A conspiracy of tick and tock

Tes Reporter

As if you weren't already pressed for time, now your students expect their projects to be marked yesterday, writes David Waugh

That time of year has come again. Just when you thought you were coping with your first term, your head of department mentions that dreaded word: coursework. At first, you think it might not be as bad as all that. It's just a bit of extra marking, after all - Jor so you thought.

Marking coursework is one of those jobs that no one likes doing. Everything's fine when the students are doing the work, but things start to go downhill rapidly once students have handed it in. To make it worse, students have a habit of expecting you to hand their work back during the very next lesson - Jmarked, annotated and graded.

Once you get into the swing of it, you will probably spend an average of about 20 minutes marking each of the scripts, although this will vary according to your subject. So it's a good idea to prepare your students accordingly for the necessary delay in returning their papers.

Many newly qualified teachers find marking coursework particularly frustrating because it triples their workload overnight - at a time that is already frustratingly busy. But it is important to take your time and spread the load. Try not to leave it until the last minute, or attempt to mark 30 scripts in one sitting. It is much easier if you set yourself a target of two or three scripts per day. This way, you'll get through the workload in just over a week, and your marking will be fairer to all of your students.

Remember that coursework is much easier to mark if you have done the work in advance yourself. Have a go at the essay or task that you are setting. This will make you more aware of what is involved when coaching your students.

You should also draw on the experience of colleagues in your department. For them, much of this will be a case of "been there, bought the T-shirt".

It is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the exam scheme beforehand. Have a look at the feedback that your department received from the exam board for the previous year's coursework. This will help to give you more of an idea about what the external moderators are most likely to pick up on. Such preparatory work will help to make the process much smoother.

At this time of the school year, you will have reports to write, parents' evenings to attend and so on, so it is vital that you try to clear your desk beforehand. It's tempting to put coursework to one side and think that you'll return to it at a later date, but you will not be as efficient in your marking later in the year. And it's certain that the work won't go away.

Remember, internal moderation meetings are an excellent time to ask your questions. Go to these meetings with a sample of scripts about which you'd value other people's opinions. If you are not sure, the chances are that there'll be others in the department who also feel uncertain.

Pace yourself. And good luck.

David Waugh is an advanced skills teacher at Northampton School for Boys

How to stay on course

* Mark your first script, then get a colleague to check it for you.

* Practise with sample scripts first.

* Do the coursework yourself.

* Begin marking as soon as you have collected in students' work.

* Mark two or three pieces of work each day rather than all at once.

* Mark all of the scripts before you give a final grade - it helps you to be more consistent in your gradings.

* Make full use of all the moderation procedures.

* Read the last examiner's report on coursework in your school.

* Pre-arrange - and put in your diary - a time for you to sit down and mark.

* Try to get the bulk of your other work under control before you collect in your students' work.

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