Marking… and even more marking (yawn)

The Ofsted report on St Marylebone’s marking strategy begins:

“We’ve all seen students glow with pride on receiving a top-grade piece of work back from a  teacher and we’ve also seen the dreadful shrug of disappointment swiftly followed by disengagement when a student feels demoralized by marked work. The way that work is marked can make or break the essential dialogue between teacher and learner: this is the dialogue which enables a student to know how well they are working, what their strengths are and what to do next to improve.”

Marking is high on the agenda now – and I think rightly so, but how it sucks the life and soul out of my teaching and non-teaching existence!!!

Marking in maths is considerably different to that in English – our topics tend to be taught over a shorter period, and we do not come back to them for quite a while (maybe a year later). Embedding targets is straightforward, but next step targets can be quite hard to justify when we may not be coming back to the topic as a follow-up in the recent future.

We are trying to implement sufficient target and review time in lessons – reflection to encourage pupils to act on advice given by their teacher (this includes extra ‘personlised’ practise questions).

I’m thinking of buying lots of green pens so that students can write their reflections which we can pick up on immediately.

The biggest unknown for me, is attempting the dialogue between teacher and pupil over a sustained period – I’m wondering if this could relate to ‘the big picture’ e.g.

  • algebraic notation,
  • mathematical presentation,
  • depth of reasoning,
  • showing each step in working out.

The Ofsted report ‘Mathematics made to measure’ does at least give some helpful examples with regard to marking which is helpful/ not helpful.

 “The best marking noted during the survey gave pupils insight into their errors, distinguishing between slips and misunderstanding, and pupils took notice of and learnt from the feedback. Where work was all correct, a further question or challenge was occasionally presented and, in the best examples, this developed into a dialogue between teacher and pupil.” (#88)

“Most marking by pupils of their own work was done when the teacher read out the answers to exercises or took answers from other members of the class. Sometimes, pupils were expected to check their answers against those in the back of the text book. In each of these circumstances, attention was rarely paid to the source of any errors, for example when a pupil made a sign error while expanding brackets and another omitted to write down the ‘0’ place holder in a long multiplication calculation. When classwork was not marked by the teacher or pupil, mistakes were unnoticed.” (#96)

Our marking has come a long way from superficially ticking each page, though even experienced teachers struggle to write good targets, never mind good next step targets – it should be recognised that this is a real skill which is determined in part, by how well a teacher understands how the mathematics is linked together across all strands. THAT is another topic for another day.

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