8 Strategies for Tackling Teacher Marking

Marking is part and parcel of the teaching gig, but as the weather gets better, most of us would rather avoid spending all evening with only a set of books for company.

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Marking has been identified as the single biggest contributor to teachers’ unsustainable workload along with the crushing weight and anxiety of Covid-19 there is no wonder why more and more teachers are feeling depressed because of their job and wanting to leave the educational sector altogether, as part of a study conducted in 2021.

Marking is Important

The Personal Development Tracker is clear that marking and feedback represents an important dimension of effective teaching practice. Marking and Feedback: 

  • Ensures that teachers and parents understand where pupils are with their learning and what they need to do to improve further.  
  • Informs interventions to make sure that pupils’ progress is on track. 
  • Support pupils’ evaluation of their own learning.  

The Personal Development Tracker, therefore, accepts that it is reasonable for schools to establish frameworks and systems for marking and feedback. However, it is critical to ensure that arrangements for marking and feedback do not create unacceptable and unnecessary workload burdens for teachers:

“Effective marking is an essential part of the education process. At its heart it is an interaction between teacher and pupil: a way of acknowledging pupils’ work, checking the outcomes and making decisions about what teachers and pupils need to do next, with the primary aim of driving pupil progress. This can often be achieved without extensive written dialogue or comments.”

It is important to note that it is entirely possible for schools to establish expectations in respect of marking that not only meet the educational goals set out but also to be recognised by inspectors as contributing to effective teaching and learning, but also limit workload burdens on teachers as a means by which more appropriate marking and feedback practices can be secured: 

“Marking is a vital element of teaching, but when it is ineffective it can be demoralising and a waste of time for teachers and pupils. In particular, we are concerned that it has become common practice for teachers to provide extensive written comments on every piece of work when there is little evidence that this improves pupils' outcomes in the long term”.

While schools will want to implement whole-school policies and systems for marking and feedback. It must be acknowledged that practice will need to vary according to the age and ability of pupils, as well as by subject or area of learning. Therefore, in seeking to agree on an acceptable approach to marking, members will need to use their professional judgement to advocate frameworks that take into account the particular contexts within which marking is undertaken. 

Stop Writing Too Much

There is little evidence to suggest that extensive written comments, often in different coloured pens, have a big impact on pupils’ progress. In fact, over-marking can take the responsibility away from pupils, reduce their motivation and make them less resilient. So, it’s reasonable to save your wrist! 

parents evening

Careless Mistakes Don't Need to be Corrected

Teachers shouldn’t correct pupils work where they have merely made a careless mistake, according to research – mark the error, don’t worry about correcting it. Instead, research advises teachers to focus on areas where pupils show an underlying misunderstanding. The latter is likely to be a chronic or habitual issue, while the former would be an occasional lapse, so a good old-fashioned cross beside silly mistakes is as good as anything.  

Don't Grade Every Piece of Work

Pupils tend to focus disproportionately on the grade and are less likely to take note of the formative advice. The research in this area is complex, but most studies agree that having a grade and a comment can lessen the impact of the comments.  

STOP Doing the "Tick and Flick"

There’s pretty much no evidence to suggest that acknowledgement marking (the tick-and-flick- approach) has any impact. The Oxford report concludes that this form of marking “could be reduced without any negative effect on students’ progress”. Generic praise can fall into this category. A quick “well done” or “good effort” might feel like it is not timeconsuming, but multiplied over several sets of books this endeavour can really clock up the minutes without adding much impact because pupils often are not clear on exactly which part, they have done well in. The report proposes pupils can detect insincerity too, so better to save your red ink for something more specific and genuine.  

Be Led By Pupils' Needs

The DfE report is clear that marking should be led by pupils’ needs rather than a mechanistic timetable. (Easier said than done if your school imposes such a timetable, of course). Schools can also obsess over consistency between teams and departments, but the guidance is equally clear that this can be as simple as having “consistently high standards”. Variation in practice was led by pupils’ needs, which is perfectly acceptable.  

Don't Believe Misconceptions About Ofsted

Ofsted, like and perceived villains tend to generate a lot of rumours and misunderstandings. The guidance, though, is clear; they have no specific expectations in terms of frequency, type or volume of marking. They do, however, expect to see teachers adhering to their school’s assessment policy, so this is another one that relies on leadership. 

Change the Culture

It’s easy to martyr mentality to creep into staffrooms. This holds that the more time you spend marking, the better a teacher you are. It’s a truth worth stating – publicly if you’re in leadership – that neither time nor words count nor leaving work late equal effectiveness.

Realise that Marking is NOT the " Be All And End All"

In a hyper-accountable system, written marking has become the big beast of feedback, in part because it can easily be checked. But the pendulum is starting to swing the other way. The workload review group report states that its aim is to “shrink the importance that marking has gained over other forms of feedback”. It even says: “If the hours spent do not have the commensurate impact on student progress, stop (doing) it”. You have been told! 

How do you approach the mountain of ever-growing marking? Do you have any helpful techniques you could share? Post them in the comments down below… 

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