Discover the art of marking

24th February 2006 at 00:00
Believe it or not, you're halfway through your induction year. Think back and see how far you've come, isn't it a great feeling? Take time to look ahead to where you want to get and use your induction entitlement to help you. Remember, every half-term you should still be meeting your induction tutor, setting objectives, being observed, reviewing progress, watching other teachers. You want to improve in all aspects of your teaching practice, but it's much more effective to tackle one thing at a time.

What's the one thing you want to focus on?


Is your marking meaningful? Marking pupils' work takes a long time for all teachers, but it is worse for new teachers and it's one part of your teaching where you need to become more proficient. Do you know how long you spend on marking? Keep a record as it's very easy to let marking take over your life without you realising it. Ask yourself whether the rewards merit the time spent on marking; do your pupils take notice of your feedback and act upon it? Do they have the time to respond to it? Are you clear that you're fitting in with school policies? What do you do about spelling mistakes, handwriting, grammar and punctuation? In other words, is your marking meaningful? All these issues are things you can address through an objective and action plan.


Make time to talk to other teachers. How long do they spend on marking? When do they do it and what tips do they have? Small things such as collecting books so that they're open at the right page for marking can make a big difference to your time. Do other staff deliberately plan some work that doesn't take as long to mark but which still meets the learning objective? Some teachers swear that stickers and stamps save time and motivate pupils.


A marking schedule is handy. Balance the work that needs marking over the week so that you don't have too much at one go. Decide on what seems a realistic amount of time to spend on marking and fit it in with other commitments. Try to stick to this timetable, aiming to reduce the time and to do things earlier and more quickly, if possible. Different pieces of work require different levels of marking. Sometimes a Rolls-Royce product needs deluxe marking, but other pieces of work might require a more prosaic approach.


Are you making the most of all the different sorts of marking? Remember that peer review and self-assessment are valuable, as well as potentially less time-consuming for you since you'll be in the role of moderator. Plan some time for pupils to swap books and mark each others' work. Ideally, do this before the end of the lesson so that they can improve their work before the lesson finishes. This will be formative marking.


Be efficient about resources. Do you spend loads of time making resources and worksheets? Again, think about fitness for purpose. Is it worth spending time on resources in terms of what children will gain, how long they'll use them for and what else you could be doing? Sometimes professional pride makes teachers do an unnecessarily perfect job. Keep things simple. Searching the internet and using ICT to make resources and worksheets can eat up stacks of time; sometimes handwritten versions can be quicker and just as useful. Other teachers are useful resources. Somebody in your school or at a neighbouring one probably has the things you're looking for, so ask around. Organise a system for keeping resources so they can be found the next time they're needed.


If you feel as though you've got the basics pretty much sorted out, you might want to try to make your teaching more exciting and pupils' learning deeper. Certainly, the primary strategy is encouraging creativity and enjoyment. Perhaps you want to build learning power, as Guy Claxton, professor in education, calls it, helping children to be resilient; to get absorbed and to concentrate; to tolerate confusion and frustration; and stick with things when they get difficult. Maybe you're interested in developing kids' learning and thinking skills through teaching them how to gather information, impressions, patterns and details; experiment, make links, imagine, listen to hunches and inklings; reason, analyse and deduce.

Or, if you're a primary teacher like Zena Fish (above), you feel that the attention you give to the core subjects, particularly maths and English, leave you with little energy or time in putting any "oomph" into teaching other parts of the curriculum.

It's hard to get your teeth into anything in one lesson a week so some schools are using integrated topic-based units of work. Others are blocking bigger chunks of time, like a whole afternoon a fortnight rather than one lesson a week. Other places have an arts week where they suspend the timetable for a five or three-day slot every now and then for in-depth, extended activities.


Anticipation, nerves and excitement were some of the roller-coaster of emotions that Zena Fish felt at the beginning of her first term teaching in an inner London primary school. "I thought it was my chance to implement all the weird and wonderful ideas that had been rushing through my head while studying.

"I was really looking forward to teaching foundation subjects - history, art, geography - because I thought I'd be able to be imaginative and innovative, and give children a chance to express themselves and be creative."

But she now appreciates the constraints, such as lack of time, which hold teachers back. "We give time, effort and energy to the core subjects with little time to teaching foundation subjects. It's a waste as children are meant to be given an enriched curriculum.

"However, in reality, time restrictions don't allow for the creative and inspirational elements of these subjects. We need more time. Children deserve a more rounded education. I feel shackled, but I hope I can be more creative as I get more experience."

Zena Fish teaches at Jubilee primary school in Brixton, south London

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