Welcome to my post about my markbook. For a time now I have tried to improve my markbook. I was seduced by the notion of cloud computing, although too long spent staring at a screen (and reduced functionality) have returned me back to excel. Having done so, I find myself appreciating the increased abilities that such a program provides.
I’m going to show you how my mark book allows me to mark easily and plan easily. Prior to this, I’m going to talk about some assumptions of marking as an English teacher.
1) Marking as an English teacher is epic.
It involves reading thousands of words a week, and judging them against thousands of words of criteria. It can easily fill any time allocated to it, and must be completed with a clear head.
This markbook aims to encompass this epicness.
2) Marking as an English teacher is vague.
The criteria for an NQT means little: ‘sophisticated’ and ‘thoughtful’ refer to vastly different grades, but as words hold connotations beyond their intentions. Marking is somewhat norm-referenced (in that a teacher can ‘spot a C’ or ‘recognise an A*’ but under scrutiny will perhaps struggle to justify.
This markbook aims to make marking specific.
3) Marking is, following on from the above point, contentious.
I have been in a moderation meeting where two teachers have had a full-on row about a few marks, with the room’s consensus being that the decision could have been either side of a grade boundary. My point was that the argument was bunk, as the decision would be made by a tired examiner coming after hundreds of papers who wanted to be given every opportunity to give a mark (and if uncertain, probably wouldn’t).
This markbook aims to support your battle against contention, and compel you to make decisions either side of the fence.
4) Marking is what makes English a core subject.
Staff in other subjects mark with verbal feedback, or with straightforward feedback along conventional lines. The same activity in English can be marked in many different ways. English requires more marking and, I perhaps might suggest, more effective marking techniques.
This markbook aims to support whole departments in identifying patterns in cohorts.
5) Marking can destroy a teacher.
A teacher needs to have a life outside teaching, to occasionally see teaching as ‘just a job.’ Marking is perennial. A piece of work can marked and judged for an inordinate amount of time. For example, a higher set can easily number thirty students. Each week they might write an essay. Those essays, if marked in a paltry five minutes each will still take two and a half hours. If marked in an earnest ten minutes, they will take five hours. When factored into the need to wash clothes and eat food, five hours each week to mark the just the essays of one class is clearly too long, at least on a regular basis.
This markbook aims to grant you some of your life back without sacrificing the rigor of outstanding practice.
6) Marking can be disheartening.
Often the policy for marking in many English departments (and, indeed, schools) is to mark one set of books each week. The thinking behind this is to stop teachers from burning out, and that the marking of a set of books each week will be an efficient way of ‘getting through’ the work. However, when the month of marking turns up, the focus of the task might be lost. Furthermore, while you might be able to discern the purpose of tasks and devise suitable targets for your students, the questions remains whether they (with their others distractions and subjects) will remember the work at all.
This markbook aims to support immediate and regular feedback to motivate you and your students.
7) Marking is a logistical minefield.
Just the act of removing 100+ folders from a cupboard, taking the books from them, opening them to the correct page, reading the words and writing more on the page can take an incredible amount of time – especially when completed on a weekly basis. However, the mark a piece of work via a rubric (with occasional literary focuses for necessary pupils) is rapid. A piece of work can be marked in a minute or less when you can speed-read with the kind of expert focus that comes with 20+ years of formal education. Most importantly, when the work is handed to you in the order specified in your markbook, you can fill it in with useful data in less time than it takes to faff with the folders like you used to.
This markbook, when supported by the practices suggested elsewhere, facilitates smooth marking practices.
8) Marking needs to lead to worthwhile targets for the students.
Like doctors who can ‘sense’ whether the cold they see before them is something worse, or not, effective teachers can create specific targets from the ‘sense’ of a piece of work. However, what is written for the student needs to be something that the student can actually respond to. Too many targets suffer from either being too advanced in language (which isn’t always a bad thing), or from being the generic ‘needs more detail’ or ‘must concentrate more’. Those latter targets are the equivalent of a doctor telling you to come back in a week. They are the signals of a teacher who doesn’t quite know what they are doing (most likely because they either haven’t been shown, or because they haven’t striven to find out themselves).
This markbook will train your students to produce regular and rigorous targets. Only those who excel will require more personalised targets (and rightly so!)
9) Marking (despite being completed for tens of thousands of hours each week) has created little useful guidance.
If you followed the DFeS guidance on schemes of work and marking, you would fail at the current Ofsted criteria. Indeed, if you took the thousands of resources produced by the best people, not many would, in themselves, satisfy ‘outstanding’ criteria at the current Ofsted level.
I seem to do.
This isn’t down to an act of personality. This is down to organisation, of wondering of what I am doing, and why I am doing it.
This mark book aims to make what you teach, and why you teach it, more explicit.
10) Marking struggles picks up trends across the class.
While there are always obvious students who excel, or don’t, it is troublesome to pick up the mass of students who are either genuinely excelling, or profoundly struggling. The difficulty of conventional marking is that it reduces the judgement writing to the infantile ‘levelling’ system that was righteously bashed on its introduction. There needs to be a nationally recognised system of levels that allows students and parents and teachers to believe in some kind of norm-referenced standard of English.
Truth be told, this is how English is marked.
* Tired examiner approaches new pile after argument with spouse about length of time marking is taking. They pick up the first piece of writing. No paragraphs? Into the fail pile. One this is repeated, they pick up the pass pile. No advanced punctuation and/or too many run-on sentences? Into the fail pile. After this is done, they pick up the pass pile. Simplistic vocabulary and sentence starters (and hence sentence types?). Well, this might pass, but it would be a borderline pass. Anything better than this might be a good pass.
While it is obvious who the good pass students are, it is more difficult to pick up the ‘hidden middle’ of students who have skills in some aspects, and yet struggle in other aspects. They might achieve a C, or a D, but the skills that grant them the pass might be vastly different. Equally, a student who straddles a B or A, or even an A or A* might struggle in a specific skill-set that others are able to competently complete. Either which way, it is difficult to detect these trends with conventional grades in a markbook.
This marbook aims to make identifying trends easier, not just in terms of identifying outstanding and struggling students formally, but also in terms of proving patterns of progress over substantial periods of time.