Merits of letting pupils do the marking

17th February 2006 at 00:00
There is nothing worse than a huge pile of marking at the end of the day. As a new teacher, I have not yet mastered the art of marking on the go and I am often left correcting jotters after school.

The comments I make are of dubious benefit to the children and yet take hours to produce each week. I was, therefore, very interested to hear of an initiative being tried at a friend's school, called Mark Less to Achieve More.

At first, I thought it sounded too good to be true. The idea is that in lessons such as maths, the teacher stops early and goes through the answers. Pupils mark their own work and have the opportunity to discuss any problems they have had. It has gone down well with pupils and teachers and by the end there are no jotters to correct.

My friend says the system sparks useful discussions, she is able to present a clear idea of what is expected and she has seen an improvement in the children's work, especially in reading comprehension tasks.

A key feature of the Mark Less to Achieve More system is that it recognises that marking is a problem for teachers. It takes up a lot of time and often has to be done away from pupils. It is also frustrating because, despite the time and effort it consumes, pupils frequently take little notice of it.

There are, of course, limits to when the strategy could be used. It would be impossible to mark 33 pieces of creative writing en masse, for example.

The range of ability in classrooms is another factor. My friend's school operates a system of maths setting, so everyone in the class is working on the same task. It would be more difficult to use Mark Less to Achieve More in a class with three ability groups.

However, the initiative does raise the question of whether teachers could give more responsibility to children for correcting their own work. So many teachers spend so much time trying to write two stars and a wish - two pieces of praise and one suggestion for improvement - at the end of a pupil's piece of work. Whether pupils read these comments is one thing; whether they act on them is quite another.

In a Mark Less to Achieve More situation, teachers could demonstrate how they would mark one piece of writing and then allow children to correct one another's. Indeed, peer assessment is a key part of formative assessment.

However, there is no denying that putting so much responsibility into the hands of pupils is a little scary.

There would certainly be some who would take it seriously and do their best to improve their work, based on their peers' comments. But what about those who would regard it as a good excuse not to work? What about those who would be quite happy to rub out their wrong answers and replace them with correct ones without seeking any explanation?

In my friend's experience, however, none of these problems has arisen. The crucial factor seems to be that because pupils are marking their own work, there is no escaping their performance. Even if a child does change a whole page of answers, they are aware that they will have to try harder next time. It is a marking system children are unable to ignore.

Often teachers are tied to marking regimes determined by school policy, the expectations of parents and other pressures, such as tests and examinations. But the response to Mark Less to Achieve More has been good so far.

One teacher on the TES Scotland website staffroom forum described it as "the best thing ever", and another said: "I think it is a fantastic initiative. I would just have liked it 20 years ago."

While the ideas behind Mark Less to Achieve More may not lead to teachers spending less time marking, they are intended to ensure that pupils get more benefit from the time teachers do spend correcting their work.

Overall, it sounds very promising. If only there were also ways to Plan Less to Achieve More and Assess Less to Achieve More.

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