I’ve been thinking about the question of marking and feedback for a while, along with it seems, many others, probably – or rather surely – because of the misreading of what Ofsted will be looking for during inspections. Ironically, even though Ofsted have themselves suggested that this is not the case, it has still become a focal point for many schools, worryingly I think, at the expense of producing challenging and engaging lessons, where children actually learn brilliant ‘stuff.’
As well as being a teacher, I am also a mum and it has becoming blatantly clear over the last couple of years when looking at my own children’s books, that they has become a culture of showing ‘evidence’. Some of the lessons that I have seen in my own kids books, were clearly there for the teacher to make a point about their marking, rather than to attempt in any way to interest or engage the students and when asked the kids hadn’t enjoyed or felt they had learnt very much in that lesson. They also then spent 5 lessons a day, being given tasks or questions to answer in their books, often leading to the impact of that marking becoming lessened, because they were downright bored, or were losing sight of the point of it all.
Don’t get me wrong, I see the value of feedback, but it has to be good, meaningful feedback that students will learn from. Sticking a question in so that it shows you have marked a book isn’t valuable or meaningful for any of the parties involved. However, good feedback that informs future planning is. So why is planning being left by the wayside in order to concentrate on marking? Surely what I actually teach the children is the most important thing of all? How on earth can they ever make any progress if I don’t?
I have just taken a class through their Literature exam. When marking their work, it was essential that I picked up on misconceptions, mistakes and what was lacking in their work quickly, in order to turn things around and embed them before the exam. I decided that the only way that this would work, with what was a very difficult group, was to plan lessons that would engage and inspire them enough to remember and take the skills into the exam. So guess what, I actually spent far more time planning for them than I did marking. That’s not to say I didn’t mark their books, of course I did, but I spent far more time thinking and researching new ways to help them progress and applying these in the lessons I planned. I even spent a Saturday in Southampton, at TLT15 attending sessions looking at how to improve vocabulary and create ‘word wealth’ amongst students, an important skill they would need if I wanted them to do well. So, I spent more time planning, I trialled some fantastic resources that I both found and were given to me by the wonderful CPD that is Twitter and I tried to create engaging lessons that focused students on the skills, that from my marking, had been seen as lacking.
The students got their results last week, One C target got an A*, Cs got Bs and probably most importantly D targets got Cs. They didn’t all do amazingly, they were an incredibly difficult class and unfortunately there were those that I couldn’t pull up in time, but I am personally really proud and pleased and had a big smile on my face for a couple of days last week. But that was from the time I had put into planning, not how much I had marked their books or how many random questions I had given them to prove I was marking. Their books were marked, I still have them as proof (always proof) but I 100% believe that it was down the most important thing that I can do as a teacher, plan good lessons.
What is frightening for any teacher worth their salt, is that this doesn’t seem to matter any more. As long as their books are marked, they’ll be ok. No, they won’t. That marking has to inform into future planning, and in my opinion, one of the biggest dangers to our students, is the idea that we can just pick up any old lesson to teach students, because as long as there is marking in their books, it’ll all be fine…no it won’t.
I want to be able to spend more of the precious time I have being able to plan lessons that engage and challenge students to push themselves, to interest them so they want to learn. Not every ready-made lesson fits every class, they need to be designed or adapted to suit. I am not, in good conscience, going to turn up at a lesson, load up a ppt and teach it. My lessons need to be planned to meet the needs of the students in front of me, and yes that needs to be informed by the marking that I have done, and the work students have produced. However, and this may be controversial, I am not going to allow marking and feedback to become the most important thing that I do. As a professional, it should be accepted that I know the needs of my class and that I will do what I feel is best to help them progress to the next level. I do what I should be doing, I talk to the kids, I try and make sure I know them inside out, I get them to tell me where they feel their skills are lacking.
The GCSEs have got tougher. English and the Maths are the first two subjects to teach the new GCSEs. It’s hard. We’re at breaking point. There is so much content to get through, that lessons need to be engaging and valuable for students. They need to retain all sorts of knowledge. What’s the best way to do that? Mark their books to within an inch of their life, or create engaging lessons that will help them to meet that high challenge. I know what I think, or rather know is more important and I think I have the integrity to stand up for what is important. Of course, books need marking, students need to know where they are going wrong and how to improve their work, but underpinning all of that, has to be the knowledge and enthusiasm that they need to succeed. It will be ironic when in 18 months time, a new report will come out saying the most important thing we can actually do is actually plan and teach good lessons, because everyone has forgotten how to do it in the mountain of marking…
So, if Ofsted turn up and do, inexplicably, think that what is in their books is more important than what is done day in and out in my classroom, maybe I will show them a copy of this blog and explain why I think there is nothing more important than actually teaching children brilliant ‘stuff.’
I’m also mightily glad that I’m not alone….
There are brilliant people out there, who are far more intelligent than me, and I respect wholeheartedly for at least having the guts to question, share their ideas and have an opinion.
Tom Sherrington – http://headguruteacher.com/2012/11/10/mak-feedback-count-close-the-gap/
John Tomsett – https://johntomsett.com/