Smarter Marking

Some tips from the Smart Marking INSET group...

As is often the case when colleagues have time to talk about teaching and learning, there are lots of good ideas shared. The discussion of the Smart Marking group at our last INSET was no different. Here are a few of the ideas which were shared amongst colleagues.

1. Bored of the red pen? Use a highlighter!

o Why? Pupils might become desensitised to a red pen! Or they might simply miss something you’ve circled or jotted in the margin.

o How? Use a highlighter to pick out words/sentences that need to be looked at – this could be either positive reinforcement (maybe a green highlighter) or target to improve (orange?). Also by using a highlighter, you resist the temptation to make corrections may the pupil, ensuring they have to act on the feedback.

o Added bonus? By using a highlighter, you can then check back to see if a pupil has acted on feedback and if they haven’t acted then you can get the red pen out and your additional comments and symbols will still be visible over the highlighter.

2. Get them to do the simple stuff

o Why? If you don’t have to check for presentation (e.g. underling titles) and common SPaG errors, you have a little more time to check for understanding and deeper errors.

o How? Use peer assessment, ideally with pupils using a different colour pen. They may even write ‘Peer Assessed by…’ with their initials to make it very clear that the process has happened. If for whatever reason you don’t want to do peer assessment dedicate some time to proof-reading where pupils have to check their own work – you might say they have to correct at least one error, or make at least one improvement (thus avoiding the child with a dictionary-like brain putting nothing down on paper).

3. Use general feedback

o Why? Saves time rather than writing similar comments in multiple books. Also can be linked to more substantive lesson activities working on common misunderstandings or targets for improvement.

o How? At its simplest you could pick out three (or more if necessary) common targets and list them on the board. You could then ask pupils to act on that feedback straight away, or write them as targets in their own words with a clear deadline by which they have to act on that feedback either retrospectively, by making corrections, or prospectively by including them into a future piece of work. For added spice, you might make pupils date and initial against each completed target or ask them to signify in the margin where they think they have acted on their target (again, a different coloured pen is an option to help make it more visible).

o More sophisticated…It is unlikely that all students share all targets, especially if you start to have more than two or three targets from your class marking. You might list them with a letter or number and whilst marking jot down the letters/numbers for each student in their books. This allows you to tailor feedback to each student whilst not duplicating effort; plus there is still room for unique targets for each student. As with above, students may have to immediately act upon their targets or note them down for later action.

o Another twist…Some subjects may have a standing list of targets (such as an A-Z) which are used across all general marking and perhaps QMAs where progress needs to be made on common skills or abilities.

4. Ensure pupils act on feedback

o Why? On an extrinsic level, Ofsted want to see pupils acting on feedback – this makes marking ‘Outstanding’. On a deeper educational level, it would be ridiculous to spend so much time marking if pupils are not going to actually read our comments.

o How? In your planning put activities in lessons where pupils act on feedback. This could be as simple perhaps learning common spelling errors for a spelling test or could stretch to re-drafting part or all of a piece of work. The re-drafting could focus specifically on a certain element, such as grammar or clarity of explanations, or it could be a holistic re-drafting. You might then have students self-assess how their new draft is different to their original – you might get them to highlight corrected spellings or changed sentences, etc. You could include peer assessment to do this comparison. Or for a substantial re-draft you might mark it yourself.

o All singing, all dancing…Use different coloured pens or a clear heading (e.g. ‘Response to Diagnostic Marking’ - thanks Jill Moules for this wonderful use of ‘eduspeak’) to make it really clear what both you and the pupils are doing to ensure feedback is acted upon.

5. Fix an amount of time for each set of books you're marking

o Why? It helps you manage your workload to ensure that all classes’ books are marked once every 2-3 weeks to a similar standard.

o How? Develop your skimming and scanning, maybe focusing on a specific target each time, e.g. key words, SPaG. You won’t be marking every piece in full detail, but you can check for effort, common misunderstandings, etc. even in a short space of time.

If you have any other ideas for smarter and more effective marking, e-mail them to