Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Guardian Version of Marking Matters

The Guardian asked me to write for them this week and I happily obliged!  I rewrote my Marking Matters post and it seems to have been quite popular. Feel free to have a look. 

I'm one happy teacher :-)


Five ways to reduce the stress of marking and save time

Teacher and 'super marker' Sarah Findlater shares her tips for time-saving and good-quality marking

Now I'm no expert in the field of assessment and marking that's for sure, but I have done enough of it as a teacher to know a thing or two about doing it well. But I was not always a great marker. As a PGCE student I struggled with the best of them. It was like raw hell to me, I just could not understand how anyone could possibly do this marking malarkey on a regular basis.

As I began my NQT year I began to keep up with the marking load, just about. I was happy with my progress, until one day I was dealt a foul blow. Half-termly book monitoring had just taken place and I had been very good, got all the right books in to the right teacher at the right time. Then my head of department came around with a photocopied booklet and handed it to me. As I looked through the booklet of top tips and things to avoid I began to see that all the things to avoid actually applied to me. I felt so embarrassed and a little ashamed that I was getting it so wrong when I thought it was so right.

So began my mission to be a 'super marker.' I took every bit of advice that was given to me and made it my new marking Bible. So below are the top five marking techniques:

Marking and reflection

I can remember the lesson that I realised that full-on marking is simply not necessary all of the time. I had been up late once again marking a heap of year 9 books. I had marked those books to within an inch of their lives, nearly killing myself in the process. The lesson began. I handed the books back to the pupils and allowed them time to mull over the mountain of comments filling every possible space. A silence fell over the room. I stood at the front of the class smiling and nodding to myself about what a wonderful job I had done. Then one kid raised his hand: "Miss, I'm not being funny but is my work shit coz you have bloody ripped it to shreds here! I can't see much I have done right. You have written more than me, miss." I was gutted to say the least. But he was right. I had done too much. Where on earth should they start with a book marked like that?

There is a place for in-depth, all inclusive marking perhaps once a term, no more. However, most of the time I stick to focused marking because I find it is much easier for the students to digest. I find it is much better that teachers find a key focus, something that will really make the difference and move them on and focus on that. Share the focus with the students before they complete the task and break it down, then off they go. They will know what you have marked for and be able to connect with is straight away. Manageable for us and them alike, everyone is happy.

Rewarding achievement

When I began teaching I was so concerned with making them stay in their seats and finish the task that I very rarely thought about rewards. The reward is the acquisition of knowledge and the sense of achievement students gain from getting a concept, right? Well, yes of course, that is true, but we all need motivators. I remember the first sheet of stickers that were given to me, with the hushed words: "I'm not supposed to give these to PGCE students so don't tell anyone."

I don't care what anyone says, everyone loves a sticker. I now use stickers every time I mark work be it year 7 or year 13. I will only reward someone with a sticker if I feel they have really progressed in their work, I let them know this and they always love it. A little sparkle in their eye appears even if they then pretend not to have noticed. I'm sure there is room for some sort of teacher sticker scheme, I know it would motivate me.

Student-centred marking

I honestly do not think I did effective student-centred marking until I was a good few years into teaching. I remember being observed in a lesson where I used peer marking as part of it. My observer asked why I did the peer marking section of the lesson and what I wanted to achieve. I suddenly realised I had missed the point of peer marking.

Now I use peer marking frequently with all key stages. I will share with them the marking criteria I must use when mark their work, get them to reword it or highlight most important things that are being assessed prior to the task. I do this as standard at all ages with all ability groups. We discuss the skills and levels as a class or in groups. I allow them to choose the levels they are aiming for and connect with that level in some manner. Once the task is complete we will revisit the mark schemes they have deconstructed, clarify any issues with it now the task has been completed. Then peer marking will take place with their study buddies. I always model the task and the marking, talking them through the thinking process. I focus them on how I mark their books for guidance. We use green pen for peer/self-marking and a different consistent colour for my marking. Works like a dream if you keep practising it.

Another favourite tool is my verbal feedback stamper. I carry this around with me to all my lessons. I generally use it as I walk around when pupils are working in groups or individually, I discuss an element of whatever they are doing in depth, stamp their books and ask them to note bullet points down.

Individual marking meetings

A few years ago I was teaching a very challenging year 11 class. We were studying Macbeth and working on a question about how a key character was presented. The students could gather points about the character and collect quotes but when it came to finding their own ideas to explain these points and quotes they were completely stuck. I began to meet each student individually to discuss their draft essay feedback and see if I could get them thinking on their own. One-by-one they began to gain confidence.

I love these sessions. Once each half-term I hold individual marking meetings with all my classes. I set the class up to do some silent work or reading, often with some classical music in the background and set about meeting each student one by one to quietly discuss their work and progress. I time this so that it falls just before to reports going home so that they can fully understand where they are before a barrage of levels come at them in their report card. It is really special, you get to see them in a completely different light and is really effective for making all your students feel valued.
Happy marking.

