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Marking Time


Blimey. Only five weeks since I went back to school after the Easter break, but it feels like a lifetime ago. This last half-term has been, without a sliver of a whisker of a shadow of a doubt, my hardest since I started teaching just over 18 months ago. That was partly due to getting my first GCSE class ready for their exams; I really enjoyed teaching my Year 11s, and will really miss them now that they have gone, but at the same time… That level of expectation and pressure was very new. I think they will have done well, but I’ll only know that for sure in August.

But what really did for me was the sheer volume of marking. I spent four days over Easter marking Year 11 mocks. Then I came back to school, and Year 10 started theirs. Once they were finished, it was the turn of KS3 – four more classes whose exams needed scrutinising. With each new stack of scripts, my heart sank; and I made those inevitable, pitiful bargains with myself. ‘Okay: five more question threes, and you can have a cup of tea.

This constant, nagging grind only really finished last week; and for that I am truly thankful. What it has done is make me think very deeply about the wider process of marking, and how I go about it; and there’s some comfort in knowing I’ll be much better prepared next time. For me, there were three key lessons:

  • make sure your comments are super-focused. Is there any point writing marginalia for pupils who won’t take the trouble to read it? What is actually going to make a difference to them?
  • wording of targets is so important. What do you actually want your pupils to do with them? I now know that I should be asking active questions, ones with definitive and measurable answers. They should be a tool through which pupils can improve their work. This also means that progress is so much easier to check and revisit as necessary
  • I’m a sprinter, not a marathon runner. I mark much more effectively in bursts; the longer I spend at it, the worse my feedback becomes. From now on, I need to timetable in regular time-slots to spread the marking burden much more evenly. This will have two benefits: first, I’ll keep my sanity; second, my pupils will benefit from much higher quality feedback

Like so much else in teaching, for me this is a work in progress; one of those maddening processes where you have to make your own mistakes and find your own path.


About whatareyoureadingfor

Blogging book obsessive. Teacher of English, just starting my NQT year. Father of 2. Ex-local government drone. North of 40


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