Alternative Marking: comparative marking – Victoria Littler

An interview with Charlotte Goodchild, Team Leader KS3 English, Wilmslow High School

Why did you decide to use

Following the removal of KS3 levels, our school recognised that this was a golden opportunity to evaluate the way in which we mark work and assess students.  Over the course of the last 2 years, we have spent considerable time as a school wrestling with how to respond to the changes in the KS3 curriculum and the disappearance of levels. This summer, we are in a position to launch our approach, which makes a clear break between formative and summative assessment and considers the idea of ‘Fluency Learning’.

Fluency Learning, and the language we have attached to this, considers how effectively students have learnt and practised the material being taught, and is based on an assumption that, at the end of a sequence of lessons, all of our students are capable of having a ‘complete’ knowledge of the taught subject content. This means we are moving to a model which assesses the quality of a student’s learning. It no longer considers where a student has come from (their prior attainment) and where they’re heading (a GCSE target) as we have concluded that this is a very limiting approach, which means we do not have sufficiently high expectations of all of our students.

As an English team, we were therefore looking for a way in which we could summatively assess our students’ knowledge (and application) that was reliable, removed the tendency for biased judgement and was not beholden to vague criteria and rubrics; appeared to answer all of these requirements and had the added advantage of reducing the workload that English teachers often face in exam season!

What were the practicalities of using the site?

The site was easy to use and Chris was extremely helpful in supporting us through the setup process.  I would very much recommend paying for the £60 subscription if you are thinking about trialling the software with a small group.  As we boldly decided to trial this across all our KS3 classes, we ended up marking near on 1000 scripts, which is quite a large trial!  I think moving forward, we will be signing up for the £300 subscription so that we can use the barcoded answer sheets as this will reduce the admin time spent scanning in the documents etc.

What advantages and disadvantages did you find?

One of the biggest advantages is that all of our teachers have now seen over 600 pieces of student work across KS3, in the space of about 3 hours.  As a team leader, this is really quite fantastic! We have already been able to identify specific strengths and weaknesses across the cohorts and this has made for some excellent discussions about ‘closing gaps’ and strategies moving forward next year.  Of course, the fact that we are not spending hours marking is an added bonus!  My team has been very positive about the software and, in my opinion, it’s a really good form of CPD as we are all able to see the standard across the board and evaluate the effectiveness of our own teaching/students’ progress in relation to this.

What are you planning to do next?

We are going to sign up for the £300 subscription and use comparative judgement in our two KS3 summative assessment windows.

Ethic of Excellence

In his book ‘The Ethic of Excellence’, Ron Berger states that excellence is a way of thinking, a shift in culture and perspective: “if you’re going to do something… you should do it well… sweat over it and make sure it’s strong and accurate and beautiful… you should be proud of it”. According to Berger, we have to make our students view their work as pieces of art, crafted and redrafted, not merely ‘done’.

Unfortunately, there are no ‘quick fixes’; Berger states that simply ‘quizzing’ won’t make our pupils better or more intelligent. The ‘Ethic of Excellence’ is a long-term commitment, but there are some things we can do to make a start.

Berger posits making student work ‘public’ in order to improve it: “we can’t build students’ self-esteem and then focus on their work. It is through their own work that their confidence will grow. All the praise in the world won’t make them proud until they do something which they can value.” He does this by using a critique board. Here, students must display their work ready for constructive comments from their teacher and peers. Berger stipulates that comments must be:

  • Kind: a critique environment must feel safe; it is the teacher’s role to guard against personal and negative comments including sarcasm
  • Specific: comments must be rooted in what peers do and do not like and the reasons why. Students are encouraged to focus first on the positives and then the negatives. Comments are often framed as questions such as: ‘have you considered…’ Critique must be about the work and not the person.
  • Helpful: Berger works with a rubric or mark scheme to ensure that comments are relevant; he also encourages reiterating the project aims before work is critiqued to make sure comments are focused
  • Modelled on success: before a project commences, Berger provides his class with models of outstanding work which are aspirational for his pupils

Berger is a huge advocate for project based work and often teaches the basics like literacy and numeracy through topic that enthuse both teachers and pupils: “teachers should have freedom in the curriculum… when you’re excited about [what you teach] the students get excited about it.” While this may not always be possible in the secondary setting (Berger teaches in the primary phase), using group and project work and spending time on an individual topic, redrafting and perfecting pieces, will help students to build up the ethic of excellence and promote high expectations by demanding quality work which has been crafted over time.

It is also suggested that ambassadors within subjects are cultivated. By having positive older role models, students in earlier years are taught that trying and taking pride in what you produce is the way of the school.

Finally, students can only take pride in what they do if they are proud of their school. We can make sure that students are proud of their school by: investing time and money in its appearance and resources; involving our students in projects in the wider community where they can see the difference it is possible to make and having a rich extra-curricular time table. If the school community is positive, students will see school as a ticket to a better life – a place where it makes sense to try.