That dreaded pile of books: Why can’t we just get on with marking?

Earlier this month marking hit the headlines once again. This time with Nick Gibb telling us the need to mark in different coloured pens or give detailed feedback or expect students to respond is all an urban myth. Apparently we just need to mark with a grade and we waste our time doing anything else.

In schools, we talk a lot about the use of AfL, self assessment, peer assessment, formative assessment, summative assessment…the list and the suggestions for how we ‘assess’ or ‘mark’ or ‘give feedback’ seems endless. We discuss strategies to embed these in lessons and to raise attainment. And along side these discussions, marking always seems to be the thing teachers complain about the most. So why is this?

I think part of the problem comes from trying to be gimmicky when marking; whether that be because someone has read some research that writing in red is perceived as threatening or a new study says we need to praise more than criticise. There is also no denying each new Ofsted inspection schedule brings about it a dash to find the quickest way to cover the gaps in a school. Marking is probably the easiest thing to find a quick, gimmick fix for. How do we show where the teacher has marked? Use a green pen. How to show progress? Draw a yellow box and get students to answer a question in it. All the new rules to follow become a minefield so no wonder teachers feel like it’s taking over their lives.

Now I am not the world’s biggest fan of spending hours marking but I happen to think it’s one of the most important aspects of teaching. How else I am supposed to know what each of the students in my classes can do? Or, as a subject leader, what students in other Geography classes can do? The problem is the gimmicks and the unnecessary expectations. They don’t help me know what I need to do next to help my students learn. Instead I focus on checking the Geography in their work. Class and homework activities are checked by students in class and all I do is highlight any geographical terms misspelt or Geography that is just plain wrong. No ticks, no comments and no smiley faces! It’s highlighted so I can spot it easily next time to check it’s been corrected. Then I choose one piece of work the student has had to do completely on their own (usually extended writing) and I read it and say where the good Geography is and what needs to be in it to make it better Geography. The students then add to their writing to make it better Geography and I plan to address any major misconceptions and to build on this Geography in future lessons. That’s it! No yellow boxes, no coloured pens, no gimmicks. Just Geography!

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