Written marking takes up huge amounts of teachers’ time. If the average teacher marks for just over 5 hours a week, that’s 200 hours of marking a year. In a secondary school of 100 teachers, that’s 20,000 hours of marking.
Written marking is non-renewable: it’s a one-off. Each written comment I put in a pupil’s book only impacts once on that one pupil. What else could we do with that 20,000 hours, that would impact more positively on future pupils and other teachers? Marking has a very low ratio of impact-to-effort, and a very high opportunity cost.
There are much better ways to share feedback so pupils improve. There are much better ways to focus teachers’ limited time. That’s why in some schools, teachers no longer mark pupils’ books – at all.
Feedback is a butterfly
Feedback is effective when it is timely (not too late after the task), frequent (not too scarce) and acted on (not ignored). Written marking often militates against this: teachers burn out and it becomes less timely, less frequent and less acted on by pupils and teachers.
There are many ways of giving feedback without written marking:
What if we continually worked on making our feedback have the highest-impact possible on learning?
Feedback should maximise the responsibility pupils take for self-checking, correcting, editing and redrafting their work. It should maximise preemptive teaching, preventing frequent errors and common misconceptions; it minimises laborious, slow, reactive written comments. Although teachers should still read pupil books, score exams, and circle misspellings to be corrected within lessons, written marking of pupil books outside lessons might be scrapped altogether. To monitor marking as evidence to hold teachers accountable for pupil progress is an illusion – comforting for managers, but unhelpful for teachers and pupils.
What I’ve seen is that this shift transforms staff culture. No teacher has to take home books in evenings, weekends and holidays; no manager is scrutinising pupil books for frequent teacher comments; no teacher is desperately marking books at the last minute before an impending book scrutiny. Instead, teachers are trusted. Teachers can focus on teaching well, ensuring every pupil is understanding and remembering, and helping their pupils love their subjects. Pupils are motivated, working harder than they ever have before, and improving their writing fast, as they take responsibility for checking and improving it.
When the school has 100 teachers, stopping teachers from marking even just 5 hours a week will save us 20,000 hours every year. Good school leaders stop people from doing good things, so they focus on better things. Next time, I’ll blog about moving from unsustainable marking loads to renewable resourcing.