Teacher Truths: Drowning in Marking (and other things)
This article was created as part of Twinkl‘s worldwide teacher wellbeing campaign, TeacherTruths. Head over to their Year of Wellbeing page to read other’s views and find out how you can have your say.
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If we rewind a few years back to October 2013. This was my marking pile for the 1 week half term.
This pile included Geography controlled assessments, KS3 and KS4 examinations and 2 sets of class books!
The following October half term was a little better as I was at a different school, mainly just a few piles of books, but that was only because the week before I’d had to mark exams and input data for all of the classes I taught. There was just a shift in when I did it. Booo.
Anyway, I found marking and assessment a struggle; firstly because it was just a tick boxing exercise and secondly because I didn’t quite understand the potential it held and thus didn’t fully implement an effective feedback system via my marking. I always felt that feedback was always too late for it to have impact on my learners despite the use of directed improvement and reflection time (DIRT). Marking books every 4 lessons just didn’t have the impact a more flexible system could have.
I was drowning in marking (along with lesson planning, curriculum development, assessment, behaviour etc).
So what did I do about it?
The first thing I did was ask for help. I kept a workload ‘diary’ and went to my headteacher at the time and said this is what I’m spending hours and hours and hours doing… please help me! How can I reduce this?
I was given a day off timetable to catch up with planning for the next term but nothing else was done to support. And so, I continued for a few more months, but the workload didn’t relent and so I went back and asked for help again.
This time my Dad was the influence, he told me to write down everything I did over the period and keep track of the hours spent doing each task.
Over 17 days, I taught 49 hours yet did 184.5 hours of work.
I took this data and asked for help again. I was told “leave it with me”. That was the last I heard of it until my back to work meeting after time off sick in April 2016 due to burnout, when it was exclaimed “well if you didn’t keep a diary of your workload…”
After little support, I decided I had to take things into my own hands and find ways to reduce my workload for myself. Marking was one of my biggest time consumers so that was where I was going to start.
I started investigating other ways of assessing and marking. I came across a variety of ideas and was reminded of some of those I’d used as an NQT such as that below and decided to implement some of these strategies again to see how they worked.
During my NQT I’d create these before assessing any work based on the all, most and some learning objectives of the lesson. Students would read the feedback and then use it to write a target for themselves. Did they ever act on the target? Rarely! (My fault not theirs).
So I tired these again, however this time I looked into how I could give them the success criteria in advance and then make use of the feedback to drive learning forward. I realised that I had to know myself what I wanted my students to be achieving and what that would look like before I planned any learning. Reading ‘Engaging Learners‘ and ‘Teaching Backwards’ were both influential in helping me to understand this.
I tried numerous strategies to find what worked for me and my students at the time but that would still meet the criteria of the school’s marking policy.
Some of these strategies included:
But the one that worked best for me was the feedback grid…
After seeing this tweet by @fiona_616 I decided to give the feedback grid a try.
Marking grids have saved me so much time!! #geographyteacher pic.twitter.com/j1k73EFoIU — Fiona Old 🌍 UN – Accredited #ClimateChangeTeacher (@fiona_616) January 22, 2015
It was slightly more time consuming initially to set up, but once created they were easy to adapt. I started using them in a variety of contexts since they saved me a lot of time when it came to planning, assessment and marking as outlined in this post ‘My Marking Saviour – The Feedback Grid‘.
The following year when we were required to provide an outline of topics and progression on the front of books, I explored how I could combine this along with feedback to make my workload more manageable.
Along came the Learning Matrix…
These combined the topic outline, assessment objectives and success criteria along with what would later become feedback comments. During the assessment process I’d simply highlight the criteria achieved in one colour and the criteria for students to act upon in another.
When marking books, I would write the corresponding code in the students book in the appropriate location.
In line with school policy students would have time to act upon the next steps criteria during DIRT.
Unfortunately, reducing my workload from marking and feedback felt like the only area in which I could take control. I still felt overwhelmed with work and eventually experienced a breakdown due to burnout in April 2016 – more on that experience here.
However my exploration into marking, feedback and assessment led me into a topic I now find of great interest and I’m fortunate to be in a position to now be writing a book on the topic to help schools, departments and individuals move away from marking policies and into feedback systems. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from 10 fantastic case study schools, 5 departments and a range of individuals in the process and I can not wait to share the book with you next Spring/Summer.
Until then, I’ve plenty more to inspire your journey from marking to feedback here.
Share your teacher truth…
What challenges have you experienced during your time in the profession and how have you overcome them? Share your Teacher Truths with others and develop the conversation on teacher wellbeing.