It’s that time of year when we spend a LOT of time telling students just how few days they have left until their exams. That’s all fine, but then they panic and then you panic, and then we all go on marking overdrive, as if we hadn’t been doing enough of that already.
On Friday, I put so much marking on the passenger seat of my car that the clever computer told me that said passenger was not wearing its seatbelt. Even my car knew that my workload was potentially dangerous!
Over the past few years, many people have reported that they are actually marking for several different audiences at once: Parents, pupils, Ofsted, line managers, colleagues etc. Marking policies vary from school to school but I suggest that whatever you do, commit to the 3 Ps: Personal, powerful and practical. So here are a few tips that will help make life a little easier:
- Create a numbered key for those types of assignments such as exam-style essays, which contain all of the usual things you find yourself writing. Train your students to know what each number means, and then write a maximum of 3 of those numbers at the bottom of the work. They will have to engage with the key, and their own work, and you won’t get increasingly bored of requesting, in writing, capital letters for proper nouns.
- Decide in advance how many paragraphs you will assess for Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. A student who really struggles with spelling is NOT going to benefit from a full A4 page of ‘SP’ in the margin, so keep the feedback manageable, and restricted to the first 2 or 3 paragraphs at most.
- Insist that students spend the first 5 minutes of the lesson in which they’re submitting work, proofreading what they are handing in. Or get them to swap with a peer. They need to learn to proofread anyway, and having you do it for them teaches them very little.
- Remember that not all pieces of work need to be marked in depth. Notes and brainstorms require a tick. The full outcome – essay, speech, presentation – will reveal everything you need to know.
- Plan your marking. Easily said, I know, but if you’re focussing on GCSE essays, getting year 7 to hand in massive projects will just depress you. Decide what tasks are easier to assess in class. Your mid and long term planning should include an overview of where the crunch points are on your workload, so plan accordingly.
- For practical subjects such as Drama and Music, video the performances AND you giving the feedback. The students can then write the feedback down for themselves AND you’re modelling how to give constructive, helpful feedback to your whole class.
- If you really MUST wield a stamp that proclaims ‘Verbal Feedback Given’, give it to the students to do, or have a very keen stamp monitor. You didn’t go to university for 4 years to do a task that’s more at home in a scrapbook. Get the student to stamp it AND write the feedback that you gave. Or just lose the stamp in the most creative way possible.
- Remember that marking tired can be less helpful than not marking at all. I bet those last 5 exercise books will be limited in feedback value. Admit that spending 20 minutes the following morning before school would be much less hellish for you, and more helpful for the student, too.
Lastly, know when to stop. As my driving instructor once reminded me, “brakes to slow, gears to go”. To be safe and consistent, you need to use both.