You’re doing it wrong: Marking and feedback tips

As an English specialist, I’m probably a little bit biased when it comes to the subject of marking, but English teachers definitely pulled out the short straw when it comes to marking.

The marking load for teachers is massive, it’s incessant and, to be brutally honest, it very often doesn’t have the impact on the students that we would want it to achieve. Certainly, the resulting improvement in students’ work doesn’t seem to tally with all the effort and hours that goes into filling your car boot full with carrier bags of books and spending long evenings and weekends ploughing through the lot of them.

But, that’s because we are often doing it wrong.

The ‘marking bar’ has been raised

Like many things in teaching, the bar seems to have been raised with marking in terms of what teachers are now expected to do. In truth, things probably did need to improve. If I think back to my own school days, I recall the marking and feedback I received from teachers being minimal, at best – and non-existent, at worst. I remember one particular piece of helpful feedback from a Maths teacher with particular fondness. She wrote, succinctly, ‘Good try, but wrong.’

So, yes, maybe the teaching profession did need to up its game in the marking stakes somewhat, but there is a clear argument to suggest that we’ve now gone too far the other way.

Marking has to have impact – otherwise it’s pointless. But it needs to be manageable too.

Marking horror stories

As schools have grappled with the perceived need to produce whole-school marking policies, teachers have sometimes buckled under the pressure. At its worst, there are some real horror stories around that I have seen. For example, teachers staying up marking books until 2.00 or 3.00 in the morning regularly so that their books are beautifully marked and pristine. The problem is, of course, that this is very much a case of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ – if you are regularly having so little sleep, it’s inevitable that lesson delivery will suffer as a result.

Another example is of a teacher producing extensive formative feedback on controlled assessment pieces. It looked great, but was absolutely pointless and a complete waste of the teacher’s considerable time as students were not permitted to re-draft the piece!

Mark for the students – not the school, parents or Ofsted

Ofsted has placed what a greater emphasis on marking and feedback in recent years. Internal work/book scrutinies have become prevalent in schools and a permanent fixture on most school calendars as SLT’s prepare for the inevitable Ofsted book scrutiny.

But teachers should never lose sight of who they are doing the marking for. It is not for SLT, parents or Ofsted, it should be for the students. And it needs to have impact.

So, we have seen an increase of different coloured pen marking in schools – often so that an observer can distinguish straightaway where a student is actively responding to teacher comments. The principle of this is good – after all, acting on feedback is crucial and proven to be one of the greatest drivers of progress. But, it’s all too easy for it to become another ‘tick box exercise’.

Take ‘verbal feedback’. Seizing on the advice that not all feedback needs to be written down, many schools have invested in ‘verbal feedback stamps’ that can be issued in books to show where feedback has taken place. The worst case scenario is of pupils then being told to summarise this feedback in writing next to the stamp – to prove that it actually took place!

With marking, less isn’t necessarily more – but more definitely isn’t the answer either. The crucial thing that schools and individual teachers need to consider with marking is simple: What is manageable? What will have the most impact? What will be most effective?