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‘Three Top Tips from Tom’ will be updated weekly with the best advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management.

Tom Bennett is the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state school in Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletters on behaviour.

Mark Me: using comments to drive behaviour

Marking is seen by many as a vile, Sisyphian chore, the tax on your teaching time. It’s true that unless you are possessed of an enormously sunny disposition and few after-school commitments it feels like a drain rather than a delicacy. But it’s there for a reason, and I find that the better I mark, the more the kids often switch on to the lessons. This is because good marking in a student’s book can, with care and precision become a silent dialogue between you and the student. And while a lot of behaviour management is focussed on structure and procedure, ultimately it aims towards developing a relationship with your students; one based on mutual cooperation and the desire to learn. Teaching a whole class can be slightly impersonal- it’s you and twenty-five of them, so many kids don’t get to have a lot of personal time with you, except on parent evenings. Using the book as an opportunity to circumvent this can be a very effective tool in letting your kids know what you want from them:

  1. Don’t kill yourself with the marking. You can only do so much, despite what your line management may imply from glorious mission statements of intent. Mark what you can , when you can, and if a class slides off the table for a day or two and marking isn’t up to the minute, then don’t panic. The skies will not fall. Instead, try to make sure that when you DO mark, the comments are meaningful, and potent.
  2. Make them individual, focussed on learning, and positive. Sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how easily it is for us to slide into generic comments that could have been directed at A N Other. Mention their names, and make sure you comment on things they’ve done really well. Mention effort, if effort has been shown. Mention things external to the book - a great answer in the previous lesson, or good behaviour. Books are a chance to say things about that student, not a universal catch-all.
  3. Let them know what they need to do next. Unlike some, I have no problem with grading homework, as it shows them how well they’re doing relative to an absolute standard which, is, after all, how they’ll be assessed eventually. But give them tips that tell them what the next steps are. Sure, it might be a comment like, ‘Slow down - write less, write more clearly,’ or it might be something more personal like, ‘Here’s how you could have answered it…’ On the note of positivity, there’s nothing wrong whatsoever telling a kid that something is wrong. I know some may faint at the thought that we can be anything less than positive, but a lot of the kids - many of the most able, but many of the others - know perfectly well when they’ve underachieved, or just been plain lazy, and if you DON’T say so, they’ll think you’re a mug. Be plain, but never nasty. ‘I know this didn’t take you long…I expect to see you do much better, as I know you can…’ is better than, ‘You’re lazy.’ Diplomacy doesn’t mean you have to fudge the truth - it just makes it easier for your message to be absorbed.

Good luck


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