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If you’ve read anything from me on marking previously (like this, for example) you’ll know that I’m really not a fan. Not because of the workload, per se, but because the workload rarely seems to pay off. It’s all very well saying that your ten minutes spent diligently marking each of your thirty books from all eleven classes twice a week later results in students correcting and amending for a minimum of twenty minutes, but – much like this sentence – this sort of attitude towards marking balloons into the unwieldy: it’s a recipe for unhealthy dinners, a lack of family time and greying heads. And, as the EEF have far-too hesitantly stated (and as David Didau has pointed out as I’m writing this) there’s little evidence for its effectiveness.*

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My appalling handwriting is also a reason to not spoil a neat book. Note the final point I’ve made: a misunderstanding due to their age as much as their misconceptions.

What I’ve done for a little while now is something that Jo Facer blogged about in March. The photo above shows my notes from a set of 28 answers to a question which asked children to summarise mediaeval crime and punishment. The 28 books took me probably fewer minutes to ‘mark’ because instead of looking to correct every error and mistake, I focussed on making some notes about general errors and mistakes.

Where there were very serious misconceptions – which, actually, were few and far between this time – I did make a note. However, I’m not convinced that this is effective and wonder if I’m only making these comments because I’m so used to doing exactly that. On Monday, however, when looking over some Y10 books I noticed that many had confused the crime of patricide with the punishment: they had described the crime and stated that the punishment – being thrown into the River Tiber in a sack of snakes – was known as patricide. I only circled the error, but then brought the whole class’s attention to this, which allowed us to discuss why the word means what it does.

You’ll notice that most of the notes I made are focussed on their use of language. This created some great questions (What’s the difference between effect and affect? When can you use an exclamation mark? But I say was when you say I should say were – no-one’s ever told me this!) and, as I talked, the class worked through their own answers to correct these errors and mistakes.

This really is so much more helpful. The children get to ask those questions that they might otherwise normally struggle silently over: there’s a safety in numbers. I realise this is a bit of a paradigm shift, though. We’re often so keen to provide (read: see) that individualised written feedback (which I do, just through individual conversations), that we fail to notice until too late that most novices make the same mistakes. It doesn’t mean that I don’t know my students any less, but that I’m actually able to provide much more effective and timely feedback to them. Also, without the feeling that I need to engage in some kind of long-winded, C18-style correspondence where the messages are often lost or misinterpreted, I gain much better feedback from them – I know their writing better.

At the end of her blog, Jo says that she previously marked for herself. I don’t think I’ve ever done that, but I’ve certainly marked for others – sometimes the children, but usually someone else. I don’t do that now, and it’s so liberating.

*As an aside, there is nothing more worrying to me than a teacher who is constantly posting photos of their stacks of marking on social media. This isn’t impressive – it’s dangerous. James Theobald wrote something about this last year.

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