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.

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