Marking and feedback
I’ve recently started typing my feedback to students, but am I overdoing it with A4 sheets of paper full of feedback? I can’t help thinking I’m overextending myself.
Tom Bennett: It's great that you want to give high-quality, detailed feedback to your students. But I think you need to consider a few factors: fist of all, how much of what you're writing is actually sinking in to the student? We can spend 45 minutes writing enormous, positively critical essays designed to highlight every pore and follicle of their work, but in my experience, all but the very few will constructively absorb more than a few points. I recommend you put fewer comments, in a shorter prose style, conveying the most important points you wish to get across. It will have far more impact than a mini-epic.
A final point is that you have to remember your own work/ life balance. We simply don't have time to write novels for them, and it will make a negative impact on the quality of your own down time. take a break. Write less, but write more powerfully. The kids will learn more, and you'll get some of your life back!
Hi, I’m an NQT in secondary maths. If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect my job to be so dominated by paperwork. I’m usually exhausted by the time I get home and then I have to mark more books. How can I speed up my marking process so I don’t have so much to do in the evenings?
Tom Bennett: First of all, I recommend that you do as much marking in school as possible. The physical effort of carting books home and back is exhausting, and it's dispiriting to let work invade your personal space. Try to keep as much school work at school as possible - you'll be working anyway, so why not stay later and stop pretending it's quality 'you' time.
Try setting homework that can be peer marked at the beginning of the next lesson. Obviously this only works with homework that has fairly simple success criteria (correct/ incorrect), but there's nothing wrong with that. That way, not only do you entirely remove the marking load for that class, but you create continuity between homework and class practise, encourage peer assessment (which is frighteningly hip at the moment), and have a starter planned.
Another thing you can do is to design homework that doesn't require marking, but simply requires that at some point throughout the lesson you walk around the room and tick off every piece that has been done - it could be asking them to find out something about Fermat, or draw three different types of triangle, or whatever is apporpriate to your subject. Not all homework needs a grade, after all - sometimes you simply want to see that it has been done.
Speak to other teachers - I'm sure they have other tips. And don't forget - the world will not crumble if a set of books remains unmarked for a week or two. It happens. You're only human, and I'd rather you marked most of your books most of the time and avoided burn out, than the reverse...
My marking is so out of control it's untrue. We have to comment on and put a next step on every piece of work. In Y6 this is pretty unmanagable. What do you suggest?
Tom Bennett: There's a technique I've seen some departments use: design a comments list that pupils have to stick into the back of their books, and assign each comment a code letter. So, 'a' = 'not enough research done for this piece', 'b'= 'use paragraphs and full stops', or whatever you want to say. That way, when you're giving ways forward, you can simply assign a letter or two underneath the work. You'd be amazed by how much time you save, although it feels queer at first, and takes a little bit of getting used to. But you'll find yourself using the same codes often enough that it becomes intuitive.
Do you have any tips on how to keep report writing organised and prepared ahead of time?
Tom Bennett: Reports are the bane of many a teacher's nightmares. One thing that can really help is a well organised planner. I keep a paper register of all my classes, and record the following simple things: attendance; lateness; homework grades; common assessments; equipment; poor behaviour referrals. I have a simple code for each one so that the box doesn't get too crammed, and most students won't require more than a code or two. that way, when it comes to report time, you have a clear, graphic depiction of their quality, which can then be easily conveyed in a written way.
My school is considering using report writing software for pupil reports. What are the pros and cons in your opinion?
Tom Bennett: I have used this kind of software previously, and in my experience it's a perfectly sensible approach to take to the whole process. The pros are enormous - it speeds up the process, and tames it into a meaningful place. It also avoids copious typos, and the seemingly endless rounds of checking and double checking that it entails, followed by the tremendous delay as the whole cycle progresses. Once they're done, they're ready to print, and Bob's your uncle.
The cons? Some people find them a trifle impersonal; some people like to be seized by the Muse and write an epic; some people like to make their message more individual. I used to feel like that at first; once I had done my two-hundredth report I started looking for an exit and a parachute.
Reports are vital and useful; but they needn't be an enormous chore. Personally if I want to say something personal and poetic, I do so via the medium of talking to the pupils, or the parents. Reports should be highlights of progress, and issues arising. they don't need to be Beowulf. Reader's Digest will do.
Planning and paperwork
I am primary NQT. The job is fine, the class are great but the paperwork and planning is killing me and I refuse to give up what social life I have for it. Any ideas?
Tom Bennett: Planning lessons is to some extent just one of those things - NQT year seems to be composed entirely of planning. But you aren't the first to plan these lessons, and there's no shame (and plenty to be gained) by pinching/ borrowing other people's lesson plans. Try the TES resources section - I'm not hustling you here when i say that it's a tremendous (and free) resource of materials and resources by people who have done exactly what you're doing now. So use it. And talk to colleagues and borrow their lessons. Cut yourself some slack.
But do remember that to some extent this is going to be one of your hardest years - the planning you put in now will mean less and less planning next year, and the year after. It's an investment, and if you can see it like this it might make it a bit more bearable.
What paperwork/files NQTs are expected to keep?
Tom Bennett: This varies from school to school. In the state sector you have a legal requirement to do a morning and afternoon register. The school will have a homework policy, and tied to that, an assessment policy. You will be asked to provide a full report on all your pupils once a year, and in some schools, a short report once a year in addition to this. You'll be expected to know what grade your present students are on, what their targets are, and any underachievement.
I would like some advice for the amount of assessment and record keeping I am supposed to be doing in Year Reception and the best way to record it. I'm an NQT and not sure if I'm doing enough or too much.
Tom Bennett: The best thing to do would be to talk to a sympathetic colleague of greater experience and compare notes- they'll be able to point you in the right direction until you get a feel for it yourself. They should also be able to reassure you; sometimes we expect that whatever we're doing, it''s not good enough - this simply shows that you care, and that you will be an extremely good teacher given time.
Don't forget Tom also answers questions on the TES Behaviour forum. And his book The Behaviour Guru is available from Amazon:
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