Marking Time

The issue of marking reared its ugly head on twitter today, specifically the cost of it.

Of course, the actual cost is close to zero as the additional hours teachers spend marking are not paid as overtime, they come with the package.

But it did get me thinking about how I mark, and how little I try to do of it.

I’m a maths teacher. In secondary. This approach probably lends itself more to maths than some other subjects. So please don’t take it as a recipe for success.

Last week was a typical lesson. Top set year ten learning about surds. In particular this lesson was Rationalising the Denominator. The first part of the lesson was me showing them the three typical types of question they may see where they are required to do this. The point of this is to show them worked examples and give them clear exapmles to have in their books. By now they understand that I write things on the board in a particular way for a reason and they are happy to follow that lead. We then talk through the worked examples, interrogate them for any areas of misunderstanding or, indeed, lack of understanding where I may not have been clear. Once this section is over the class will move onto the examples I have for them to attempt. So they start.

At this point I will walk the class, moving to anyone who specifically asks for help or to anyone I know who tends to be a slow starter or who I know likes to have that confidence of me talking them through how to start (though in this group there are few of those). As I do this I can see every student in the room very quickly, and because they will tend to follow the layout I have shown in the worked example, I can quickly see if they are getting the examples right or not.

So now I know how well all the students have understood this piece of work and more importantly I will have picked up any misapprehensions they have. I will clear these for each student who raises them but if the same issue comes up with two students early on my rounds I will then stop the entire class and cover that particular issue. With this topic it was getting the expansion of the (a + √b)(a – √b) elements wrong. My assumption is that if early on two are finding that issue difficult then it is likely that others are. I obviously use my knowledge of the students in applying this ‘rule’.

At a couple of points in the lesson I will stop the class so we can check some answers and clear any issues raised by these.

By the end of the lesson the students have worked through a good number of examples and I have a good understanding of how well each of them is progressing in their understanding of the topic (this is of course an early assessment to be tested both figuratively and literally in the days and weeks ahead).

It is at this point I ask the question about marking. What more do I learn about these students by marking each book individually for this piece of work? During the lesson I will have seen each student more than once and seen their work. Through (targeted) questioning I will have an understanding of how well they have learnt the work. Through testing during the next lesson (which in this case was in a IT room using Quizlet) I will reinforce my understanding.

As I can see it there are three reasons why I might then mark that piece of work:

  • To show the students I am doing that. I do this on occasion to keep them on their toes with the layout of their work. But anything more is just a PR exercise. They know that I see their work. I do also sometimes write on it when walking the room, so I am visible in their books. We also have an end of topic notice we have to use, so that also goes in.
  • To show parents their child’s work is being looked at. This can be important but I would say it is not a great reason to add to a teachers workload. I would prefer to address any issues in respect of this (i.e. parents calling to ask why their childs book hasn’t been looked at) as they arise rather than add to workload to circumvent the possibility of it.
  • To show anyone else who looks at the students books that they are being regularly looked at. I would hope that the progression shown by the students through time in their books would show this. I would have through that the amount of correct examples in the books would show this. I would hope that the regularly assessed levels of the students would show this.

I do mark. I mark tests. I mark some work to ensure that my method outlined above isn’t missing anything important – a kind of QA.

This is approach is obviously easier with top sets than it is with students who struggle. Often the main thing they struggle with is consistency of layout which makes the quick look approach outlined above harder, so it is important to review books outside the lesson for these students more often.

One more thing. We have 1 hour lessons. I’m not sure the approach I take would work as well in lesson that are much shorter. I have much more time to walk the room and spend time with individual students.

Anyway, that’s how I endeavour to do it. Works for me, may not work for you.

Yet another thing. It keeps my steps up, usually around 2,000 to 2,500 per 1 hour lesson. So win-win.