First Step - On your marks

25th September 2009 at 01:00
The best marking systems are efficient, flexible and meaningful to everyone, but don't expect to develop one overnight

Developing your own marking system during your first year as a fully qualified teacher can be challenging.

Although you may have encountered different marking systems during your PGCE, it takes time to develop an efficient marking and feedback system that is appropriate to each individual group, says Kate Aspin, senior lecturer in education at the University of Huddersfield.

"On your teaching practice, marking is a novelty, not another thing to add on to the end of the day after displays, staff meetings, parents and special needs meetings," she says. "You need to find ways to stop it mounting up, to keep it manageable and meaningful to you, the children and other audiences such as staff, parents and Ofsted."

Schools have a clear policy on assessment, which incorporates guidance on marking and feedback. You will have to follow it closely at first, but there is room for negotiation, says Nadine Baker, head of primary and early years education at Edge Hill University.

"It is important for a new teacher to reflect upon how well the feedback procedures are supporting each pupil in making progress," she says.

"Use these reflections to support discussion with colleagues about how best to refine the procedures in order to ensure each pupil is meeting their potential. These discussions will lead to opportunities to try out different approaches, such as peer marking and self-assessment, thus ensuring procedures continue to meet the pupils' needs."

Initiatives such as self-assessment have proven to be highly successful, especially at Maltby Crags Infant School in South Yorkshire, which won a TES award for its efforts earlier this year. Teachers used assessment for learning principles to extend and challenge pupils by encouraging them to look at their own work, and seeing how they could make improvements.

"Children began with a 'thumbs up, thumbs down' approach when marking their own efforts," says Sheila Ralph, the school's headteacher.

"Traffic light systems were used and examples of work were shared in plenaries to help with marking, assessment and encouraging the children to think about how they could improve."

Liana Peck, who completed her NQT this year at Holgate School Sports College in Barnsley, confirms that a flexible approach is the way forward. "As a new teacher, I devised my own project for food technology that uses 'child friendly' ways to communicate to children which level they should be working towards," she says. "This makes it easy for the pupils to understand their goals."

As you progress through your first academic year, you may find that the work load can become overwhelming, says Ms Peck. She advises new teachers to keep on top by organising pupils' work so that it can be marked in batches.

"For my food and nutrition GCSE group I set deadlines for the pupils to follow with regards to different sections of the coursework," she says. "This meant that I was able to stagger the marking in stages as opposed to marking the whole investigation at the end, which made life easier."

Jonathan Cooper, who is now in his third year of teaching at Portsmouth Grammar School, still finds the work load challenging. "Marking is still, despite becoming quicker, a time-consuming part of the job," he says. "I try to be strict with myself and mark them the day they are handed in - to show good practice when expecting pupils to be prompt with homework."

However, try not to let the workload overwhelm you. "I try my best to do the marking while at school, usually an hour each evening as school finishes," says Mr Cooper.

Although it may seem insurmountable, remind yourself that assessment is a vital part of learning, says Ms Aspin. A mark symbolises the extent to which a pupil has attained learning outcomes, but also gives children an incentive to learn. It provides pupils with important skills for self-evaluation and analysis of their strengths and weaknesses.

"Getting to know yourself and your own strengths and weaknesses is one of the greatest gifts we can give children," she says. "If you're concerned in any way about assessing pupils, speak to your department head or assessment managers, as they will be able to provide tailored advice."

What to think about

- Read and adhere to the school's assessment policy.

- Discuss with colleagues how best to refine the procedures in order to ensure each pupil is meeting their potential.

- Use a range of assessment techniques and allow the pupils to choose on occasion - this will boost their interest and motivation.

- Assessment for learning methods such as self-assessment and peer-assessment are a good way to allow pupils to give each other feedback and learn from each other.

- View groups individually - what works with one class may not work with others.

- Be flexible - if you have planned an assessment but it's not working, alter it to suit the class.

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