Earlier this year @teachertoolkit (Ross Morrison McGill) and Mark Quinn, in conjunction with University College London (UCL), released the results to their Verbal Feedback Project. This made interesting reading for me as they suggest that verbal feedback can which replaced extensive written feedback showed increased engagement of disadvantaged students in learning, improved progress of disadvantaged students and also gains in teacher wellbeing (2019).
It has been well documented in the media that teacher workload is a big issue in the profession with a 2014 report from Englands’ Department for Education titled the ‘Workload Challenge’ highlighting marking as the ‘single biggest contributor to teachers’ unsustainable workload’. We can all picture the scene of a weary teacher, still in shirt and tie, working through a mountain of books on their kitchen table. My workload has been very different as a teacher of physical education with my evenings taken up by extra-curricular sport however I do feel that hours of marking is a wasted effort for most, this much is clear given the plethora of guidance you can now get on how to best tackle your pile of marking in a quick and efficient manner.
Further to this the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) published a report in , ‘A Marked Improvement?’ (Elliot et al. 2016) which reviewed the evidence of written marking in schools. They found that the typical teacher spends almost nine hours marking pupils work each week further outlining the impact marking has on our profession. In a post by David Didau (The Learning Spy) he used the term opportunity cost when discussing marking. He argued that if marking doesn’t result in young people receiving feedback (which it often doesn’t) it would be deemed a waste of time.
As recently as 2017 a school in Bristol went as far as banning teachers from marking and suggested a few techniques such as ‘live marking’ and ‘impact marking’ (The Telegraph, November 2019). Both of these strategies involved time with the young people and not only suggested areas for improvement but celebrated their successes which can increase the confidence of young people, strategies worth considering for your own practice.
McGill & Quinns’ (2019) report is simply nudging the system towards a better way to move learning forward. John Hattie published ‘Visible Learning’ in 2009 and according to his meta-analyses feedback has the highest effect size of any teacher intervention, and according to the EEF it has a minimal cost applied to it for schools and school leaders. David Didau outlines in this post that ‘feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and teaching’ and he goes on to offer guidance on providing effective feedback. He also notes that it can have both a positive and negative impact which leads to a call for teachers to be provided with relevant professional learning to help get the most out of their feedback.
Its is important when reviewing how you tackle marking that whatever you decide to do it is both manageable and motivating. It should also always cause the young people to think and do some work to act on the feedback (Wiliam, 2018). There are many feedback strategies suggested on the web and I would start with this one from @teachertoolkit as it only takes 3 minutes to read.
One way that you can replace marking with verbal feedback is by using an app called qwiqr feedback. For this you set up your account and then create a QR code for each pupil and attach it to their jotter or folder. You then record and audio or video with you speaking your feedback. The pupil will then scan the QR code and listen to your feedback. This will allow all of your pupils to listen to your feedback at the same time. Dunblane High Schools Physical Education department have shared some great practice using qwiqr via social media which you can view here.
More research is required with regards to effective feedback strategies, especially when comparing written feedback with verbal feedback. However, any strategy that can both save time but maintain the highest quality for our young people is worth trying and a winner for the time pressed teacher. We will always be asked to mark but marking doesn’t have to be an onerous, time consuming and frustrating task. Time spent in class providing valuable verbal feedback and the many other strategies suggested could save your precious time while also allowing pupils to make obvious learning gains.
If you are marking too much please ask yourself the following ‘Slow Question’ from Jamie Thoms’ excellent book ‘Slow Teaching’ and then plan for changes to your practice, if necessary:
Are you becoming another victim of the mindless marking fervour?