3 ways I've cut my marking load that actually worked

Marking is the bane of a teacher's life. This teacher decided to do something about it to keep her workload - and stress levels - under control

Lucy Harries

A new report has shown that less than half of school staff believe their workload is sustainable.

I know I am not alone in my general dislike for marking – and as an English teacher, this can be time-consuming and unsustainable.

It also drains me mentally and I begin to resent doing it. And that’s no good at all, as we all know that frequent and meaningful feedback is key to student progress – if done properly.

As such, I decided this academic year that marking would be a key area for development. I know I am good at marking: the students get in-depth feedback, I diagnose issues and students are given time to work on my targets.

However, I wanted to find a way to streamline my marking so that I could do it more often and get it back to students in a more timely manner.  

These are three ways I have done just that.

1. Feedback codes

One of the things that I have started to do is use a code for assessment marking. That is not uncommon.

However, I decided that for KS3 assessments and literature essays I would no longer write long summative comments myself.

Instead, I now write my WWWs (what went well), EBIs (even better if) and DIRT tasks (dedicated improvement reflection time) on a slide and number them.

Then, at the bottom of students’ work, I write the number that corresponds to the feedback I want to give. In the feedback lesson, the students copy my feedback onto their work.

The students see each other's targets and areas of strength, but they don’t necessarily know who has which piece of feedback.

Not only does this mean that I don’t have to keep writing the same thing over and over and it speeds up the marking considerably, but also the students have to actually read my feedback and digest it.

The rest of that lesson is then spent working on personalised targets and improving their work.

This technique has sped up my marking considerably and means that students get their work back relatively quickly and I can keep the momentum going.

2. The golden moment

Another tactic I have used is to try to make sure that the only marking I do is that which is going to link directly to progress.

Of course, I don’t believe in marking work for the sake of it; there has to be a purpose. Yet sometimes students write something in a lesson that they have worked hard on and really want me to see, but because of other marking priorities, lesson planning, meetings, parents’ evening or any of the other thousands of things we have to do, I just don’t have time to do a full mark.

So I created the “golden moment”.

I asked students to write down their EBI from the last assessment at the top of their page and then do their creative writing task.

Once they had finished they selected and highlighted their golden moment – something they were proud of, that met the EBI and that they wanted to show off. This could be anything from a sentence to a full paragraph.

They then wrote (on a little handout that they stuck in the book) why that was their best bit.

They had to be reflective, critical of their own writing and justify why they made their decision. And then I just marked the small section they highlighted…win-win!

3. Group essays

Before every assessment, it is important to give students an opportunity to practise the skills that they have been working on. However, the thought of marking 24 essays just before a huge stack of assessment marking is not appealing.

Therefore, one technique that can be utilised is getting the students to write the essay in pairs or even small groups.

This way they are still practising the analytical skills required, they are having to discuss ideas (which makes them more memorable) and they are using the essay structure I have prescribed.

Then I mark the essays and, as there are fewer to work through, I can give specific, in-depth feedback that will give students insight into how they can improve for their assessment. I then photocopy my marking and each student gets a copy.

To extend this even further, the students can then do DIRT work independently, giving them the opportunity to apply my feedback.

How it has helped

It takes some time to embed these techniques and to train the students to use marking to enhance their progress, but the effort has been hugely worthwhile.

I don’t feel bogged down by an endless stack of marking and I am (dare I say it) actually enjoying giving feedback.

As we find ourselves in the position where there are so many unknowns in terms of GCSEs in the current climate, recording regular and accurate data is going to become increasingly important.

For me, it’s just about finding a way to do that while still looking after my own mental health.

Lucy Harries is an English teacher at Shrewsbury International School

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