Effective marking by Pam Canning
Every half term I say I won’t do it, and every half term I do. And I can’t be the only one. I left all of my marking until the last minute, and spend the last 3 days trying to give meaningful feedback to 50 year 10 students on their practice exam. I think though, this time, it will be more meaningful than before.
Like every other teacher in the country ever, I want to find ways to give students meaningful, rigorous feedback, without completely burning out. Since becoming Head of History this year, with an increasingly stretched team, I knew that this was something to.
I’ve been basing this on a few principles:
- Feedback should be timely. If it takes us a week or longer to mark a set of tasks, it won’t be as effective as it would be the next lesson.
- We teach better when we sleep and see our families, and our students deserve great history teachers. It doesn’t help anyone if we have so much marking to do that we can’t teach properly.
- Feedback should move students on, not to prove to the school leadership that we are marking. If our feedback does move our students on, that will be evident in their work. (We have the luxury of working in a school that allows us this freedom).
Triple Impact Marking
I am lucky enough to work with a brilliant team, who in the past have all done slightly different things in their marking. Some marked all classwork (‘tick and flick’ style) and longer pieces of work, some identified particular pieces of work to give feedback on and spend longer on it. We agreed that we would all try out something new to try to bring the best of this practice together. In this case it is based on ‘Triple Impact Marking’ which was introduced to my colleague Katherine by Sally Thorne in her workshop at the Schools History Project conference in July. When Katherine described it to me, it was a moment of ‘why haven’t we done this all along?’ The idea sticks to our key principles and helps to resolve several things we were not happy with in our previous practice.
Triple Impact Marking is a process for marking particular pieces of work that students have invested effort into.
- Firstly the students assess their own work against clear success criteria, correcting obvious mistakes. This criteria is shared with them before they start so they’re clear what they are working towards.
- Then the teacher marks the work and provides quick targets for immediate action. We use codes here to save time.
- Then students use a portion of lesson time to act on the feedback they have been given – the DIRT.
- We then mark the ‘finished piece’, writing strengths and a target for future work. This is really helpful in finding out what the students think explanation, or evaluation looks like, meaning that this can have a real impact on teaching too. This second mark is also quicker, because you’re really just marking their improvements.
Alongside this we’ve clarified our approach as a department:
- We decided we would all focus our feedback on just 2 pieces per half term. Each of these will be Triple Impact Marked. We can’t do any more than this without spending more time marking than we were before.
- We aim to mark for specific aspects within classwork during the lesson to avoid students feeling classwork is ignored, or that we will accept poor work, and to avoid having to ‘tick and flick’. (‘Scaffolded marking’ introduced at the same session).
- TIM takes more lesson time, so we will make decisions as a team about what content we will remove or change around to allow time for students to act on the feedback.
- We’ve ‘branded’ the improvement time with DIRT (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time) which I’ve seen other departments using, to train the students into making improvements as part of their lessons.
We’ve been really impressed with this so far. The majority of teachers have seen students make great progress in just one term . The students, who have started the year in this way do seem to be getting into it. As you can see from the work here (if you click on the image it will enlarge):
We have hit a few snags. Firstly, the temptation to spend too long on the first mark, which defeats the point in the whole plan. I aim for about half an hour on a big class set. Secondly, the question of when does it stop?. We could repeat steps 2-4 until we and the students have gone completely mad. We need to make sure that the tasks we’re setting and the targets students are set do allow for clear progress from one task to the next, as well as for improvements to one task. This hasn’t always happened as you can see here:
These haven’t put us off though, it’s just showed us where we need to tidy up how we do things a bit more. The main thing, is supporting students in ensuring that their improvements are meaningful.
Half a term into this, we like it, and are going to stick with it and try to iron out the few issues we’ve found as we get more practiced. Monday morning year 10 will get their practice exams back, with codes that show them what they need to do to improve. They will pick a question to focus on and their homework will be to re-craft that one question and I will have a second look at it to see if their improvements have been effective. I’m sure they can’t wait!
By Pam Canning Head of History at Little Heath School, Berkshire.