If Hollerith marked homework

Here’s the thing about marking.

In truth, very little work is planned to be marked. By that I mean planned well. Usually there will be a mark scheme. I say usually, I mean often. Or sometimes. And by mark scheme I mean another sheet with the answers on it. Too often, little (or no) thought goes into what the marking, the output of all that work means.

Sure, teachers will get a sense from doing the marking how well or not an individual student is doing and be able to roughly rank students. But if the marking is done by another person much of this information is either lost, or would take more time to record and relay than it would for the teacher to have marked the work in the first place.

So how do we get round the issue of teachers having to mark all the work they set?

Before I go on, I would say that I cannot think it would ever be helpful for a teacher to never mark any of their students work, for it to always be done by someone else. Marking provides valuable clues to not only what a student knows, but sometimes to how they learn best. So it is no doubt useful for teachers to sometimes mark their own work.

If someone else is to mark the work, what do we need to know from it and how can we best ensure we get that information? I would suggest that the following is the start of a useful list.

  • We want to know how well, in terms of absolute achievement, each student, and the group as a whole are doing.
  • We want to know if there is progression in the level of achievement of the students.
  • We want to know if there are any elements of the work that seems not to have been learnt by the whole (or a substantial part) of the group.
  • Because we will have properly designed our work to ensure that at least some past learning is picked up in a current piece then we need to know if there are any elements where a specific student continues to struggle with the same element.

All these speak to the need to give students well-structured pieces of work. Whilst I accept that it not always possible to do so (and this is the case more in some subjects than others) it is desirable to be able to identify within the piece specific items of knowledge where we wish to test the students understanding (and I’m using the words ‘knowledge’ and ‘test’ in their widest, non-contentious sense). The more granular the piece of work the better.

Doing this will ensure that feedback (from marker to teacher) can be well structured and efficient. And if we have done this well then we can apply some mathematical tricks that can be used to make the process even more efficient. For example, take a simple test with 10 questions (which could easily be a short piece of written work with 10 testable points). Instead of giving 1 mark for each question (or point), give the first one 1, the second 2, the third 4, the fourth 8 and so on up to the tenth which would get 512. So the total mark will be out of 1023.

I know what you’re thinking. He’s lost it. All that time with those computers, he’s gone a bit binary. Well, read on.

Why do this? Simple. All the students that have the same mark will have got the same questions wrong. Not only that, but you will be able know which questions they were. Your rank ordered test paper suddenly becomes an extremely useful planning tool, and best of all, it doesn’t matter who did the marking.

So, in summary, getting someone else to do your marking for you can be a good idea but you really need to put some thought into the process. Done well, it can actually provide you with more information about your students than you would have had if you marked yourself the old way.

Plus, the workload goes down.

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