Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati.
Updated: October 2021
Accompanying podcast episode (audio version of this blog post, read by Richard):
Being a Newly Qualified Teacher was difficult. Getting to know my new students was a challenge, as was the daily grind of behavior management and classroom management. Building up the skills I needed to be effective in these areas took considerable time, and one of the reasons I wrote my book back in 2015 was so that I could have a record of all of the ‘nuggets’ of experience I had picked up over the years.
I wanted something I could read over on a regular basis to remind myself of the lessons that had been hard-earned. I certainly wasn’t expecting the book to become a bestseller, as it did on three subsequent occasions.
I think my ‘raw’ style really resonated with teachers: teachers who were fed up with the confusing (and often contradictory) ramblings of researchers and consultants in the field. They wanted real advice. They wanted techniques that worked.
One thing I touched upon, but didn’t go into detail about in my book was the plethora of marking and assessment strategies I have learned over the years.
So, strap on your seat-belt because I’m about to go through the highest-impact, most effective strategies for marking and assessing work in ways that will save you time and energy.
Strategy 1: Diffusive Live-Marking
This is really simple:
- Set a task for your students to complete (it could be a Google Slides presentation, a worksheet to complete, some questions from their textbook to do, etc.).
- When a few minutes have passed, ‘diffuse’ through the classroom by walking around with a marking pen in hand (I use a red pen).
- Mark student work in real time, as they are doing it. Of course – reinforce your written comments with verbal feedback (and you can even write ‘verbal feedback give’ or ‘VF’ on the work).
Hey presto – you just saved yourself an hour or so of after-school marking time!
Strategy 2: Absorptive Live-Marking
In this scenario, one can imagine the teacher being like a ‘sponge’ that ‘absorbs’ the students: instead of walking around the classroom to mark work in ‘real-time’, you sit at your desk (or at a designated ‘consultation point’ in the room) and call the students to your desk one-at-a-time.
Same result – you just saved yourself a ton of after-school marking time.
Which is better – absorptive or diffusive live-marking?
In my personal opinion, both forms of marking have their place.
Diffusive live-marking can actually double-up as an excellent behavior management technique – when you walk around the classroom and check work in real-time, pockets of low-level disruption tend to fade away because of the teacher’s proximity. The disadvantage of diffusive live-marking is that it can be difficult to stand behind, or to the side, of a student and mark work on a crowded desk.
I tend to use absorptive live-marking more than diffusive as I am lucky enough to work in a school where the overwhelming majority of the students are very well-behaved. This means that I can call them to my desk one-at-a-time and the class will still stay on-task. A big advantage of the absorptive method is that I can give more detailed and personal feedback to each student and I have my whole desk-space to neatly mark the work on.
Here’s a video I made about live-marking:
Here’s a podcast I made about live-marking:
Strategy 3: Peer-Assessment
I first learnt the power of peer assessment back in 2008, when I had just moved to Thailand.
As a keen young teacher with two years of UK teaching experience, I found myself teaching students who were ALL very keen to do their best (in stark contrast to what I was used to back home). Homework assignments and classwork seem to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with work to mark.
At first, I tried the traditional methods of using a green or red pen to write lengthy comments on each piece of work. I had learned from my training in Assessment for Learning in the UK that written comments that help the student to improve were much better than a letter grade or a score followed by a ‘Well Done’. I’d learnt about the ‘two stars and wish rule’ – where I’d write two positive things about the work and then one item or target for improvement.
These ideas were great in theory, but I found that my weekends became shorter and shorter as I tried to write effective comments on every piece of work that came in. I was spending less and less time doing the hobbies I enjoyed, and I became quite the old grouch.
I finally expressed my concerns in the staff room one day and a colleague of mine said “You should do more peer assessment”.
She was right.
I instantly started getting my students to mark their own work, and reflect upon it, and the results were astounding: my weekends became ‘me time’ again, and students seemed to learn better than they would from receiving my comments.
As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:
Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.
Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.
Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.
Step 4: Have the official mark scheme ready and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen can also work, but you may find that students cannot see the answers clearly and that you may have to scroll through at a pace that’s not suitable for every student. Printing a copy, or sharing it on the schools VLE so that students can access it via a tablet or laptop, is best.
Step 5: Make it very clear that students should tick the answer if it’s correct, and make full corrections if it is wrong. The mere act of writing out the model answer onto the work being marked will reinforce the concepts into the subconscious minds of the students.
