Marking: Five things I wish I’d known when I started teaching

This post is something I’ve been reflecting on since I read this by Carl Hendrick. What have we learnt during our careers that might be of benefit to our former selves – the 22 year old (in my case) probationary teacher (as NQTs used to be known) who started her career in a co-ed comprehensive in the north west in 1980?

The main message I would want to communicate to the young Jill is this:

LESS CAN BE MORE, AND MORE MARKING IS NOT NECESSARILY ADVISABLE, NOR IS IT SUSTAINABLE.

When I started as a secondary English Teacher, immediately following my PGCE, I don’t think there had ever been any discussion about marking – the purpose of it, and how to ensure it was effective. I saw myself as a proof-reader, painstakingly correcting every mistake, which I assumed pupils would scrutinise, carefully consider, and learn from. They didn’t, of course! They glanced at the mark/grade, said to their neighbour, “I got …. – what did you get?” and shoved the work in their bag, probably never to be looked at again. It took me too long to think about the real purpose of feedback and how to ensure it led to proper reflection, learning and improvement. So what would my five pieces of advice be?

  1. Never accept work which hasn’t been properly checked. Ensure its author acts as the proofreader.
  2. If the content is sloppy and rushed, too, insist it’s redone. You have to be a bit of a terrier here, but unless you demonstrate you have high standards, and that you expect your students to have high standards too, it’s a slippery slope.
  3. Sometimes setting a word limit can work well. Writers become more selective, they think more, they discriminate. The quality of the work improves, and the marking load decreases. I love a win/win.
  4. Ensuring pupils really think about what they can learn from each piece of work they do, and how that can inform work they go on to produce in the future, is the key.  Allocating time when work is returned to get them to pull out the main learning points, and act on them, rather than assuming that anything you’ve written on the paper will do that work for you, is crucial.
  5. Be wary of multiple drafts, though, which was a trap you definitely initially fell into when coursework arrived.  You taught some bright, motivated, potential perfectionists who found it hard to put in the final full stop and say ‘enough’. Let them do one draft, give feedback and discuss, they act on it in the final version and then it’s done. Move on. Further learning from feedback on the final version will benefit future coursework pieces.

I had a great career, but this advice would have helped me make better use of some of my time!

Photo taken by my dad: With my mum when I was 22 (and she was the age I am now…)

This post was originally published on @staffrm earlier this year

 

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