In the Department for Education’s Teacher Workload Survey published in February 2017, secondary teachers reported spending 8.1 hours per week marking students’ work.
This led to the publication of a Workload Reduction Toolkit in July 2018, which contained advice for leaders about how to tackle the issue of workload in their schools, including marking as a subsection.
Despite this and the Ofsted myths document claiming that "Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback", some schools’ marking and feedback policies are still distinctly dated and onerous.
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In Making Every Lesson Count, Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby state that the point of feedback is to identify a "learning gap" so the teacher can then aim to close it by ensuring that future planning is responsive.
Feedback, therefore, does not necessarily need to be the onerous written feedback that some of these policies dictate, but instead could take the form of verbal feedback, feedback from peers, or lessons dedicated to addressing misconceptions or lack of understanding.
If teachers can utilise these other approaches, they should be able to reduce the amount of written marking that they find themselves doing.
Allison and Tharby provide their readers with the set of questions below that can help them to identify whether the feedback they are giving is worthwhile:
- Does it close gap or help move the students forward?
- Is it manageable?
- Is it fit for purpose?
- Does it take the most effective form?
- Is it holding the students back?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then teachers should question the purpose behind the feedback.
When feedback is needed, here are some steps to reducing the workload and maximising the impact.
1. Make it verbal
By far the easiest and least time-consuming option for teachers is immediate verbal feedback while students are writing. Teachers can patrol the classroom while students are silently writing, speaking to students about any misconceptions and providing opportunities for further challenge.
In my experience, students highly value this approach; teachers can express an interest in their work, give genuine praise and provide clearer guidance on next steps than they can through written comments.
2. Code it
However, if schools insist on written marking, using numerical targets can save time. It is likely that if students are all expected to produce a similar outcome (like the written response to an image in the English Language GCSE) with the same success criteria, then there will only be a certain number of factors that ultimately need addressing.
All the teacher then needs to do is type each factor up onto a PowerPoint slide as a clear target or instruction on how to improve, before assigning each a number. The only thing required to be written in the students’ books is the number which corresponds to their own work. Therefore, with minimal effort teachers can give individual student feedback for maximum gain.
3. Structure your feedback lessons
Where dedicated feedback lessons are concerned, teachers need to ensure that students are clear about how these lessons are structured, what the expectation of them is in terms of responding to feedback and why it is a valuable enough pursuit for lesson time to be spent on it.
If teachers are not fully invested in giving the feedback – for example, if schemes of work simply do not dedicate enough time for it to be valuable, or if they have resented marking the work in the first instance due to an ill-thought out school marking policy – then students will be equally uninvested in it.
Using a similar structure for each feedback lesson builds routine and helps students to become familiar with the process. A reminder of the task that they were set is key – students visit multiple subjects in a day and sit in dozens of lessons a week; it is likely they will not remember the task set if feedback is being provided a few days later.
Teachers should then spend time praising those who met or exceeded their expectations to reinforce the value of hard work and effort.
Sharing examples of their excellent work on a visualiser or a PowerPoint slide is rewarding for these pupils and has the added benefit of demonstrating successful work to the rest of the group. This leads well into discussions about the success criteria and would ideally be an opportunity for teachers to model the task themselves, taking the time to explicitly address common misconceptions and demonstrate general ways to improve.
Finally, students should be given their work back with their relevant targets or instructional prompts to improve.
The teacher should reiterate the expectation that feedback is responded to in silence and in an acceptable level of detail – as Dylan Wiliam says, "Feedback should be more work for the student than it is for the teacher."
As students will have already seen examples of successful work and a teacher model, they should also be told when and how it is appropriate to ask for further support (it would be beneficial for resources or scaffolds to be at their disposal for students to support themselves in the first instance).