Quicker marking, effective feedback – Helena Clarke

I am well aware that some of my marking workload is self-inflicted. Why did I choose to teach history?! However, I chose to teach history because I love the subject and surely that has to be a central reason for our choices. That said, with a timetable mainly orientated around exam classes, I struggle. Marking at KS3 is also heavy, but the sheer volume of work produced by A level students, in particular, can make for a poor social life. In addition to this, I am not convinced that all the time I spend poring over essays is having that much of an effect. Feedback is really important, students need to know how to improve, but should that involve me writing comments over their essays that they may not even read. The grade is what they want – after that, for many reading further is simply meaningless (in their minds).

It is because of endless weekends and evenings spent with my nose in books and over essays that I have decided that something needs to change. This is a work in progress, so I still haven’t got the balance right but here are a few suggestions for more effective marking and feedback.


1 – Don’t mark classwork – I know that this is an approach being followed by many departments. I do think we need to read what is done in class but there is no need to add comments. Instead consider a whole class marking sheet. Simply read the work, write down any misconceptions; take a note of who is not doing the work so you can challenge them in the lesson; take a note of who is doing well so you can praise them and note any common SPaG errors. These can then be fed back in the next lesson using PPT slides and teacher explanation. You can also keep the sheets (which I also use for assessments and essays) in a file ready for parents evening, to either praise or challenge a student. I often forget specifics so useful evidence.

2 – Marking codes – when marking homework or exam questions I have started to note down WWW/EBI on a sheet and I number them as I go along. On the students work I just write down the number of the corresponding comment. When feeding back, I put the comments on a PPT slide so the students can then find out what the numbers mean and write down the comments. I am hoping that this means they take some notice of the comments because they have to actually physically write them down. I then explain the comments further. I have been doing this at all key stages.

3 – Peer assessment – I rarely use self-assessment because I find this less accurate but I have been making KS4/5 peer-assess every exam question/essay possible. The rationale is that they should understand what is expected of them and the best way is if they become the examiner. It is worth trying to change who marks the work so that it is not their best friend all the time! I have found that the vast majority of students become very accurate at marking. I ask them to choose a level (and a mark if they feel that possible) and to write a comment for both WWW/EBI. I do then take these essays in – some don’t and this may be an approach worth considering – but if the comments are accurate I can simply tick them. I currently still sometimes write comments but am moving towards marking codes. I am in the process of breaking the habit of making lots of comments! I need to try and use this process at KS3, I sometimes do but a more consistent approach would help embed the culture of peer assessment.

4 – Before they hand their work in – ask the students if they have read through their answer. The first time I did this I was shocked as hardly anyone had. It is worth going through what was expected of them with regard to the work and allowing them time to correct their errors. I think this is effective but don’t do this enough due to the fact that it leads to chasing up students. I am often not as effective at this as I need to be.

Further thoughts: I am a fan of twitter and have read countless blogs on marking and feedback. I have noted the ones I found most useful below. One suggestion is not to grade work – I struggle with this for a couple of reasons. One is the fact that I think it is useful for students to know what level they are working at. (I can see the arguments otherwise). The other is reporting and data – there is such requirement to enter data that I feel compelled to grade work (I think parents value this too – rightly or wrongly). But this could be useful in terms of students actually focusing on what we say instead of feeling upset that they have not achieved what they wanted, or feeling content that they are fine and therefore not pushing themselves.

And as for how much homework is set and whether that needs marking – that’s for another day…

A useful link: some kind teacher has put lots of ideas/research/blogs etc. together. Look in particular at the practical ideas section.


Some links, from this page, that I thought were really useful:






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