At some point, most teachers start to buckle under the weight, repetition and demands of marking. It has to be done so that it has meaning for a range of audiences, which includes children, parents and staff. It needs to inform and feed into the assessment and planning cycle or it becomes meaningless.
How to make the chore more useful and easier is a Herculean task, but there are some ways to handle the workload. With younger children it is always a good idea to mark work alongside them. It has far more meaning to them; after all, they are unlikely to remember what they had for lunch let alone why you have written the mysterious sp in the margin. This is not always possible, but you may be able to work creatively with your teaching assistant to free you up to do this instant assessment and feedback session.
With older children, peer assessment and marking can be helpful tools. However, they need training to do it properly. You might start with something straight forward, such as a mental maths assessment, and move on to looking at a piece of writing. Giving them Post-its and asking them to consider the learning objective for the session or the success criteria will give them a focus.
Suggesting a system such as "three stars and a wish", where they look for three positive things to say and an improvement, can also help. This has a two-fold impact. First, it means that a different audience reads the child's work, and secondly, the children get to be part of the assessment process and to see what you are looking for and may sharpen their own work next time round. Peer assessment can work well, but the class atmosphere needs to lend itself to the openness required so some PSHE groundwork may be required first.
A close focus on the learning objective can help too, so that you don't get distracted by writing and spelling. You may want to focus your comments on whether the child has achieved the success criteria for the session or not and if they've had extra support or guidance to get there.
Kate Aspin is a senior lecturer in education at the University of Huddersfield.