Ditch That Marking: 5+ ways to improve grading

This post is written by Ben Whitaker, a religious studies teacher and Google Certified Educator/Trainer from Oswaldtwistle, England. It was originally published on his own blog here. Find him on Twitter at @itsbenwhitaker and at his website, itsbenwhitaker.weebly.com.

I had a pile of assessments to mark (grade). I knew was going to take the best part of four hours to get done.

Marking (grading) can eat up hours of your day as a teacher. However, rethinking how we provide feedback can keep it from owning you. (Public domain photo via William Iven on Unsplash.)

I seemed to be writing the same comments as feedback: “Use a quotation to support your argument.” “Include a religious view as an alternative.” (I am a religious studies teacher if you didn’t know!) “Take care with the spelling of …”.

It got to me. Made me realise that in writing the same comments, I was wasting time I could spend on meaningful feedback.

With many things — marking (grading) included — we are convinced of the way things must be done.

(For instance, when was it ever conceivable that teachers wouldn’t need textbooks as their font of knowledge or that homework as a concept would become unnecessary in its traditional forms?)

Sometimes, we revisit those ideas and realise they are, in fact, worth changing.

As shown in the change theory model to the right, Lewin suggests that change is almost always identical in its theoretical system.

What I am proposing in this article is that we need to Ditch that Marking (Grading) and will need to ensure we reach the stage where we reinforce the change through norms.

Marking may well be something that Miller will address in a future publication, but as yet, I haven’t seen anything about this, although it is intimated in many guises. (Note from Matt: Nothing planned, but this topic fascinates me — hence the guest blog post!)

2016 study suggests that 17% of teachers in the United Kingdom (9 percent of United States teachers) are spending 11 hours or more per week on marking. And I think that is probably conservative as a statistic.

Plus, more than two thirds of U.K. teachers report that the amount of time they spend marking (grading) negatively affects classroom time with students.

I decided to Ditch That Marking. Well … not quite. But I certainly ditched the way I had always done it. I asked myself the question: Why do I mark? And it gave me several answers:

  • To improve student performance by highlighting areas for improvement
  • To correct misconceptions
  • To see evidence of progress to complete reports and data sets
  • To inform my teaching (if there were common errors, this always informed my next lesson’s starter activity)
  • To follow school policy (or to show leaders/parents/children that I was earning my crust!)

I even used a variety of colours of pens:

  • Green – my marking. This was a happy colour that meant that students didn’t see an aggressive red rag to a bull (really?!)
  • Red – students’ response to my marking
  • Green again – my response to student response (yes, this was an expectation)
  • Purple – this was how I used to signify peer marking but it later was replaced with Blue (students all had to write in black)
  • Purple – then it became the colour that parents commented with in student books (followed by another dose of green from me…!)

At my daughter’s school they have a range of highlighters that teachers use – my personal favourite is the Yellow Highlighter of Doom (that’s what they call it!!!). This is on top of a rainbow-full of pens/highlighters and stickers.

Going back to why … I felt if I’m honest that #5 (to follow school policy) was the primary reason when it should’ve been the previous four.

If I was marking to jump through hoops, I needed ways to do what needed doing and then find a path to using marking to improve performance.

  • My journey began with trying electronic submission of homework: I simply asked students to email work or submit it in Google Docs. This meant that I could at least make comments electronically and copy & paste appropriately. This meant that I could then have time to type something more personal and bespoke for the students (and save these for future records to see if students actually responded!).
  • The marking then became a dialogue, even an extension of how we worked in class, using Comments features in the applications (Docs and Slides primarily).
  • This evolved into using Google Classroom as I became more competent. I really love GC. I think it should be the launchpad for every class. If I were advising any educator to start somewhere, I would suggest here (and by the way, there are LOADS of resources, tips and tricks for making the most out of Classroom – you could even start here – Alice Keeler is one of the best! )

​​So, has this reduced my marking load? Yes in some ways, but the next phase in my less-marking-world is split into 5 key suggestions, all of which are currently works in progress for me:

  1. Voice notes – Right within Google Docs and Slides (and even if you want to use it in Keep), you can use Voice Typing from the Tools menu or CTRL+SHIFT+S. Although not 100% accurate, this is a pretty good timesaver because most of us speak faster than we type!
  2. Video feedback (through screencasting) – showcased by the legend @olivertrussell at a recent @AppsEvents summit in London, screencasts are a great way to show tone and facial expression when marking a piece of work. This is really personalised and goes down well with students across the age ranges! A great How-To video for Screencastifymy favourite extension!) can be found here.
  3. Keep Comment Banks – Google Keep should be every teacher’s best friend – organisation has never been so easy. You can create Checkbox lists with common marking phrases and then drag and drop these using Keep Notepad from the Tools menu. This is definitely the best timesaver I have ever used. I will be writing a blog post on Keep really soon so watch this space!
  4. Verbal Feedback stamps – Many times we duplicate work by giving verbal feedback in the classroom and then feeling like we have to write something on the piece of work when we mark it! Instead, get a Verbal Feedback Given stamp (physical or digital). Use it when you talk through answers in class. You can even get customisable stamps online – here is one company that does it!
  5. Self-Marking Quizzes – Google Forms is quickly becoming the go-to app for teachers to gather assessment material. And with quiz features and great add-ons like Flubaroo, so much time can be saved with pre-designed rubrics and answer keys. Don’t ever mark keyword tests again.

Marking as a discipline isn’t going away – and I don’t think it should. However, we do as educators need to keep looking at becoming more effective and efficient in this field so we don’t waste time. We don’t have enough of it as it is…

​Please spread the love with this infographic.

​Peace.

 

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