In-class marking and feedback

Written by: Adam Riches | Published:
Image: MA Education
Interesting article and I'm excited to give it a go, however, I'd be interested to see how it works ...

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Specialist Leader of Education, Adam Riches, proposes a strategy of in-class marking to drastically reduce workload while improving teacher feedback

One of the biggest pressures facing teachers is workload, a large proportion of which comes from marking and feeding back on work.

It’s a bugbear of mine that amazing classroom practitioners are leaving the profession because of the overwhelming marking workload from a seeming mountain of books and assessments. But what if I told you that you don’t need to mark books outside of lessons?

Let’s start with the basics. Marking and feedback is part and parcel of any teaching job, that’s a given. The issue, however, is that there are preconceived ideas regarding what makes good marking.

Every year, there is a fad that claims to reduce marking workload: verbal feedback stampers, marking codes and many, many more approaches are incorporated in an attempt to more easily facilitate the onslaught of book-based input from teachers.

Typically, it isn’t long before teachers realise that a lot of these approaches aren’t useful for student progress, instead they are simply box-ticking exercises. Ofsted wants to see evidence of marking – give it a tick. This is no good. Marking and feedback is so much more than a box-ticking exercise.

The truth is, quality reigns over quantity. Observers aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be) looking to see if every page has some teacher input on it, instead they should be looking for how the feedback and marking is helping students to improve.

No matter how you mark, you need to ask yourself two big questions:

  • Is the marking or feedback benefiting the student’s progress?
  • Is it measurable?

With considerably more complicated requirements at GCSE, effective feedback is paramount to student success. In fact, I’d (controversially) go as far as to say that it is the most valuable input you can have as a teacher, so making sure your input actually helps student progress is key.

Think to yourself: is my comment relevant? Does it extend learning? Can they understand how to improve their work? If you can say yes to all of these elements, your feedback will certainly be helping students move forward.

Second, think to yourself, how are they going to show me that they have understood and taken on board my feedback? The hours spent on wasted comments and vague targets makes me hang my head in pity as I read through some exercise books. You can see your colleagues’ proverbial blood, sweat and tears, but you know that nothing has been done with the hugely valuable time that has been spent marking.

With this in mind, I’ve been working hard with my head of department to develop our department’s and, in turn, our school’s feedback procedures.

Up until this point, I have always focused on feedback methods, disregarding anything else. I’m convinced that using questions as feedback in the short term (so the pupils have something to respond to) and focused targets in the long term are the best ways to help pupils progress.

Experience has shown that this approach is effective over time. But, and this is the thing that has me excited, I would never consider exactly “when” I was feeding back and marking...

Feedback needs to be instant. It needs to be given and acted upon straight away, or it’s not having the optimum impact. Think about it. You mark your books every two weeks, you give excellent feedback tasks to extend learning, but is your feedback as effective as it could be? Is that pupil in the same mind-set they were when they were completing that piece of work? Is their response going to be a bolt-on that ticks a box?

It is more than likely that although it looks smart, your feedback isn’t helping as much as it could. In addition, how much time outside lessons has it taken you to plough through those books? Too long. But how on earth can you give effective feedback and save time?

The key is simply to mark and feedback in-class while students are working. It seems obvious, but it takes practice and planning.

For every book I can see in the lesson, I save my self a significant amount of time outside the lesson, reducing the burden of marking and in turn reducing the pressure of the teaching workload.

I might not get through the whole class in a lesson, but over the week I can see every student’s book.

Over the past term, I have been able to do so much more around school simply because I’m not shackled to my desk marking two-week-old work. No exaggeration, my books are marked more and with higher quality feedback than they have ever been before – and I’ve not spent one minute in the last term marking outside of lessons.

How do I do it though? It’s simple – when the pupils are working on a directed task, I simply circulate and give them personal questions/tasks in their books to complete. Extension tasks, synthesis questions and questions to put right misconceptions are used depending on the task. It’s differentiated, individual feedback that can be responded to instantly – and that’s what makes it so effective. The students respond to it straight away. It’s current, it’s relevant, they can see their progress and so can I. My approach involves:

  • Read a student’s work.
  • Ask them a question or a series of questions about what they have written. These questions can be literacy-based, testing technical knowledge, synthesis questions, hypothetical questions or simply one-word questions. Start off using a questioning taxonomy, such as Bloom’s, using lower order questions for your weaker students and higher order questions for your more able.
  • The pupils respond to your question.

There are, and will continue to be, people who doubt that it is possible to mark books like this. Let me just add some extra contextual detail about how this method has been developed. I work in what some may call a challenging school and this approach has had a positive impact on behaviour and attitude to learning.

Moreover, it might be noted that I teach English and that this approach lends itself to extended writing. However, I’ve extensively applied this approach in science, maths and humanities – it works in those subjects too. Quite honestly, this approach has been a game-changer in my subject and more importantly in my school.

We are currently working on embedding instant feedback in every subject. No more marking outside lessons. Just think about the impact that is going to have in terms of time for intervention, CPD and, of course, winding down.

How you feedback and mark is, to an extent, a personal preference. Teachers have their own approaches. When you are marking, ask yourself how effective your practice is and how much of an impact it is having on pupil attainment and progress. Are your hours of marking outside lessons actually having an impact? We need to find effective ways to save time in teaching, and marking in lessons certainly ticks that box.

  • Adam Riches is a Specialist Leader of Education and a lead teacher in English.

Interesting article and I'm excited to give it a go, however, I'd be interested to see how it works in practice and also, what the books look like to an outside observer, an Ofsted or senior leader doing a scrutiny. Does the author write a comment in the books or writes a question or challenge to show that they have given feedback?
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