Marking: Are you talking to yourself?


Whilst visiting @rmhurren and @_Miss_Moss_ at their school we started to discuss how we feedback to students when we mark work.

Many teachers write questions in the margin or on work and never give the time or space for a student to answer it. We are literally talking to ourselves!

I was doing this with some year 8 work shown below…

edited picture of questionsWhere is the student supposed to answer me?!

And then I started to think. How will he answer these questions? There is no space and it will end up as one big mess. So I decided that for every student I would write them a small set of questions that would extend their writing. These were personalised and mostly referred to the criteria for the assessment they were completing but not all. They were differentiated to help the student move to at least the next level in their work. Once I had read their work thus far I wrote a level in my mark book as to where I thought it was at that point.

Here are some examples so you can see how I laid out my questions:


For one girl, her writing had already ‘hit’ her target grade so I decided to try something different. I asked her a question that I knew she didn’t know the answer for.


This meant that she had to find out for herself and then embed this in her work. Of course she did this with ease.

The next lesson that I saw the students, they had the whole lesson to:

  • finish their original writing -1st draft (started in the first assessment lesson)
  • answer the questions – additions to 1st draft
  • Combine it all into their whole piece of written work ‘final draft’

They printed these off:

finished 1finished 2finished 3

Students had the opportunity to reflect on their own work:


Some do this better than others. Using the criteria to decide their level.

Finally I marked them again.

teacher 1teacher2teacher3

16 out of the 19 students for whom I wrote questions for, improved their level. In some cases, hugely. See my markbook to see the differences:

markbook 1

Please ignore the colours – that relates to something else in my markbook!

For the 4 students who didn’t achieve their target grade they came to a support session and I could then work with them individually to improve their work yet again. I could really focus on what they needed to do. They knew what they should’ve done and instantly improved their work yet again.

However, I have some as yet undecided thoughts on this method:

  • When do you stop? I marked their work and then found myself writing more questions in the feedback that I won’t give them time to answer. Should I have bothered?
  • I have one year 8 class I trialled this with. My colleague has 10 year 8 classes. Is it possible to do this for all students in all classes?
  • Was my teaching towards the first draft inadequate in the first place to enable them to achieve? If my teaching was more targeted and clear would I have had to have written these questions?
  • Should I be asking questions for all students like I did for the girl who had already achieved her grade? Things they have to find out ‘themselves’ and then embed it into their work?
  • Should I have given a whole lesson to answer the questions and re-draft it all together? Did it need to all be put together?
  • Should I have held the support session for those that didn’t achieve? Should it be open to all?
  • Should I be getting students to work towards levels so intensely?
  • Does everything I write in feedback have to relate to levels?

Any thoughts on these questions or the process very much welcomed.


2 thoughts on “Marking: Are you talking to yourself?

  1. Pingback: How to Mark Written Work Effectively – Preventing Future Errors | Clare's ELT Compendium

  2. A fab and reflective read. I’ve written. About marking on my website too, and came to similar conclusions as you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s