that on-time or marking Year 7 notebooks, then you’re definitely going to go for the coursework. It’s a greater priority.
As teachers we are messing up our schedules and creating added stress because we do not ruthlessly prioritize enough. It’s absolutely essential.
All marking is important: every student must receive feedback and acknowledgement for their efforts. However, you may have to give your exam-preparation classes more detailed feedback than your younger classes at certain points in the year. You may also have to give it back in a more swift and timely manner too (e.g. when you’ve just finished the mock exams, or when you’ve had an end-of-unit test).
Learn to prioritize. I’ve known some teachers in their first year who were desperately trying to cover every single scrap of work with ‘two stars and wish’, ‘targets’ and literacy/numeracy feedback. This level of dedication is admirable, but it does not accurately reflect the differing needs of different classes. It may also cause long-term health problems for the teacher!
The Students Should be Doing More Work Than The Teachers!
Lazy teachers are the best teachers because they get the students to do all of the work
These words spoken to me in 2008 by a former colleague got me wondering about my workload as a teacher. Was I spoon-feeding my students too much? Was I giving them too much guidance without giving them the chance to think for themselves?
After a difficult self-appraisal, I took a rough-guess that I was somewhere in the middle.
It was at this point that I started to write questions on students’ work. “What is this part called” on a diagram, for example, or simply a “?” next to something that wasn’t clear.
Make sure to check that students have actually improved their work! You can set ‘work-improvement’ as a short homework or classwork task.
Use Marking as a Means of Encouragement and Motivation!
We all love positive feedback: especially when it’s sincere.
Make your feedback useful and sincere by writing (or saying) “Well done for….” from time to time. It will help the student to store the concept in their long-term memory and will prop-up their confidence so that they enjoy your subject more and more in the future.
Be aware that this must be constantly reinforced. Once or twice won’t be enough – we should be praising the positive attributes of our students’ work on a regular basis for maximum effect.
You should definitely use your school’s reward system for this. If your school doesn’t have one, then create one (stickers, class points, the chance to win chocolate at the end of the month, etc.)
Placing students’ work on display is an excellent way to take the motivation and inspiration element a step-further.
In my current school we have a weekly ‘Science Stars’ noticeboard where every teacher pins up an excellent piece of work for that week. Students regularly stop by to see their friends’ work, and it offers a great sense of achievement for those students who have been selected to be ‘Stars’.
Showcasing provides a benchmark for other students to aspire too. It shows examples of work considered to be detailed, presentable and accurate, and should aim to teach about the importance of effort in achieving the desired outcome.
Showcasing doesn’t have to be done on a weekly noticeboard. It can be done electronically on a VLE or school website or blog, and can even be as simple a task as standing in the middle of the class and showing the students an excellent notebook.
Showcasing also adds an extra level of effectiveness that day-to-day marking doesn’t always reach – it shows that the teacher is noticing things! It makes it really clear what stands out and what does not, and raises the bar for all students to aspire too (when done regularly).
Recurring Work (Very Powerful)
I use journals a lot in my teaching. It’s a shame they are not used more in the profession as a whole (I write about the amazing effectiveness of student journaling in an earlier blog post here)
Every Monday my Year 11, 12 and 13 Chemists bring me a journal filled with:
- Revision notes
- Answers to exam style questions and test corrections done in class
- Mind maps and memory joggers, such as acronyms and mnemonics
- A summary of what they’ve learnt that week
Journals used in this way are designed to instill self-discipline in students as they require one to regularly review work done in class. They are also a very excellent way for me to see and address weaknesses quickly, and I can provide feedback on a weekly basis, which helps a lot with focus and improvement.
The students bring their journals to class on Monday and sign their names on the big sheet on the wall. I then read through every book and write one sticky note of feedback in each (this keeps my feedback focused on the essentials, reduces my marking time and ensures that students get a rapid response).
Every Tuesday my students collect their journals from my room, read my feedback and hand them in again the following Monday.
The kind of regular, recurring feedback is great for me and my students. Common misconceptions become clear very quickly (allowing me to address those issues) and my students feel that their teacher cares deeply about their learning (which he does).
I’ve found that consistency is key; no matter what methods of marking I use. My students need to know that I care about the work they produce. Often, this sense of ‘someone actually gives two hoots about the work I do’ is the major factor in a student’s success at school.
I think John Hattie summarizes the importance of feedback as a tool for improving performance much better than I can:
The aim is to get the students actively involved in seeking this evidence: their role is not simply to do tasks as decided by teachers, but to actively manage and understand their learning gains. This includes evaluating their own progress, being more responsible for their learning, and being involved with peers in learning together about gains in learning. If students are to become active evaluators of their own progress, teachers must provide the students with appropriate feedback so that they can engage in this task.
Recommended books for further reading (click on the book images to go to their Amazon pages):
Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie. Includes excellent strategies for using feedback to dramatically enhance learning.
Formative Assessment by Margaret Heritage. Great for new and experienced teachers alike as it really shows how assessment can be used inform teaching in a practical and easy-to-understand way.