Step 6: Let the students give the work back. Collect it in at the end of the lesson so that you can glance through and check that everyone has peer-assessed properly. If anyone hasn’t, then make them do it again.
Once work has been peer-assessed, you can sit down with individual students and have ‘progress conversations’ designed to pin point areas of weakness and highlight areas of strength.
You have to be quite organised with this method (e.g. making sure you print or upload the mark schemes on time). However, this will save you loads of time in the long-run and will definitely help the kids to learn properly.
Strategy 4: Self-Assessment
Not surprisingly, self-assessment has similar perks to that of peer-assessment. This great overview by the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:
- It encourages student involvement and participation, so it’s great for students who normally find group activities or active class tasks a little uncomfortable.
- When used in conjunction with group work it can be a great way to assess one’s personal role and contribution in the group experience and learning process.
Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my personal experience that both self and peer-assessment are absolutely invaluable to the modern practitioner. They save you oodles of time as a teacher and students learn so much from each process.
There are a number of different ways that self and peer-assessment can be used in the classroom. My experience has taught me (the hard way!) that the following tasks work really well:
- Making corrections to tests and assessments: When any important test or assessment comes up, I don’t think it is appropriate to have students marking these themselves. They’ll get things wrong, even with a mark scheme to use, and will be overly generous on themselves and their peers (unless they’ve been trained for a period of time – more on that next). However, a great activity is to mark the tests yourself, then give the tests back to the students along with a printed or online mark scheme. The students could then use a coloured pen to make full and detailed corrections to their test papers. You could turn this into an AfL exercise, with students writing down the question numbers they got wrong on the whiteboard, or on an anonymous piece of paper. You could then go through these questions afterwards to clear up common misconceptions. If you run a regular Learning Journals system (as I currently do), then students could write down the questions and the model answers in their Learning Journals. This causes very deep-learning to take place and is great for building long-term memory!
- Assessing homework, classwork and regular assignments: A great time-saver for teachers. Just make sure the kids have access to the model answers. Don’t forget to collect the work in too – you need to know that the kids actually did the work you asked them to do.
- Past-papers: Exam-level students really need to become familiar with the official mark schemes provided by exam boards. They need to become comfortable with key vocabulary, language and command terms. Provide exam-level students with regular past-papers to do as homework. Provide mark schemes too, so that they can self and peer-assess their work in class later. For older students (e.g. ‘AS’ – Level, SAT and IBDP learners) I’ll sometimes give them past papers and mark schemes to take home. Their task is to complete the past-papers under timed conditions and mark them using the mark schemes. The student then hands me the papers completed and marked (this is essential – I need to know that they have completed the assignment). I then check the papers for common misconceptions and target those in class.
- Technological means: There a number of ways in which technology can assist in the peer and self-assessment process. Google forms are great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g. BBC Bitesize and MyiMaths) and online quizzes that teachers can build by themselves (e.g. Quizlets). Make use of these and others (e.g. Kahoot – great for getting kids to use their mobile devices), as they are really interactive and can offer a nice break from traditional methods.
Strategy 5: Automated Assessment
That was back in 2013, and it totally transformed my work-life balance.
Why? – That’s simple: students would go into the ICT lab, or use their laptops or tablets in class, and literally be taught mathematics by the computer! The program would even assess the work immediately, and differentiation wasn’t a problem because students could work through the tasks at their own individual pace. The benefits were enormous:
- All of the students were focused and engaged.
- All of the students were challenged.
- The teacher had more time to spend with individuals working on specific problems.
- The content was relevant and stimulating.
- No behavior management issues as the students were all quietly working.
- No time was needed by the teacher for marking and assessment. The program did all that for you. All you had to do was collate the data.
There are numerous instructional software programs on the market today that save the teacher lots of marking time, and provide the students with engaging material to learn from. Whilst I wouldn’t advocate using instructional software every lesson, it certainly can become a significant and effective part of your teaching arsenal.
Some good programs to explore are:
- Kahoot! – Did you know that you can set Kahoot! quizzes as homework challenges? The software even generates student performance reports for you.
- Subject-specific software such as MyiMaths (for maths), Educake (for Science) and Lexia (for English).
- Class Dojo – totally free and a great way to award points to students and set homework tasks (which they can submit online).