mrsnic, an NQT teaching year 3, explains her love/hate relationship with marking. Does this ring any bells with you?
As the clock strikes half past three and I close the door of my classroom, my mind immediately switches to one of the most important aspects of my job. Procrastination. I’ll just nip into each of the other three classrooms and chat to the teachers there about how their days were, and then I might think about getting a cup of coffee, and then I might tidy up my desk (which always starts the day immaculate, and then accumulates a plethora of junk).
Seriously though, my mind turns to the one job I simultaneously love and hate: marking.
Quite rightly, my school ideally expects work to be marked the next time the children have that lesson. I agree; what’s the point in marking their draft of a piece of writing if you do it after they’ve written up their neat version? Plus, it’s vital to be able to feed things into your planning, even if it’s just a brief mention of something in the next lesson. However, there are days when it’s an unrealistic expectation to mark all their books. Take Tuesdays for example. I teach literacy twice, numeracy, and creative curriculum. This means I have 116 pieces of work that should be marked for the next day. After school, we have a staff meeting until five. Let’s be honest: it’s never going to happen. Most weeks I’ll mark the numeracy, and leave it at that. (Tick, tick, tick, boom. Repeat x29.)
I find there are two options when it comes to marking. I can either: mark it quickly, and fairly ineffectively, merely stating whether or not the intention of the learning has been met; or I can mark it well, giving plenty of constructive comments and praise, and spend 2-3 hours on a set of books. I try to have a healthy mix of the two, but as the term goes on and there are more and more things to do (assessments, target setting, planning, observations and other NQT stuff) I find myself more and more frequently rushing through the marking in order to get onto the other things. And so that I can have some sort of a life outside of teaching… During half term, in fact, I actually set myself time limits on the marking. A set of maths books: one hour. A set of literacy books: one and a half hours. Achievable, but yet again limiting the amount of detail I can include.
It’s the time that I really hate about marking. And the quantity. It’s a never-ending task. It doesn’t matter how up-to-date all your books are, you know that on Monday it will all start again.
However, there are some wonderful moments. Seeing in their work something that they didn’t understand last week, and knowing that now they do is a really wonderful feeling. Seeing a piece of writing containing full stops in all the right places is amazing when the child usually writes an entire page without using them. At the other end, seeing a child consistently using complex sentences, despite the fact that we’ve not taught them yet, is a true pleasure.
The most able children in my class are the reason I want to mark books. They take it upon themselves to study the comments I leave, actively seek to improve on those things and I can see the effect immediately. It makes marking worth all the time and effort, and makes me want to spend more time making sure I include plenty of comments, rather than marking with a time limit.
My next area for development as a teacher is to enable the rest of the class engage with their marking in the same way. I don’t want to fall into the trap of marking for the SLT rather than the children, as I know that will only lead me to resent doing it. What I really want is for my marking to be a meaningful and helpful experience for both me and the children.
At the moment, the children look to see whether or not they’ve met the learning intention – the designated code for which is set out in our marking policy – and often do not read beyond this. There are some days when they are forced to, as they have to respond to our AfL marking but, on the whole, they rarely read the scrawl I place onto their book.
So, as usual, I’ll end with a plea for advice. How do you encourage your students to engage with marking? Do you take any special measures for any children who might not be able to easily read the comments you write? How do you ensure marking is worthwhile for everybody involved?
mrsnic is an NQT in Y3 and is also attempting to study for an MA in teaching on the side. Before her PGCE, mrsnic studied maths at university, which occasionally makes teaching it quite tricky. She is trying to get enough confidence in my ability so that I can try out new techniques in the classroom!
For more blogs from mrsnic and other NQTs visit the excellent NQT blogger website