I thought it was about time I mentioned the “M” word. I have marked several sets of books now and have found it surprising useful for my own feedback and as a teaching reflection tool (I am sure all of the experienced readers will be thinking, “well yes, isn’t that obvious?”).
As I have mentioned before, I am attempting to mark key stage 4 books fortnightly and to date I have kept up with the pace. For my key stage 3 books, I see pupils fortnightly so I am aiming for every eight weeks, therefore every fourth lesson.
I have formulated a code in my mark book to indicate when pupils have exceeded expectations and have shown excellent recall, analysis and evaluation (plus behaviour) with suitable ticks, double ticks, stars etc.
I also have suitable indicators for work that could and should be improved and where application or behaviour to a task has been unacceptable – usually dots and highlighter colour-coding.
This process has in turn given me my first opportunities this year to reward “recorded” work with stamps and merits awards in addition to verbal contributions and work completed face-to-face in lesson time, which I feel is developing pupil-teacher relationships further. My consistency in marking and regular feedback is proving useful for rapport-building.
This has also given me firmer data in order to commend pupils who are making good progress and accordingly follow-up with others with break/lunchtime detentions where necessary, plus one or two phone calls home. To reiterate my previous point, I have gone in firm with pupils but am absolutely intent on keeping fairness at the forefront of my mind. So for the pupil who is struggling, I am endeavouring to give additional support rather than condemning for poor performance.
My school does use a response sticker system to aid comment-making in books and I have used these on occasion, but I am a bit old-fashioned and prefer to write my own comments as I can tailor responses and pose questions that are individual and specific to each learner.
This is a skill I believe I am still developing – knowing where to pitch this feedback to encourage stretch and challenge without demoralising good effort in class or at home.
As a school, we also use Directed Individual Response Time (DIRT) to facilitate the opportunity for pupils to respond to questions posed in order to measure learning and progress through marking. Therefore, building DIRT time into lessons allows pupils to respond in a prompt, timely way to feedback as well as gain clarification if necessary. This has been very beneficial for me as well in terms of finding out more about their attitudes and their ability to receive praise and feedback.
My final point is that marking has also made me aware of my own faults in task-setting. Thankfully my main activities are consistently understood as I can see work in exercise books that reflects this. However, I have spotted that occasionally with starters I am not explicit enough in asking them to write down or list “at least three points” for example and therefore can sometimes see the void between the title and the main activity.
Also I have come to the conclusion that if I mark a set of books and more than four pupils have not written the date and title then that is a reflection on my lack of instruction rather than their idleness.
My main marking learning points to date are: maintain regularity of marking, use it to positively praise and motivate, make time for responses and clarification, and be explicit with everything that I require a pupil to list/draw/label/write down.
SecEd’s NQT diarist this year is a teacher of sociology and philosophy from a school in the South of England.