Marking, a vital tool or an endless chore? For a while now I have been thinking about how I mark, how I give meaningful feedback and how to ensure I support all the learners in my classroom. I am convinced that how I mark my student’s work and how I give them feedback makes a difference not only to their progress but to their attitude towards their learning journey.
Take maths for example. I cannot see how it can possibly help any student for me to take in a math’s book and cover it with coloured ink to indicate errors. What self respecting ten year old is going to look at such a page and do more than close the book? So I ensure that all mathematical marking is done daily by getting my students to correct and check their own work. Obviously a more formal assessment needs my marking however I still prefer to write comments such as ‘does this look correct to you?’ or ‘please check your calculations here’ rather than distribute a sea of crosses.
Written work though is harder. As I mentioned last week, I recently attended a two day course on Habits of Mind. I really connected with a scaffolded approach to marking that was mentioned by the presenter James Anderson. While talking about the Habit of ‘Striving for Accuracy’, he raised the important point that for marking to be useful we must stop correcting our students work, we must direct them not correct them and teach them to find their own mistakes. For example when correcting spelling, in stage one teachers might write out the correct spelling word on a student’s written work. Moving to stage two where teachers should circle or underline mistakes. And finally to stage three where a teacher should just tell a student they have have X number of errors in any given section of work. He argued that if we continue to correct all their grammar, spelling and punctuation we are robbing them of the opportunity to become better at self-editing.
This approach really rang true with me. After several weeks of instruction and practice my students have recently written a descriptive piece of writing. It was an assessment task and they spent an hour writing it. In that time they were encouraged to plan, write, edit and correct. They were given dictionaries and allowed to correct their work as they wrote using a different coloured pen. I was thrilled with their efforts and their results. I could see effort in writing and effort in editing throughout. I have now spent much of my weekend marking it. Their pages are covered in little pink ticks indicating where I have spotted great use of figurative language. Stars have been placed in the margin to indicate spelling errors and an extensive comment has been written for each student.
It remains now for me to award them a tick in a box. Outstanding, High, Sound, Basic or Limited are my choices. Yet I cannot do it. And this is what I hate about marking. How can I tell one student that her response is sound when I know that for her this is an outstanding response? How can I say to another that her writing is outstanding when even though it is, I know she is capable of even more? I find that I cannot. So tomorrow I plan to give my students back their written tasks. I will allow them to share them with each other. I will encourage them to read them with their friends, to talk through the writing and editing process with each other. I want them to acknowledge and discuss their mistakes. I will encourage them to listen while others read sections out loud. I want them to realise that I value all of their efforts and I want to praise all of them, since I know they all tried their hardest. After this I will ask them to assign their own grades. From experience I know they will not let me down. They will reflect and if anything they will mark themselves harshly.
What I am really interested in though is how do you grade? How do you mark? How do you encourage and how do you teach all your students to strive for accuracy in everything they do?