You want to do the best by your pupils when it comes to marking their work, but it’s important to reflect that your own sanity is important too. Like many teachers, I spent several years lugging exercise books home to mark. The only thing worse than feeling tired but knowing you have to mark 30 books by tomorrow morning is that feeling of ennui at 5 o-clock on a grim Sunday evening when all you want to do is curl up with a mug of tea and watch a movie, but having those exercise books smirking back at you.
At some point, probably in 1995, I decided I had to have a more sustainable lifestyle, and was determined to try and not take any work home with me at all. My compromise, if that is the word I am searching for, was to arrive in school at 8 and stay till 6. I realise that that is not possible or even sensible for everyone, and to be honest there were (of course) times when I had to take work home in the evenings or at the weekend. Nevertheless, I was able to spend more time at home and, importantly, more quality time at home.
In case it is helpful to someone, here are the things I did in order to achieve this happy state of affairs.
Introduced project-based learning
I happen to think that project-based learning (PBL) is a good way of teaching. I won’t go into the reasons now, but if you’re interested I set out the advantages (as I see them) in my article 8 reasons to use project-based learning in Computing.
PBL doesn’t reduce the amount of assessment you have to undertake, but it helps with marking for three reasons.
First, with PBL, all the lesson planning has to be done up front. While that constitutes a challenge in itself, once it’s done, it’s done, and that leaves you more time for activities like marking once work on a project has started.
Incidentally, one of the ways I reduced the workload associated with lesson planning, both for myself and the rest of my team, was to introduce a system by which we each took responsibility for one 6 week project, a process I’ve written about here: Computing: whole-team schemes of work.
Second, PBL very much lends itself to oral feedback in the classroom rather than just written marking.
Third, while most pupils are getting on with their project work, you can take pupils aside individually and mark their work while talking to them about it. This also has the effect of making the assessment something you do with pupils rather than to them.
Used a range of assessment and marking techniques
I’ve written in detail about that here: My 10 point marking strategy. However, here is a taster of the kind of approaches I used, in addition to the ones alluded to above:
Set self-marking tests. These are great for what have been dubbed ‘lower order teaching skills’, although I don’t fully agree with that description. I refer, of course, to such things as terminology. However, they can also be used to test ‘higher order skills’ like how good pupils are at recognising errors in a section of code.
Whole class feedback.
Shorthand codes accompanied by an explanatory sheet, for errors that several pupils had made. For example, the number 3 in a circle might mean “This concept needs to be explained in more detail, with an example”.
Stickies. Rather than write “I really like this because…” a dozen times, it’s easier to use a smiley face stamp with a brief note like “Good explanation” or “Well spotted!”
Student-response systems, for getting a sense of how well the class as a whole understood the work, while at the same time generating data on each student, in the background. For more information, see 10 ways to use voting systems.
I used others, but that at least gives you some idea of my general approach. For more detail, read My 10 point marking strategy.
It’s worth bearing in mind that when I started using technology for automating test marking the tools available were not as sophisticated as they are now. These days there are apps like Socrative, and great strides being made in text recognition and AI, paving the way to much more accurate automated marking of pupils’ work.
In addition to the links to my own articles related to this topic (natch!), I highly recommend the following as well:
Rethinking your grading practices, a very useful article by Caitlin Tucker.
Hacking assessment: 10 ways to go gradeless in a traditional grades school, by Starr Sackstein (Amazon affiliate link).
I hope you found this article useful. It’s taken from a forthcoming issue of the Digital Education ezine. More information on the ezine, and how to subscribe, here: Digital Education.