Have you ever tried ‘live-marking’ in class? Of course you have …
Over the years, I’ve used ‘live-marking’ – marking in lesson time with the student by my side – to embed formative assessment in my classroom and reduce the workload burden. Why not try it to see if it works for you too? (as highlighted in Mark. Plan. Teach. which discussed 110 sources of research.)
Why live mark?
Teachers are bombarded with marking because it is central to their role, and some teachers and schools yearn to mark every piece of work and record written feedback for the ‘marking police’. In worse case scenarios, schools are grading teachers’ marking as a replacement for abandoning lesson gradings. What on earth are you doing?! Work scrutinies are dangerous when done badly, and I suspect the vast majority are.
‘Evidence mongers’ come disguised as fleeting observers who seek no context about the teacher or student; who flit in and out of classrooms in the blink of an eye and the ‘flick through a book’. No conversation with the teacher or student no data, no context.
Parents also expect to see reams of written feedback on their children’s work. I suspect the vast majority assume everything will be ‘ticked’ and commented. It is therefore more necessary than ever, that schools have a clear feedback policy that is communicated to students, parents and colleagues so that marking is manageable and adds value.
We know that feedback is one of the most effective ways to improve learning, but we should stipulate that not everything can be – or should be marked. I’ve been live-marking in all my lessons and it’s a technique that is hard taught and hard earned; a teacher needs a secure classroom environment to be able to provide specific feedback to a student whilst the rest are working.
So, context is key first of all, but it does have many advantages. It does not always have to be written and can be verbal, and there is the benefit of it being there and then in the classroom, rather than two or three weeks later or, worse, when it is too late to adjust decision-making during the learning process. What your school decides to do will trump anyone’s intention to reduce workload and increase impact.
A research paper was published in April 2016 by the University of Oxford and the EEF, based on survey results from 1,382 practising teachers in 1,012 schools in the maintained sector in England (Elliott et al., 2016). The report found that evidence focused on written marking is of poor quality and that teachers and school leaders should create a marking policy that is effective, sustainable and time efficient. The report looked at seven different aspects of marking and considered the evidence and research currently available in the UK and internationally in relation to each.
The seven aspects were:
4. ‘Pupil responses’
5. ‘Creating a dialogue’
7. ‘Frequency and speed’.
I will elaborate on three of these seven aspects – ‘corrections’, ‘creating a dialogue’ and ‘frequency and speed’ – in terms of live-marking and how they relate to giving feedback to students in the classroom.
The EEF reports, ‘when marking a piece of work, it may feel logical and efficient to provide students with the right answer’. The report then looks at the evidence that discusses how valuable this really is and considers other methods of pointing out and correcting errors when marking student work.
Live-marking can help discourage teachers from providing students with the answers or correcting every single error in a piece of work. Colleagues in a former school use the yellow box methodology when live-marking to support this. The yellow box is a more targeted approach to marking that ensures teachers and students focus on a specific area of the work (rather than the entire piece), that encourages teachers’ feedback to be diagnostic and support improvement (rather than help students create a final product in every activity), and that reduces teachers’ workload.
Creating a dialogue
The EEF report discusses ‘triple impact marking’ (the teacher gives written feedback on a piece of work, the student responds to this feedback and the teacher then responds to this in turn) and ‘dialogic marking’ (where a written conversation develops between teachers and students).
… unless it is applicable to the curriculum process. Does your school? If so, why should we insist that teachers mark the same work twice if we assume the average secondary school teacher has 300-500 students per week? It is an impossible ask and we must be realistic about workload and the level of impact that can be made from re-marking students’ work.
Although the EEF report concludes that there is ‘some promise underpinning the idea of creating a dialogue’ and that more research is required to test this, I have been using live-marking to put a greater emphasis on verbal dialogue that is scripted and targeted to help students improve their work. This means that students can instantly act upon the feedback, all the while significantly reducing written marking for the teacher. I use the question-suggestion-action approach, i.e. the teacher asks, ‘Why might XYZ differ from ABC if you increase the amount of 123?’. The student responds. The teacher then provides a scripted response and a suggested action live in the classroom. Only when a student demonstrates that they have acted on that feedback should the teacher allow the student to move on to the next sequence of the lesson or learning.
The difficulty for some school leaders and for OfSTED in particular, is this progress cannot be evidenced and here lies our workload conundrum. Marking for impact, but sadly restricted by someone else’s agenda.
Frequency and speed
Defined in the EEF report as how often students’ work is marked and how quickly the work is returned to the students, these are significant factors in teachers’ workload and students’ expected levels of progress. Couple this with the demands of working through curriculum reforms and teaching students so they can be successful in their exams, the conflict teachers face every week is clear for anyone to see. Should I ask students to redraft their work? Or should I move on and cover the next part of the curriculum?
Only you can answer these questions, but I would suggest considering them after each marking episode and ensuring that you build in regular opportunities for students to recap on work as part of your curriculum plan. ‘Spaced learning’ or ‘spaced practice’ is a learning process whereby content is taught repeatedly in short sessions that are broken up by intervals, during which students complete simple, unrelated activities. A separate report on spaced learning by the EEF, this time with the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation at Queen’s University Belfast, suggests ‘teachers and pupils gave substantial positive feedback about the intervention’. A valid question raised in this study, however, is whether it is beneficial to provide less detailed comments quickly or to take the time necessary to provide more thorough feedback (EEF, 2017b).
Again, context is everything, so it is difficult to fully pass comment on the research. However, I do believe that ‘less and more often’ is the better approach with the recent drive for verbal feedback and research that shows that meaningful feedback delivered in the lesson can make it easier for students to improve. Live-marking permits the teacher to give students concise, regular feedback that can be acted on immediately.
There is a lack of studies in schools on this issue, which suggests that more research would be valuable. You’ll be pleased to know that Teacher Toolkit is conducting action research in this area and at the time of writing, we have over 115 sample schools with a potential impact on over 99,500 students in 6 countries . the challenge will be how to contextualise the impact of the research. Follow #TTkitResearch for updates.
Personally, the one issue stopping verbal live-marking rising through the pile of books stacked on every teacher’s desk is having to provide evidence of marking. We cannot evidence verbal feedback as a method of marking for observers who come into lessons to ‘look at’ progress and attitudes to learning.
If demonstrating evidence is the one reason for marking rather than aiding students’ progress, haven’t we lost sight of our purpose as teachers?
Pros and cons of live-marking
There are many pros of live-marking in your classroom:
- It reduces teachers’ workload outside of lesson hours.
- It encourages teachers to give feedback that is diagnostic, closing in on specific areas to improve.
- It allows for a dialogue between teacher and student, enabling the teacher to provide immediate feedback and a suggested action there and then that the student has to act upon before moving on to the next phase of learning.
- It gives students concise, regular feedback, making it easier for them to improve their learning.
The are however some disadvantages to bear in mind if you try to implement live-marking in your classroom:
- The teacher can only work with one or a small group of students at a time.
- The teacher must monitor the level of detail provided to avoid spending too long with each group.
- Curriculum coverage may suffer if students are spending time in the lesson acting on feedback, especially if redrafting work takes precedence over developing knowledge and skills.