Making marking work
An abiding memory of my time spent teaching in central London many years ago is of struggling home through the City’s underground, with one or two class sets of books to be marked, only to make the return journey through rush hour the next morning equally burdened. I didn’t ever question the process of marking then. Pupils had taken the time and put in the effort to produce work, often of high quality, and the very least I could do was to mark it and give them useful feedback.
I don’t recall any significant debates about marking strategies until relatively recently. There was little that was controversial in the field at that stage. I continued to mark the work I set, giving individual comments and support for further learning and development, often feeling the burden of the workload, but never seeking not to do it, or questioning how efficient that was. I’d often discuss the work with the whole group, highlighting great examples and going over ground that needed clarifying. So it has been with great interest that I have read about some schools banning marking altogether, and others offering pupils whole class feedback instead of the more time consuming individual approach.
While it is tempting to frame the discussion on marking in terms of workload – whole class marking and feedback is quicker than individual marking and feedback, and that benefit is often lauded by proponents – that is perhaps missing a trick. The banning of marking altogether may be too extreme for some schools, but the need to address the workload burden of marking, especially where class sizes are so large, remains. Perhaps a combination of individual marking and feedback and whole class marking and feedback is the pragmatic way forwards for many.
I asked Stephen Lane, teacher and head of years 7-9 at Lichfield Cathedral School, and enthusiast for the effectiveness and efficiency of whole class feedback as part of a marking strategy, whether teachers would choose the approach even if they had, for example, 10 pupils in a class, when specific, individual feedback would not take as long as it does with a larger class? “That posits whole class feedback as being a second best,” he explained. “I think a good combination of the two would work well in smaller classes. There are some specific benefits of whole class feedback that even small classes can benefit from. For example, where there are common errors or areas for development, why write out the same target ten times? Also it can yield good modelling. For instance, take a scan of a pupil’s work to discuss with the class.”
There are clearly compelling arguments either way. I can fully understand why whole class feedback and associated marking is attractive when classes are so large. But as the parent of a child in a relatively small class, I appreciate how incredibly effective individual feedback is, not only in supporting children to develop their learning but also in communicating with parents. If large classes and workload are the concern, we have a path ahead. But I’m not fully convinced we would all be abandoning individual feedback in favour of whole class feedback if circumstances were different. Maybe, at the very least, we need to factor this into our thinking about the most effective marking and feedback practices to adopt.
Find out more…
- Several bloggers have written about marking strategies. Try Mrs Humanities Marking and Feedback Toolkit
- The report of the Teacher Workload: Marking Policy Review Group can be found here
- Teacher Toolkit has explored 12 Ways to Embrace Marking and Feedback here
- Evidence on Marking from the Education Endowment Foundation can be accessed here
- Guidance from the DfE on feedback and marking can be found here
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for eTeach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.