Rethinking Marking

Gold star on notebookEnglish Teacher, Katie Baldwin shares a practical evaluation of various feedback strategies and her research into the value our students place on effective marking.

There is widespread consensus that providing students with regular and meaningful feedback is important if they are to make good progress. There are, however, a couple of troublesome questions that require practical solutions if this is to be achieved. Firstly, ‘How can I find time to provide regular and meaningful feedback in amongst all of the other things that take up my time as a teacher?’ Secondly, ‘How can I be sure that students are actually engaging with the feedback I have provided?’

I’ve spent some time over the last year, exploring various approaches to marking that will hopefully work towards providing some of the solutions we need.

I’ve read a number of blogs, articles and publications on the subject of marking students’ work, but have perhaps found surveying students’ opinions on the ways in which their work is marked the most useful. At times their responses were as expected and elsewhere, a little more surprising.

The vast majority of responses indicated that they found feedback from teachers (both written and verbal) to be ‘extremely helpful’. This tallied with my experience of observing that our students do like us to read and respond to their work on a regular basis. What I hadn’t fully understood, however, prior to carrying out the survey was the value our students place in the various component parts of the feedback we provide.

They were asked to rank, in order of importance to them, the following aspects of teacher feedback: ‘the level/grade achieved’, ‘praise’, targets for improvement and ‘an opportunity to respond to the feedback’.

60% of responses indicated that they found, ‘an opportunity to respond to the feedback’ to be of least importance. Given the emphasis that we, as teachers, are currently being asked to place ensuring that students engage with feedback, these findings suggested that there was work to be done to help our students understand why we are asking them to do this.

In terms of what the students identified as most important, responses were spread across two aspects. 53% felt that being informed of what level/grade they’d achieved was most important, whilst 43% selected ‘targets for improvement’. So it seems that perhaps students appreciate finding out what they need to do differently but are less enthusiastic when it comes to putting this into practice.

Given these findings, I have been looking at several approaches that can hopefully move students towards a point where they are becoming more actively involved in the process of reviewing their own work…

Marking Approach How it works Pros Cons
Coloured Dots Coloured dot stickers are placed on students’ work in places where they need to make amendments or improvements. Teachers can provided a set of targets on the whiteboard, allowing students time to identify and copy down those which apply to them. Alternatively, students can be asked to think for themselves to create a different target for each colour.  Time is saved as teachers do not need to spend time writing out the same targets across a number of pieces of work repeatedly. Targets can be designed to suit each different piece of work. Students are encouraged to directly engage with areas for improvement. Sticker system can be confusing, especially for less able students.Teachers would need to ensure that they were fully stocked with stickers all of the time!
Highlighters Very similar to the coloured dot approach. Students can also be given highlighters and asked to identify where certain targets (displayed on whiteboard) are applicable within their own work. Highlighters are readily available. Precise areas for improvement can be identified and revisited with ease. A quick and straightforward approach. Again, relies on students being sufficiently prepped and able to recognise specific issues within their work.
Codes Codes are written onto students’ work which relate to a set of targets. We use this approach alongside target cards within the English department. E.g. W1 = writing target 1 on the student’s target card which is kept in the back of their exercise book. Differentiation can be easily achieved by altering the extent to which students are involved in designing their own targets. Relies on students reviewing past targets as they embark on each new piece of work. Can still be quite time consuming if teachers rather than students are writing out the targets in full.
Coloured Pens Pieces of work are ‘double marked’: in one colour by the teacher and then in a second colour by students who go through correcting and amending their marked work as appropriate. Encourages students to engage with a ‘drafting’ process and can in turn develop literacy skills. Students like using the coloured pens provided. Investing in sets of pens can be costly.The amendments that students make may only be superficial as they are not necessarily engaging with more complex areas for improvement, only SPAG.
Question and Box Rather than creating a target at the end of a piece of work. The teacher poses a question. Beneath the question, a box is drawn to indicate the length of response they are expecting from the student. Time (DIRT) can be incorporated into lessons following the marking. Students are given a clear indication of the extent to which they are expected to respond. Encourages clear and timely progression in development of specific skills. Writing questions and drawing neat boxes in exercise books can be fairly time consuming. Perhaps this approach is more appropriate for more significant and developed pieces of work. Students often need one-to-one support in responding to the questions that have been posed and it can be difficult to provide this for larger class sizes within the time constraints of a lesson starter.
STAR Marking This is along the lines of ‘2 stars and a wish’ that many of our students are familiar with from Primary schools. STAR = something I like, target, action, response. There is a clear requirement for students to respond to the feedback that has been provided and praise is also incorporated. A more time consuming approach again…

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