What is The Best Way to Mark Student Work?

By Richard James Rogers, author of the award-winning book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management

Accompanying video:

There are many ways in which teachers provide feedback on written work.
Some methods work well, but may involve a huge time-investment on the part of the teacher. Other methods provide deep, rich acknowledgement and constructive advice, whilst eating into ZERO hours of teacher free-time.

So, is there a ‘sliding scale’ of assessment methods that pitch effectiveness against inconvenience? Is there one method (or a select few) that is the ‘best’ overall?

In this blog post, I aim to answer these questions.


Traditional written feedback (taking the work home and scribbling penned comments all over it)


I’ve tried this method to death, and I almost died whilst trying! I used to be the ‘super-keen’ (but stupid) teacher who took piles of books and assignments home with me (at one point via train and taxi – a nightmare), and then spent hours and hours writing detailed comments on student work.

The results of this exercise in self-punishment (because that is exactly what it was) were the best illustration I could receive of this method’s ineffectiveness:

  • I couldn’t keep up: I was burning the midnight candle at both ends. I should have been relaxing at home, or pursuing my hobbies and interests, or spending quality time with my family. In contrast, I was miserable, tired and inactive on the hobby-front.
  • When the students got their books back, they read the comments, but they rarely acted on them (a crucial point).
  • I was carrying very heavy bags of books home: often not having time to mark them all, and then bringing those unmarked books back to school the next day (or a few days later). It was insanity.

In conclusion, traditional pen-and-paper marking takes a very long time, isn’t particularly effective, and can be very stressful. Another point of frustration regarding the issue of marking is that research on the topic (not surprisingly, in my honest opinion), is inconclusive. The so-called experts who spout their musings from ivory towers are still not sure about what makes marking effective. That, at least, was the main finding of the Education Endowment Foundation’s recent review on written marking.

The experts are not teaching in the classrooms on a daily basis like me, and most of my readers. The EEF might not know what makes marking effective, but I and other experienced educators do.

Peer and Self-Assessment

This saves the teacher tons of time (because the marking is done in class), but students will nearly always pick up misconceptions along the way and the work may need to be double-checked by the teacher afterwards anyway.

I use peer and self-assessment a lot, and to make my life easier I always provide a written mark scheme for each student to use. I also encourage students to come to my desk and ask for clarity if they are not sure how many marks to award for a response.

Absorptive live-marking: Calling the students to your desk, one at a
time and marking the work in front of each student

Mark the work WITH each student

Where possible, this is best form of marking/feedback to use. It ticks so many boxes:


• It doesn’t eat into your free-time, because you can do it whilst the students are completing a task in class
• You can provide verbal feedback and written feedback at the same time
• You can ask the students to write down what you said afterwards (saving you further time, and forcing the students to process your feedback)
• It’s a great rapport-builder


You can read more about live marking
here.

A final note on Automated Assessment: Using software for assessment purposes

Automated assessment systems are still in their infancy, but do work really well with multiple choice questions and any test involving a sequence of steps that need to be completed (e.g. the Google Certified Educator exam, or a Data Science Jupyter Notebooks assessment).

I’ve written a detailed blog post comparing the benefits and disadvantages of both peer and self-assessment here.

Automated systems should form a part of our everyday marking strategy, as they save us time and allow rapid (often instantaneous) feedback to occur.

Automated systems will get better as we enter the 2020s (a decade in which, I believe, teaching will become almost completely computerized). We are told to embrace technology as teachers, but most of us do not consider the possibility that AI, robotics, edtech software and surveillance systems may one day replace us.

You don’t have to pay a surveillance system a salary. A software program only requires a subscription fee and updates to run properly. A robot does exactly what it’s told to do: no water cooler gossip at break time, no risk of sexual harassment, no inefficiency in completing daily duties. All of these advantages make the automation of teaching a lucrative and tempting prospect for governments and astute entrepreneurs.

My message to teachers is this: Use automated assessment, but recognize the need to skill-up fast. When teaching becomes fully automated, you want to be the person designing the edtech software, or facilitating it’s deployment. You don’t want to be the person who is replaced by tech because you don’t have the skills to adapt.

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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