Right now, we might just be seeing a hint of the tide turning against the mad workload with which teachers are burdened. Some more enlightened headteachers – usually those with the confidence of great pupil attainment and progress as a foundation – are beginning to expect less of their staff rather than more. However, many school leaders are still – understandably – pinned down by the fear of an Ofsted judgement that might be less than good and these folk are finding it hard to release the pressure. So this blog is about facing reality when it comes to marking.
Much good work has been done around effective feedback. By and large teachers really understand the principle of showing pupils what they have done successfully, what might be their next steps and how to achieve them. But this can become intolerably burdensome. We ned to be confident enough to strike a balance between effective feedback and ponderous detailed marking where the teacher has sometime written more than the pupil. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.
I recently led a review of a vulnerable secondary school. Clearly, leadership were very concerned that marking/feedback was diagnostic, interactive and effective. And there was a real appreciation that leaders should lessen the teacher’s load wherever possible. In practice this meant that English work was marked every three weeks. Good for the teacher, but when we spoke to students they told us, ‘we don’t get our work back quickly enough and, when we do get feedback, it’s sometime too late for us to remember what we had been doing.’ Contrast this with the Science department. On the surface, marking looked a bit haphazard and superficial but what was really happening was that the teacher had a pink and a green marker, students knew that green was good and pink needed attention. As the lesson progressed, the teacher whizzed round the class, looked at developing work in books, and quickly highlighted what needed to be drawn to students’ attention. The result was that everyone knew how well they were doing and what needed attention. because this was while the lesson was in progress, students who needed help could ask for it and get it instantly. Intervention at the point of learning. Which lot of students had the best feedback? And which took the least time?
This is a message for teachers fighting with a marking load. We need to be clear who is the audience for our marking. Is it for Ofsted? Is it for SLT monitors, or is it for the pupils? The right answer is the last one but how many teachers mark for the first two constituencies? A starting point might be to have a professional discussion with colleagues and leaders around this point. Look, if the expectation is that you provide detailed, forensic feedback which is accompanied by a follow-up task that you then need to mark. How much work is this? And how much of it is really effective. A primary teacher taking home 30 books and expecting to mark 30 pieces of pupil response may as well be taking home 60 books. Spare a thought for the secondary English teacher taking home 200 books!
The most effective feedback is always with the child present – it’s a conversation. Or hold the diagnostic discussion with a group. Your task is not to set the child a follow-on task, so much as to find out what they are thinking, why they don’t get it, what is it they don’t understand. Far more powerful than writing a long screed they don’t really understand and setting an activity that they will complete in the way they think YOU want, rather than applying deep understanding. As Doug Lemov (http://teachlikeachampion.com/) points out in Teach Like a Champion 2.0, we should never accept kids’ self-reporting. Don’t assume they know just because they say so. Ask a deep question to check it out.
I saw some great feedback recently. The teacher had written, ‘six of these sums are wrong. Which one are they?’ Great marking – it makes the pupil think.
Ross McGill (Teacher Toolkit) has sensible things to say about marking and feedback. Check out his ten marking tips at http://bit.ly/1NvVKi8. Also, check out his Five Minute Marking plan at http://bit.ly/1VbuD44
We’ll come back to this issue of marking quite soon.