In my experience, teachers hate marking! It is their most abhorred task as it takes much longer than their allocated three periods of PPA per week but it has to be done. Teachers often stress about marking because they are frightened of the repercussions from SLT (A.K.A the management) if they don’t mark at least two pages per term; this impression of the purpose of marking distresses me.
I have a twelve year old daughter…hard to believe I know, but I do. On the open day that I attended, a year prior to her beginning her well respected secondary school, her new Head Teacher proudly proclaimed that we should all check our children’s books weekly to see the progress they are making. He explained that all teachers used the WWW/ EBI (what went well? Even better if…) method for marking their pupils’ books and we would be able to easily see the progress that our children were making in their various subjects in a very straight forward and consistent format.
Two terms on and I am baffled by the letter C in her Art book which stands alone on the page with no accompanying comment to challenge her and help her on to the next level; I am disgusted at the Science book which has yet to be marked, and I could not tell you what her Maths teacher thinks of her work as my daughter does all of the marking in the book herself!
Unfortunately, there is very little that I can do to change her teachers and their attitudes towards marking Year 7 work but I can use this opportunity to reflect and offer some tips and advice about marking. My next few Learning Geek reflections will focus on marking methods that I have used, why I have used them and their effects on motivation and achievement.
Marking is not to be done just because you know you will be work trawled soon! Nor is it for filling your planner with the latest crop of grades. It is to provide pupils with a way of moving forward with their learning. Whether that be through your more detailed understanding of their weaknesses, and subsequent planning of lessons which target these specific needs, or through providing personalised feedback which helps them to make steps towards improvement in your subject. We are marking, not solely for our own benefit, but for the benefit of our students.
Plus Minus Equals
This is the method of marking which I have been using most frequently this term. It is a simple method for the pupils to adapt to; it minimises the amount of writing you have to do without taking the purpose out of the feedback and it can help the pupils to be self reflective too.
Firstly, plan a succession of tasks that are similar in nature but can still allow pupils to progress. For example, I am getting pupils prepared for their Literature exam and so each lesson, after teaching the pupils more about Of Mice and Men, I ask them to reflect in the form of a paragraph response to a set question. This activity usually takes no more than ten minutes to complete.
The first time pupils complete this task, I give them detailed feedback about their response with a particular focus on how to improve. A typical response discussed the basic storyline and how this answered the question; if this was the case, I asked them to attempt to include a range of ideas from the text including language, context and themes to create a more multistructural response.
The second time pupils respond, I first asked them to reflect upon my feedback before responding stating what they will do to improve this time. Pupils write something along the lines of “I will remember to include language features, context and themes to improve my work”. You may think just copying out what I have written is pointless but it is a step in the right direction for a class that find it difficult to respond to feedback. A higher ability set might be asked how they could get to the next SOLO level rather than just responding to basic feedback; what response to expect will always depend on the capabilities of your class.
When I mark this second batch of work, I only respond with a simple plus, minus or equals sign. I ask the pupils to respond to this by telling me why they got their particular sign. The pupils have to re read my previous response and their own promise to improve, to work out what went well or what went wrong. Pupils who get a plus are rewarded; anyone who has not received a plus usually wants a piece of the reward. I choose the rewards knowing what the class will want most – some classes are as easy as star stickers others want chocolate or merits.
At this point, my lesson will include a whole class target to achieve. The class target is worked out from common errors and misconceptions that I have noted while reading the responses. Reading the responses and taking notes in your planner is far less time consuming than reading and writing out thirty individual responses; you must respond individually at times but this way, you can read all of the work and create “feed forward” without the hand ache for once. The pupils make note of this target before their third response and must use it to once again gain a plus from me.
After the third response, I review the needs of the class, adapt the task to correspond with the pupils’ changing needs and begin the marking cycle again.
Pupils show a willingness to improve. They love looking for the plus signs on their work and when they stay the same or get a minus, they go hunting for the reason themselves. Using plus, minus, equals has increased their motivation to improve as well decreasing the time I spend marking without taking away any of the quality of my response.