I want to be a #SmartAss by @TeacherToolkit

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
Read more about @TeacherToolkit

Marking is a tribulation in the life of every teacher.

It is equally, the most constructive tool that a teacher can use to empower students and aid their learning; as well as your own teaching!

Here, I outline why ‘I want to be a #SmartAss’.

In this short article, I endeavour to provide the reader with a simple marking strategy to use in the classroom everyday. #SmartAss – or Smart Assessment – is all about saving time and improving quality.

But, is this truly possible?

SmartAss by @TeacherToolkit  Photo Credit: Sam Hames via Compfight cc
SmartAss by @TeacherToolkit
Photo Credit: Sam Hames via Compfight cc

Recently, I blogged about book looks and mantras in my own school, where we are moving towards a system for mapping the day-to-day picture and not, one-off snapshot judgements. We have light-heartedly coined this as ‘The Ugly Truth’, T.U.T. regards lesson observations from a deeper context and opens the door, on how ‘Progress over time’ could be measured accurately to make consistent judgements on teaching.

Here, as a school leader, I emphasise why ‘marking is the number one priority‘ for any classroom. But, as a classroom teacher, I also want to prove, how a simple hypothesis can be embedded into any subject and into all student classwork in any classroom. In doing so, we can evidence progress over time; self/peer assessment; feedback and actions points for acting on feedback (i.e. re-drafting).

“What? Why? How?”

Plan to teach your students to become smarter-assessors (#SmartAss).

To improve students’ understanding of their own work; I embed this simple questioning strategy in all that they do. In all manner of feedback, my students would, for example, spend 3 minutes reporting back on:

What? Why? How?

  • What have I done?’ or ‘What is on this page?’
  • ‘Why have I done this?’
  • ‘How did I do this?’or ‘How did I get here?’

The smartest way to do this, is to get your students to record these responses in a self-analysis, speech-bubble; which can often be a doodle on the page. This information is then used to centre discussions, decode or consolidate the learning and inform feedback.

Here is a 2/3rds completed example of work below (not yet marked!):

USB starter activity - 3 minute exercise - with success criteria shared.
USB starter activity – 3 minute exercise – with success criteria shared.


The purpose of smarter-marking is so that your input-output ratio for marking and feedback to students enables learning to progress quicker and more frequently. The over-arching aim, is that your input becomes less, and that the students’ output becomes more!

Smart Ass

The above is very resonant of the mantra shared by Jim Smith (@TheLazyTeacher)

These are my top 5 smarter-marking ideas:

  1. Use What? Why? How? in all you teach; preach; scribe and in all student response.
  2. At the end of a piece of work, teachers often leave a comment. Keep this comment diagnostic (where possible); with a specific target for improvement. Consider no formal assessment grade, and/or a shorthand code for students to decipher, in order to reduce re-writing the same opening statements over and over again. For example: WWH (What? Why? How?); IO (Improvements Only); TAG (Targets); EBI (Even Better If). Be wary of the quick-fix warning stated below.
  3. Outstanding feedback includes teacher diagnostic-comments, with students responding to written feedback alongside the teacher’s comments. Perhaps, a reflection of their work, a plan of action or a comment on the assessment itself. This can be reversed as long as the success-criteria is shared in advance.
  4. Embed routines where student A expects their work to be shared with student B and that student B will record their feedback for student A… and so on. There are many strategies, techniques and resources you can use. I am happy to share my top-5 tips if you want to get in touch. Fundamentally, make it ‘routine’ to reflect; feedback and consolidate.
  5. Ask students to re-draft work 2 or 3 times, with a clear intention, that the marking will become less and less prominent on the work, each time is it modified. This goes back to the F.A.I.L concept I already shared on Twitter before the summer. (F.A.I.L. = First Attempt In Learning embeds first drafts and so forth as the norm. Summed up beautifully in Austin’s Butterfly below.

Quick-fix warning:


I have heard from HMI inspectors, that teachers stamping books with ‘Seen’ or ‘Marked by the teacher’ is a frowned upon methodology and is not a desirable path to follow (assess). What do other HMI inspectors think? I have asked here.

What do you think? Click the image.
What do you think? Click the image.

Teachers tip:

Yes! Try a different coloured pen! It makes developmental feedback and reflection very obvious. Sad, but true!

Bonus idea:

I have a GIANT-sized pencil in my classroom.

 Photo Credit: quimby via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: quimby via Compfight cc

It is awarded to the smartest (most accurate) student-assessor the following lesson. This is always a cause for celebration – Oscar style – and using the large object allows all students to see who is leading their own learning. Just a bit of fun.

Other examples:

What? Why? How? in all we do... by @TWDLearning
What? Why? How? in all we do… by @TWDLearning

See what others have said and how they are using this simple idea.

Note, ‘What if?’ can also be added, so that students can make their own further recommendations.

Click to open or feedback
Click to open or feedback

Further reading:

If you want to read more about this marking strategy in the classroom; plus many other ideas on assessment, you can do so here. (Ref. page 14)

Regarding the sketch at the top of this post, you can download the presentation on ‘Rapid Progress in my classroom’ resource and read more about how @ClassroomCarrot helped aid student progress, in my own classroom, here.

You may also be interested in the 5 Minute Assessment for Learning Plan or the 5 Minute Marking Plan which highlights what assessment teachers should offer and mark / should not mark.

The 5 Minute Marking Plan
The 5 Minute Marking Plan
The 5 Minute AfL Plan
The 5 Minute AfL Plan

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