How to mark SMARTER [PART 1]

This blog will help teachers to reduce the amount of time that they spend marking and giving feedback.

This is the first blog in our new series on #smartmarking

This blog is aimed at saving you time and helping you to achieve a better work-life balance.

Consider the following questions:

  • Have you ever wondered how much time you actually spend marking and giving feedback?
  • Have you ever been told how much time you should spend marking and giving feedback?
  • Is there a link between teachers who spend a lot of time assessing and raised attainment in the classroom?

Marking and feedback adds to the growing list of work and demands placed upon teachers which  can often make us feel like we are trying to complete ‘mission impossible’.  There is a growing emphasis on work-life balance paralleled with a growth in workload.  It is easy to overlook the fact that if teachers are not paid overtime, the expectation should be that marking and feedback doesn’t increase their working hours.

Now reflect on the following quote in the black box:

Smart marking 1

  • Are you busy OR are you productive?
  • Could you become more productive?
  • Would you benefit from a friend or a coach who could help you to become more productive?

Our first teaching group meeting of the year explored the idea of #smartmarking.  We brought together the smartest assessment ideas from colleagues and have compiled a guide on how to mark smarter.  This is the first blog in our series which focuses on how to plan smart assessment.

Plan your marking

A useful exercise is to predict how much time you can afford to spend marking, how much marking you need to do and then to get an average of how much time you have to spend on each student.  Setting yourself a limit will help you to find a system or focus you on what marking and feedback is productive (maximises learning in the classroom) within the time limit you have set yourself.

The following guide will help you to reflect on approximately how much time you need to mark and give feedback:

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The grid covers the different range of subjects taught in schools.  Core subjects teach classes more frequently so will naturally teach fewer classes.  Option subjects like computer science or art will only teach children for approximately 1 hour a week, the consequence being more classes required to fill a teacher’s timetable.  This has big implications for planning marking and feedback.  For example, an English teacher who has 5 classes a week and spends 3 minutes assessing each student (average class size of 25) will spend 6 hours and 15 minutes a week marking.  However, a computer science teacher who has 16 classes and spends 1 minute a week assessing each student would need 6 hours and 40 minutes a week.  1 minute per child is almost certainly not enough time to assess a pupil’s work.  Therefore, planning assessment and feedback becomes essential for work-life balance and for teachers to keep their working hours sustainable.

So why does it ‘hurt’ so much during an OfSTED year?  Why do we feel like we need recovery time after an OfSTED inspection?  Consider the following table:

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It is easy to see how a workload can slip out of control.  An extra 2 minutes per child can push workloads to an unsustainable level.  I accept that there is no scientific rule to marking.  Some pieces of work require more time and attention than others; assessment quality may vary between key stages and there will always be a time and a place for ‘tick and flick’ marking.  However, if you spend an unnecessary extra 2 minutes per child assessing their work, you could very easily find yourself working late nights, losing family time and you could also put yourself in a position where you feel like you have to leave the teaching profession.

The following tips will help you to plan a sustainable assessment workload:

  1. Schools should differentiate their marking policy – there is no blanket approach which can be applied across all subjects. For example, telling staff that all subjects should assess at least once a fortnight would give ‘smaller’ subjects who teach more pupils an unsustainable workload.  Marking policies should be differentiated so that workload expectations are proportionally equal.
  2. Establish a smart and systematic marking method before you start – it’s a fact; we aren’t paid overtime and we don’t clock in and out. Therefore, it is our responsibility to manage our work-life balance.  We need to set a sensible assessment time limit, be clear about what we want to achieve from our marking/feedback and ensure that it benefits learning.  If you aren’t confident that your marking is smart then it is worth asking for training, discussing ideas at a departmental level and you could also seek guidance from senior leaders.  Mary Myatt makes an interesting point; if lessons are taught inadequately in the first place then marking and feedback would become more helpful but it is not as effective as better teaching in the classroom.  This also leads on to the point that if the consequence of assessment is teacher burnout, then marking and feedback becomes counterproductive because the teacher has no energy left to deliver outstanding lessons.
  3. Share ideas at a school level – imagine if a colleague showed you a feedback system that saved you 30 seconds per student. Over an academic year this could amount to many hours being cut from your workload.  We all benefit from sharing ideas at school CPD sessions.
  4. Share again on social media – social media sites like Twitter have revolutionised CPD. We now have a whole library of teaching ideas that are free of charge; this is extremely important as we are currently facing ‘crippling’ budget cuts in schools.  Social media helps you find and share ideas from across the globe.
  5. Mark as you go – planning assessment during your lessons can significantly reduce your workload. We are constantly circulating the classroom and giving oral feedback.  The SMART teachers will weave some assessment time into the process.  Imagine if you added some feedback or even just highlighted the occasional piece of work during a lesson.  If it saves you 5 minutes per class each lesson, you could potentially save yourself up to 25 minutes a day.  Plan in a little DIRT time and some peer assessment/feedback, all of a sudden, your books look a lot ‘healthier’ and your workload will subtly decrease.  We can call this the TESCO approach to marking and feedback, ‘Every little helps’.

And finally … remember that the push for more feedback never came with a pay rise. Therefore, your workload should not increase.  Smart marking is about being more productive, not doing more work.

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Look out for other blogs in our Smart Marking series.

Join us and share smart marking!  Post your ideas to #smartmarking

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