Mary Myatt's Blog

things I notice in schools

Should I be marking every piece of work?

The mammoth mountains of marking are still piling up. Why on earth is this the case? I first wrote about this two years ago. There is one rule for marking and feedback: if it's not making a difference to learning, don't do it.


The School Inspection Handbook (page 11) makes it clear that it is not necessary for every piece of work to be marked: 'Ofsted does not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders. Ofsted recognises that the amount of work in books and folders will depend on the subject being studied and the age and ability of the pupils.'

We need to be thinking about fewer things in greater depth: high quality feedback which crucially is acted on by the student or pupil. Too often what we see is feedback without any response. So, how can it be moving learning forward? The kid has ignored it, not because they can't be bothered, but because they haven’t been expected to. Now feedback is going to look different in different subjects. It won’t look the same in English as in maths or science or drama. The important thing is that high quality work is affirmed and the reasons given. And that misconceptions are picked up and used as the focus for discussions either in the book or in the classroom. Mistakes and misconceptions are a good thing because they make us go back to first principles and talk through what a good or correct response is.

If I am looking at students’ books and see that every piece of work has been marked, has high quality feedback, but no action by the child, I check with the teacher how much sleep they are getting. This is not feasible. Mostly though this isn’t the case. Lots of books have lots of ticks, the odd comment and no expectation that any thing should be done as a result of that comment.

So, to sketch out what kind of marking makes a difference to learning and is also reasonable, practical and leaves enough time for the teacher to go have a life outside of school. For starters, it is better to think of it as feedback. In other words, a conversation with the child about what they have done well and what they need to do to improve. Much of this can and should take place in the classroom. At some point during the lesson, the teacher might ask the class or a group of children what they are learning as opposed to what they are doing. For example, in a numeracy lesson in a primary school, how are the children working out which is the greater number when comparing decimal point values? If they can’t say why, they probably don’t know and are just guessing. So, back to basics and revisiting the difference between tenths and hundredths after a decimal point. The feedback here can be captured through post its in the children’s books.

In a literacy lesson children might be working on some imaginative, creative writing. They will probably be doing some drafts. Marking for these need to have a precise focus. If it is SPAG, then this needs to be explicit. As the teacher checks the books, they make a note of the common SPAG mistakes and give a symbol for these. Then, as a class or a group, these are revisited and the child is expected to check its own spelling, punctuation and grammar. Sometimes independently, sometimes with others. Crucially using dictionaries or spell checkers. Doing it for themselves, rather than just having it corrected by the teacher.

When it comes to giving feedback on a piece of creative writing, reasons should always be given for the comment. ‘Nice work’ isn’t good enough. Save your ink. ‘A high quality piece of work because…’ is much more productive. This is what some schools are referring to as www (what went well). Areas for improvement are often described as ebi (even better if). To support learning, these are much more effective if they are expressed as questions: ‘Could you give an example?’ ‘What else does this make you think of?’ ‘How does this compare with..?’ The teacher should not be providing the child with the answer, but expecting them to think and to refine their work as a result. This doesn’t happen by magic. Schools who have got the hang of this know that they have to dedicate time during lessons for children to act on the feedback. And there’s no getting away from it, this means we have to be prepared to cut content. In favour of learning. So no contest.

So, let's provide plenty of feedback during the lesson and reserve marking outside the lesson for more substantial pieces of work. Fewer pieces, done in more depth.

Some serious bloggers have written about their practice: Alex Quigley, Tom Sherrington, David Didau, Joe Kirby and a blog 'Back to thw Whiteboard'. And check out the grid at the bottom of Tom Sherrington's post which shows how to increase impact and reduce workload.

So who are the mountains of marking for? If they're not for children, dump them. Joe Kirby has written a brilliant blog about marking at Michaela.

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