Posted by: markhowell101 | April 25, 2011

My marking hell

As discussed previously in this blog there are many things in teaching I feel I do a decent job at. There are many things which I feel I don’t do well at but persevere with because I can see why I need to be better at them and therefore want to improve. I find it easy to motivate myself to do these things as I can visualise an end result which is of benefit to me and my students. However, when it comes to marking books I find motivation a difficult thing to muster up. Even writing this blog is being done as a way of delaying the inevitable stack of marking that needs doing by tomorrow.

Now marking assessments and tests and coursework I don’t mind as I genuinely enjoy assessing work and trying to make a case for a student getting a C instead of a D or seeing a key stage 3 student suddenly show a big improvement in their understanding. I also find it easy to focus on this kind of marking and find it easy to offer feedback on how students can improve as its simply a case of thinking how can they take it to the next level. I also do a lot of peer and self assessing and I am aware that is really good practice when done well which I do. This does mean that there is less to mark for me when I take books in for marking (all books are marked in a 2 week cycle at my school)

However, the problem for me is marking books. This year my school has made a big thing out of marking (it was an area which let us down during last OFSTED and with another approaching they want it fixed) and this has meant a number of scrutinise of our practice. Whilst I have done ok in these scrutinise it is clear to me that this is an aspect of my practice which needs improving when compared to many other elements of being a teacher.

Firstly, I do struggle to keep up with a 2 week marking cycle. Whilst I don’t slip miles from that, if I am honest I am probably nearer a 3 week rotation. I find the problem comes when trying to take in books around setting homework or revision for tests or work to be completed at home and then taking books in when you don’t see the class for a couple of days and you have a couple of free evenings. All this makes it difficult to keep with the cycle.

My second problem is my focus when marking books. I used to mark whilst having the TV or music on and whilst this made it less of a chore I was very easily distracted by these things. When I have a stack of 32 books all saying more or less the same thing I will openly admit that it can become quite tedious and I look for distractions (like writing this blog). I have tried to break it down and do ten at a time but then the problem is often you can’t get a class set done in a night.

My final problem is what to write. As previously stated I am ok at informing students on how to improve assessments but in everyday classwork I find it difficult beyond making statements about presentation or completion of tasks set. This means that a student who does complete all work and the book is neat will often not get any comments beyond well done.

Now at the start of this blog I said that I was happy to keep working at aspects of my practice where I can see that improvement would pay dividends. However with marking I sometimes struggle to see what I am aiming for by continue to try to improve my practice. Partly because I think that 80% of students don’t read everyday comments (they look at grades and assessment feedback but not sure they always read your day to day marking) and partly because the only way to improve would be to spend more time marking books. As previously discussed in this blog I spend a lot of time planning lessons (I think more than the average teacher) to ensure that they are all high quality and I already feel like during term time I am pretty much maxed out with school work and struggle to keep a life balance at times. Therefore to improve my marking I believe the quality of my lessons would suffer and that is not a price I have been willing to pay so far.

Having said all that I would love to improve and would really value the advice of anyone on how to improve my everyday marking and keep up with a 2 week rotation without spending lots and lots more time doing it and without losing the will to live through boredom.



  1. mate, i did it last year and linked it to albums (well genres), chose a genre for each year group, found an album for each marking session, stayed an extra hour in school and demolished them as best i could. I enjoyed the album finding, found myself more focused and often found words in the lyrics that i could use in individualised comments for each pupil!very geeky and probably only works for me, but may be worth a go!haha

    • Love that idea. You stayed behind every night for the duration of 1 album ??? Will try that this week

  2. I think we all struggle with the marking challenge! I vary the way I keep on top of it, but one thing that works for me is splitting my pile of books into 3 groups and mark the first third before leaving school at the end of the day. That way the pile I take home is not as big. Then I mark another third on arriving home – no excuses, just get it done without distractions. Then I allow myself to mark the final third in front of the telly or whatever, not worrying too much about distractions and find that I get it done a) because it’s not such an overwhelming number of books now and b) because I’ve got this far, so I might as well just get it finished… Hope that helps! Kim

  3. How many classes do you have to try and get through? I’m finding it almost impossible to stay on top of my marking at the moment, and would be interested to know what you manage to come up with. In my mark book I record +/-/= for each student as an indicator of whether or not they are making progress (so only referencing their own abilities, not in comparison to other students) and that is something that I’ve heard of other teachers writing in books. I tend to write comments as a question responding to a piece of work ‘why do you think x?’ or ‘that’s interesting, can you explain more?’. I’ve also had a few students respond really well to being given response time at the start of the following lesson, but I think this has been a result of training by their primary teachers rather than me. I even had one who would automatically traffic-light her own work at the end of every lesson – a dream to mark since she would explain if there was something she didn’t understand and I could respond to that!

  4. Appreciate the comments. Will try a few things over the coming weeks to see if it improves my ability to mark well.

  5. I feel your pain. I also find marking can be quite tedious, it has to be done but so often doesn’t really feel like it aids teaching and learning. A few things from this stuck out for me.

    “in everyday classwork I find it difficult beyond making statements about presentation or completion of tasks set”
    “When I have a stack of 32 books all saying more or less the same thing”

    Work that is interesting to mark is that which is individual, and it seems that many of these tasks that you find tedious to mark are not. Could you look at your task design to see if students can bring more original thinking to the work? If it is boring to mark then can it have been interesting to complete?

    Could you use peer marking or self marking to cover ‘practice’ tasks like this where everyone is just getting through the material, and then give yourself more time to feedback in a meaningful way on the tasks that deserve this?

  6. I agree about the music idea. I have started to find bands I had forgotten about on Spotify and listen to their back catalogue after school while marking. Nice and loud so it drowns out the sound of hoovering from down the corridor and dsicourages people coming in to chat to you!

    One way I have found that makes it feel more worthwhile is if you decide you will put aside the first ten minutes of the next lesson for children to look at what you wrote and give them an action point as part of the marking.
    eg: Can you write a more effective final sentence?
    Then you know they definitely are going to read it and will have to do something about it, plus it means you have to have marked everyone’s books by the time that lesson arrives.
    Having said all that I currently have a pile of 32 literacy books to mark sitting out in my hallway so maybe I should take my own advice lol!

  7. We have been producing labels, we have different ways of approaching this but I tend to mark 6 books and work out what comments are coming up most frequently and then produce a set of stickers with the printer. Sometimes I only need one sticker. Normally with a comment of praise and something to improve.

    It does work well and speed things up.

    I then mark assessments with more personalised comments added to a level ladder.

    I really enjoyed your revision reflection.

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