If there is one thing that has had the biggest impact on my work-life balance it has to be assessment and marking. There was once a time when marking took me several hours an evening and several over the weekend. I had a marking timetable and felt I had to rigorously stick to it to ensure I ‘passed’ book scrutinises. I’d worry if my books weren’t up-to-date yet also felt that marking has little impact on student progress.
Nowadays I spend a few hours a week out of directed time marking and assessing. No longer do I drag a bag of books home with me. No longer do I have a books and assessments piling up by the door over the holidays, calling and beckoning me to mark them instead of resting. Yet I see more progress taking place in my classroom than ever before. How? Well here’s my secret, I started to refuse. I rebelled. I researched. I implemented. Okay, there was more to it than that, here’s how…
Adapt to School Policy My last school had a every 4 lessons policy; books required success comments and next steps to act on during directed improvement and reflection time. To start with they were written comments then I started to use a feedback grid instead – these consisted of a bank of comments in which I’d expect students to achieve, followed by a bank of comments that students may need to do to improve their work.
Having these in place helped me to live mark and ensure the feedback I’d given was evidenced to save having to write verbal feedback in books. I’d carry a highlighter and highlight the achieved criteria, would put a dot on the criteria to work on next. When I’d collect in the work, I’d already done half the marking and could simply finish it off and highlight one or two of the ‘next steps’ criteria for students to do during DIRT.
Meticulously planned feedback Next step has been planning when and where to give feedback across the school year. My department and I have looked at the work we get students to complete and figured out how we can assess progress over time. We’ve introduced a spiralling curriculum in which skills and content repeat throughout topics allowing us to spread out formative and summative assessment. The provision of feedback has been carefully plotted to ensure students can act on it in a timely fashion but so they can also make use of it in the long term when they come back to similar skills or content.
Less is more Alongside careful planning of feedback across the year, we’ve reduced what we mark to ensure that feedback is high quality and effective. For example at GCSE we give students 3 sets of exam style questions for each unit to assess their understanding of the content, we don’t mark their notes unless students ask. We use assessment for learning strategies in class to check understanding and to pick up on misconceptions along with verbal feedback. The exam style questions are roughly undertaken every 2-3 weeks. Despite not marking the classwork, I know where my students are through discussions, live marking and assessment for learning strategies.
Create a feedback-friendly classroom I’m a huge fan of feedback-friendly classrooms whereby teachers are not the only providers of feedback. I teach my students from day 1 how to feedback effectively. It takes times, scaffolding and persistence but it pays off.
By the end of the year students are highly effective at self and peer-assessing. They do not take my place as the professional provider of feedback but they provide one another with feedback on their work and they have time to act on the feedback before they submit work. I feel it’s an important skill to teach to support students in becoming independent learners. More on peer assessment here.
Feed-up, feedback and feedforward Feed up, might be better known as modelling expectations or to clarify the objective, before allowing students to engage with a task. Take feedback from students through assessment for learning and use it to forward plan. For this I quite like using the whole class feedback approach, I review all of the books without writing anything in them. Instead I go through the feedback with the class the next lesson.
I use the information I’ve gained from their work to then plan the following lesson or series of lessons to review ideas or misconceptions, to challenge and extend or change the course of the learning taking place.
Live mark I love discussing work with students there and then in the classroom; the ability to identify successes with students and areas for improvement in the classroom is incredibly powerful. I carry a highlighter with me as much as possible and will highlight areas for improvement or put a dot in the margin to identify an area to review. I discuss progress with my students and encourage meta-cognitive questioning.
Simplify feedback Make it simple. Use strategies such as marking codes, dot marking or comment banks to reduce your time spent writing feedback. More ideas here
For me, not having a set number of lessons in which marking has to take place has been freeing. I much prefer using the time I’d have once spent marking, planning lessons that actually lead to more progress. I use the feedback from student work and the discussions I have with them to integrate work that covers the targets I would have otherwise spent several hours writing into their books. Personally I prefer that to writing a comment that may never be acted on. More on the 3 pillars here.
At PedagooHampshire I was extremely surprised to hear of schools either still implementing excessive marking policies or even introducing them. I would have thought that with the Governments recent publication of the workload reduction toolkit along with all the reports on reducing teacher workload and evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation on feedback that there would be more schools moving away from such policies.
Feel free to share any other ways you’ve reduced the workload associated with marking, feedback and assessment in your school.