In case you’re interested, this is what I think and what I do.
Thoughts on where I think some schools/leaders/teachers go wrong:
- Thinking more writing = more learning.
- Every lesson, students must write X amount.
- A teacher needs to write on a piece of work
- ‘Teaching’ lessons to cover content is more important than reflecting, redrafting and improving on prior work/learning
- Every piece of student writing has to be marked in the same way to the same depth
- All student work (including homework) must result in some sort of recordable result
- Conflating marking with assessment/reading work/feedback
- Having the same policy for all subjects including frequency and methods
- Believing the colour of pens matter beyond being different colours
To give some context I teach 18 classes. 3 are GCSE groups, the rest are core RE with lessons ranging from 1-3 times a fortnight. They use 3 different formats for their work: GCSE use folders, KS3 core have A4 books and KS4 core use paper (usually A3 blank).
What I call ‘marking’
I also need to clarify my definition of ‘marking’ as many schools see this differently and I think this is where people’s claims of not marking may be explained.
Marking for me is divided into these main areas:
- Reading/looking at what a student has done compared to what I told/expected them to do.
- Checking any SPAG errors using the school notation system
- Looking at the ‘quality’ of their work based on the criteria of that work
- Notating work based on any of the above using pen, stampers or pre made criteria sheets
- Checking students have made improvements
Note it’s only number 4 that involves me making any sort of ‘mark’ on student work. Those that say they don’t mark student work are still doing 1-3 but don’t put their pen onto the students’ work. Anything that I ‘write’ for number 4 means that the student has something to do on the work the next time they see it.
I am of the firm belief that the most time spent on a piece of work should belong to the student, not the teacher.
I think that some people call number 5 ‘triple marking’ which is commonly vilified but I don’t re-mark the work, I check they’ve attempted improvements as per the expectation (this is for 7 of my 18 classes only). As I don’t stay at school for hours and hours and don’t bring marking home this isn’t onerous.
When I mark
I mark at any time I am sitting at a desk with nothing else that needs doing first. This includes before school, break, lunch and after school. I mark whilst students are working; either at my desk or I mark around the room as they are working. I also mark when students are watching a medium/long video clip.
I very rarely take marking home.
Why I mark
I have different reasons for marking, it depends on the class and piece of work:
- Checking they’ve done what I’ve asked
- Ensuring their books meet my high expectations including presentation, organisation & effort
- Checking for understanding
- Checking against set criteria
- Checking they’ve made improvements (links to 1-4)
- To show them that their work is important, that SPAG is important and to be proud of their work.
Our school policy means that I (RE) only mark work for all of these once a half term for core and twice a half term for GCSE.
How I mark
I use a pink pen first time of marking. I chose pink as it is bright and stands out; no deep psychological reason.
I use stampers that are mostly personalised. Contrary to some opinions it doesn’t take ages to find the right stamper; depending on the type of marking it is for, I know I only need certain stamps.
Types of marking
Depending on the work/class I will use different types of marking:
SPAG marking – using the school system (squiggle then CP/SP/GR/P) I check mainly for religious keywords and for common literacy errors e.g. There/their/they’re. I don’t correct any. I use the stamper and indicate there’s something for them to do. They just need to find the pink and change their work (ask someone else, use a dictionary, ask me, common words on board).
Expectation marking – I check the student has done the thing I asked them to in the way I asked them to including presentation. If they haven’t I don’t write a long monologue that they will ignore. Either they get a message to come at the next break time to complete or I keep their work separate and at the start of the next lesson I speak to them about expectations and make them do it then. I know that I’ve done this by using the stamp below; no comments, no time spent writing. They also know that I’ve read their work and it’s OK. It’s not for anyone else.
Homework marking is restricted to certain activities. Key stage 3 students are given an Attitude to Homework number (1-4) based on set criteria. The lesson it’s due in, I give out red pens (to stand out) and they write “I think my A to HW is __ because…..” they must then use the criteria to justify their level. I then check their work that they’ve accurately justified their number and use this stamper by writing the number in the centre.
They then put this number in their HW tracker at the start of their books. This means when I write their report with an A to HW number all I need do is look at the tracker rather than go through their entire book.
Key stage 4 core aren’t given homework. GCSE are given homework once a week. This will either be learning keywords which are then tested weekly in class and peer marked (no marking for me), writing multiple choice questions (using the stamp above; they either wrote the questions as asked or they didn’t) or online quizzes that self mark (no marking for me).
Note marking – they write these independently. I check that all is accurate and spelt correctly. No comment, no grades just a stamper…
Criteria/skills marking – when students complete longer pieces of work that are designed to show their knowledge, understanding of the topic and to show their written skills I use criteria. This is always evolving and we are particularly tweaking things as we understand them for the new GCSEs. I won’t claim we have KS3 sorted but I am proud that we haven’t rehashed levels but focused on key skills students need to write about religion. The most that this marking is, is ticking boxes and an additional question/task for students to improvement their work.
For exams I only ever use stampers and the criteria sheets. Once students are used to the system I don’t even fill out the sheets, they do. I then tell them a couple of things to improve on.
No marking – at KS3 students do a multiple choice quiz 3 times per topic; at the start, middle and end. It’s marked online. We just record their score.
GCSE have regular quizzes from current and previous topics in an interleaved style. They’re all marked online. All I have to do is check they’ve done them.
Once I’ve marked…
Students use green pens to improve all the SPAG and respond to any pink. Green, so I can see they’ve improved their work.
If I am checking improvements and something isn’t done I start to get annoyed with students so I put a ‘tab’ on their work. My expectation is that every single occurrence of pink will be followed with some sort of correction/addition by the students. I’m not wasting my time marking their work for them to do nothing about it. As far as possible I challenge students to ensure everything in their book is perfect. My students often comment how proud they are of their books. I promote the importance of presentation, pride and value of their work and I expect them to gradually take responsibility for this.
My strategies for managing the workload
- Don’t make students write for the sake of writing. Keep it to a minimum except for focus pieces.
- Do it as soon as possible; I don’t let marking stack up
- Decide which type of marking the work needs and don’t do anything more than needed
- My students don’t take books/folders home. It means I can always mark a set and have a full set of work.
- Use paper for homework/assessed pieces. A pile of 30 pieces of paper is much more manageable than a huge pile of 30 books
- Go in ‘harsh’ with new classes to set the expectation early. They soon get sick of coming in at break to underline a title…..
- I rarely write a comment on work. If I do it’s specific. Anyone who writes ‘Good work’ or ‘This is fantastic’ is wasting their own time and is probably the type of person that moans about having so much marking to do.
I do all of this because I think it is what is best for the students and for me. If I can see something is wasting time I won’t do it. I’m always looking for ways to keep things focused on learning not on what things look like for other people.
Most importantly this system is manageable and meaningful but it’s not perfect; it can always be tweaked to save time and contribute more efficiently to learning.