Sarah Findlater can be found on Twitter @MsFindlater. She has worked in London schools since she began teaching. She has been KS3 coordinator for English, head of languages and communications faculty (English, media and MFL) and is now an assistant headteacher.

I've only gone and done a thunk!

I am happy to say that I have guest blogged for the wonderful @teachertoolkit

Please do have a look and find our why I think it is so important to get our young people asking 'why?'.

Thunk 19: Why should you encourage your kids to ask ‘why’? by @MsFindlater

Answer below:

As the end of the half term break draws nigh, I’m left thinking about the return to school and all that this entails. My mind buzzes with lesson planning, resource-creating, teaching, assemblies; duties, students, teachers, parents, paperwork, meetings; the highs, the lows, the drama and the laughter… The list is endless.

The familiar shift from off-duty to switched-on has begun. Through this heavy mist of the things to plan before the term starts, poses one particular question to me, as clear as crystal as ice-water; the word ‘why’.

This word is the one thing that really stays in focus for me through all my preparations. Whether I am lesson planning or organising meetings, it won’t leave me. The question hovers overhead, smiling knowingly and nodding. If the answer to that question makes you happy, then I guess you are one with the world, even on difficult days. I question ‘why’ most of the time, because it keeps me in check; it keeps me focused and relights my passion on the darkest days; I want this to be the case for my students also.

I wake up every day wanting to hear that question burst forth from the mouths of my students. Your classroom being abuzz with curiosity, the desire to learn and question, with ‘what we are learning’, is very special. This question, if encouraged and embraced in lessons, can lead to a classroom ablaze with those precious light bulb moments….
“…give meaning to the onslaught of information and skills our young people are presented with…”

A student asking ‘why’ leads us as educators and them as students, to give meaning to the onslaught of information and skills our young people are presented with each day. In each lesson and in each activity. We must make them care about their learning, whatever the subject may be. We can foster this desire by encouraging them to ask ‘why’. That illusive curiosity about the learning that we all seek to inspire in our students only comes when they know they will not be ignored, laughed at or told off for questioning and wanting to know more.

We create the climate.

We teachers are often so focused (and pressured) into getting through the content of our courses that we can skirt over the ‘why’. Of course, the content of any course it important and needs to be carefully crafted, well thought out and interesting, but it is all just a sea-of-stuff unless we keep in focus the ‘why’. We can often be seen levering in the ‘why’ of learning at opportune moments chosen by us, not the students.

Today we will be learning about… we are covering this because…”
“…deep learning takes place and ‘bing!’, the light bulb is lit…”
We remove the thinking for the students and leave them with the correct answer – job done. If we are brave enough and slow down for a second, to allow the students to ask ‘why’, get them helping one another to answer the questions, I believe you can see great things emerge. Whenever we create the opportunity for our students to do this, they become more confident in the answers they can give, deep learning takes place and ‘bing!’, the light bulb is lit. If we do not create these opportunities we run a huge risk of creating a room full of robots spewing out our opinions and a set of facts.

We create the climate.

The ‘why’ in my work and preparation is vitally important to me. Every day I remind myself of why I’m doing this crazy and wonderful job. I choose to work as a teacher and a leader in school because I want to make a difference. I want to help develop young people into confident, well-rounded and passionate adults. I want them to see them become the adults we all want to be, running the country when we are old. I want to look at the future generation with pride and be able to say, ‘I helped them be who they are today’; reminding myself of the reason why I do the job I do, makes me a better teacher and leader.

When I make the time to question why, everything becomes clearer, my passion embeds deeper; my resilience becomes stronger; my desire to better things becomes more pressing and my sense of humour returns to carry me through the tough times.

The students we teach on the other hand do not choose to be in school, it is just something they have to do; a place they have to be. Students are very often at a loss as to why they should be bothered about learning this or that in class, when there possibly much more going on in their life right now.
What important issues in their everyday life could possibly take priority over their learning I hear you ask?

We all know that as a student walks through your classroom door their minds are clouded with issues such as, ‘Who won the match last night? What are you gossiping about? What’s the latest fashion? Who looked at them in the playground? Who are they walking home with after school? The argument they had with their mum… their list is endless.

For those of you that think I am being flippant about young people’s lives, I’m not. I get how important all that stuff is, it is part of the process of growing up and a vital part at that. It is because of all this that it is crucial that we get the students to consider why they are learning what they are learning everyday in school. Our job is to get them to make those connections, link it to their lives without dumbing it down – make it relevant. It is so important that we create the space to allow the students thinking-time to connect the learning that takes place in class to the real world, to other subjects and them as individuals. Our students will focus and connect in lessons if they feel like they have a stake in what is being learnt, they have a voice to be heard and that there is a point to it all. They should demand to know ‘why’ and not rest until they know the answer. This is one of human-nature’s life-skills we can teach them.

We create the climate. What do you create?

Written by @MsFindlater and edited and posted by @TeacherToolkit.
Sarah Findlater, @MsFindlater is an Assistant Principal and a Headteacher of a College at a London Collegiate. She is an English and Media teacher, who tweets far too often and blogs far too rarely – but she says she is working on that…