Quick and Efficient Marking

One of the things that I found most challenging as a trainee teacher was meeting the school enforced, ‘every book every two weeks’ marking policy, let alone marking after every single lesson.  In fact, the trainee teachers at my school often see marking as one of the most stressful elements of their job; many really struggle with – and feel cripplingly guilty about – their ability to keep up with the demands of marking all their books.  I think this happens for a few reasons:

1) Marking books is a task that takes an awfully long time, especially if you feel that you need to write long personalised comments in each book (which many new teachers do).

2) It is a boring task, resulting in sub-par performance.  The heavily administrative nature of the job means that it is easy to become sidetracked, begin to day dream or simply stop being efficient.  This means that a potential hour long job can take twice the time.

3) Marking is the task the is never done.  There is no end-point in the on-going cycle; once you have finished one set of books, there is always another to do.  This psychological effect has an massive impact on the will to mark.

4) A reason that affects trainee teachers more particularly than anyone else: when you don’t really know what you are doing, every task within teaching is incredibly time consuming.  Take planning lessons, for instance. While experienced teachers can plan a good lesson in (say) half an hour – or sometimes even less – new teachers can often take three hours to plan a single lesson.  Walking out in front of a class without a lesson plan is understandably more terrifying than failing to mark their books.  As a result, other more urgent tasks take precedence over the, often equally important, task of marking student work.

In my own practice, I had a moment of realisation about book marking after reading Joe Kirby’s fantastic post on the issue.  I have unashamedly stolen parts of my book marking CPD session from this.

The post chimed with some of my thinking about marking, thinking that had been lurking in the back of my mind for some time.  In particular it helped me to see the following truths about marking books:

  1. There is no point marking absolutely every piece of work that the students ever do.  Most students don’t – at least in my current school – automatically respond to their marking and internalise the targets on their own.  They only do this if there is a manageable amount for them to work on, and if they are given directed lesson time to do so.  As a result, it makes sense only to mark the final or largest piece of work in a lesson.  To rephrase, giving the students their books back with numerous pages marked at the same time is pretty much pointless.
  2. Students find lots and lots of targets difficult to manage.  As a result, setting loads of targets and writing long comments is often counterproductive as the student does not bother with any of them, and can find them discouraging.  From this, it is clear that a limited number of short, simple, easy to understand targets will result in a better outcome for the student.
  3. Students need to be given time to address their targets.  There is no point marking books and then ploughing on with another topic.  While some students will address these in their own time, for most the marking will be ignored and the teacher’s time will have been spent in vain.
  4. If you have a book check coming up and are worried about lots of unmarked space in the books, there is absolutely no point spending hours flicking through books and writing comments on each page.  Yes, maybe you should have spent more time marking, however writing those pointless comments in the books does absolutely nothing for your students.  It is, therefore, a waste of time.

The session:

As a result of my thinking on the issue of marking, I decided to give a session to the trainees about how to mark books quickly and efficiently while also maximising the impact that their marking has.  The session contains four different techniques for marking.  All of them mean that a set of books (or at least a piece of work from the most recent lesson in a set of books) can be marked in under twenty minutes.  My record is nine.

Technique 1: Coded marking.  This technique involves writing a comment bank of numbered comments.  The teacher reads the student work and annotates it with numbers matching the appropriate comments (I think that there should be a maximum of three to avoid swamping the student).  At the beginning of the lesson, students copy out the appropriate comments and are then given time to address them.

Technique 2: Traffic Light Marking. Instead of even commenting on work at all, this technique simply requires teachers to add a block of colour underneath the work: green for the learning objective being met, yellow for partially met and red for not met.  At the beginning of the lesson, students choose from three different tasks corresponding to their colour, with the greens completing an extension task, the yellows perhaps working on improving their work and the reds given extra scaffolding and another chance to complete the task.  This marking style is not appropriate for every type of lesson, but I think works really well in subjects like maths.

Technique 3: Exit ticket marking.  I have talked more about exit tickets in this post.  Rather than marking the books at all, this technique requires students to complete an exit ticket in which they demonstrate their learning.  The teacher then marks the exit tickets before handing these back the following lesson.  Students then complete a task corresponding to the comment on their ticket and glue the ticket into their book.  In the past, I have combined this with technique 1, using a numbered code on the exit tickets.

Technique 4: Coded literacy marking. This marking strategy deals with the problem of marking for literacy, something which could fall by the wayside if the above techniques are followed on their own.  This uses symbols to match different potential literacy errors, for example C for a capital letter problem, SP for a spelling error and an underlined section for when a part of the work makes no sense and the student must go back and fix it.  There are some important rules to be followed when using this technique: firstly, I think that there should be a maximum of 3-4 instances of this code in a piece of work, otherwise students can find it very discouraging and can feel swamped.  Second, as with all the other techniques, students should be given time to address these mistakes then and there.

I am not saying that these are a complete replacement for written comments, however I do feel that marking is an area in which many teachers spend their time inefficiently.  Sometimes it is entirely appropriate to lavish hours on marking student work, but on the other hand sometimes these hours of marking have little or no impact on the students themselves.  Through using the above techniques, teachers have an opportunity to mark work after every single lesson, which surely provides a massive benefit to students, even if the marking is that little bit less personalised.

In-built uptake time: To avoid the CPD paradox, discussed elsewhere on this blog, I think that it is important for participants in a CPD session to have time within the session itself to implement their learning.  Discussing and sharing the techniques took me about 25 minutes, meaning that there was another 30 minutes of actual marking time.  I asked participants to bring a set of books to the session and issued them with a 15 minute marking challenge in which they chose a system appropriate to them and used this to mark an entire set of books.  All of them managed this within the set time frame.

Please find the Power Point of the session, containing all the resources required, below:

Quick and Efficient Marking

I hope this comes in handy.  Even if you do not agree with the techniques themselves, I think that the lessons about avoiding pointless time wasting when marking books are valid.




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