13 Marking Workload Tips For Teachers

Reading time: 5

Lynn How

Lynn has been teaching for 20 years, during which time she has been an Assistant Head, Lead Mentor for ITT and SENCO. She loves to write and has her own blog: www.positiveyoungmind.com. She has also just taken up the position of editor of Teacher Toolkit....
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How can you get your marking workload under control this term?

For those of you who still mark too much and sleep too little, here are a number of tried and tested ideas from my years of attempting to work smart not hard (to clarify, I gave up this ideal many years ago, settling for working smart and hard).

1. Self-marking

Whenever possible, give children the answers to mark their own work. Train them from an early age. Either put the answers at the front to check, give them a calculator when they have finished or give them the answers at the end. This also helps their self-reflection as it is instant feedback allowing them to consider if they understood the concept or not as soon as they know if the answers are correct.

2. Student marker

You could also ask a pupil who is a fast finisher to go round the classroom marking for you or if you’d rather, rotate a number of children to do this with your answers so that one is not singled out as being ‘better’.

3. Colour-coded success criteria

Training children to underline their own work when they have met the success criteria allows them to see what they were missing during the lesson and also enabled me to simply write What Went Well (WWW) next to the most successful one and Even Better If (EBI) next to the least successful one. Simple. We are facilitators after all, hence the fact children should be doing most of the work.

4. Self/peer-reflection

There is nothing I like more than simply writing ‘I agree’ or ‘great SA’ (self-assessment) after the child’s comments when they have evaluated thoughtfully. Plan in time for evaluations as plenaries and use mixed ability ‘reflection partners’ to make it more effective. For SEND or younger children, give them a bank of statements to choose from or simply ask them to traffic light their learning objective.

5. Traffic lighting

If you want a speedy way of marking you could suggest traffic lighting objectives to your SLT. I’ve seen this used in several schools I have been working in recently. Staff simply look at the work after the lesson and traffic light the objective in red, orange or green depending on how well the person has shown they have met the objective. It is literally just one dot of colour in the margin next to the objective. The teacher may or may not comment and there is no expectation for the teacher to make a comment.

6. Live marking

This, in theory is great, and is much discussed on Teacher Toolkit. The idea being that all the marking is done in the lesson thus allowing you to not mark after school. Unfortunately, in a challenging class with no TA, there is more crowd control than live marking going on. As a result, a technique is employed which I affectionately named ‘dead marking’ which is marking at home whilst pretending it was done in class because someone has suggested your live marked books don’t have enough comments in them. Farcical. However, the live marking concept is useful and if you have a lanyard or top pocket, always attach a pen to yourself. Adults should ALWAYS walk around the class with the correct colour pen to get as much as possible done on the go. When it works well, it saves time and provides instant and personal feedback. Furthermore, your Teaching Assistant may also be able to get some done for you.

7. A few at a time

On those frequent occasions when I take 60 books home at the weekend, I have discovered, in order to fit around family life, that it is less depressing to mark 3-5 at a time. My marking can go down-hill slightly once I’ve got to the bottom of the pile of books (and bottle of wine). Doing a few at a time stops this from happening and means I don’t leave them all to 9pm on Sunday.

8. Open on the page

Always train children to leave books open on the page. I think this saves at least 7 minutes of searching for their work when you have 30 to do.

9. Go to the books

My books used to be kept on my tables so the students could access them quickly. I then used to collect them in to mark and then waste another 10 minutes working out which table they needed to go back on. It dawned on me one day that I could simply move tables when marking. Considering I must be a reasonably intelligent person in order to be a teacher, it was unclear why I didn’t work this out sooner!

10. Class marking sheet

A much more effective marking method is to introduce a class marking sheet for writing. Children can write CMS (class marking sheet) in the margin to indicate there is not individual marking for this piece. The teacher looks over the work during the lesson and after and fills in 1 sheet which has headings such as ‘special mentions’, ‘common misconceptions’, ‘spelling errors’, ‘best presentation’ etc. this is then used to start the next lesson. Children were very keen to be mentioned on the sheet and it is also a tool to engage reluctant writers.

11. Test papers

Mark a double page at a time for all the papers so the answers are in your head. This means you can think less and possibly even watch Netflix at the same time.

12. Attempt a bit of marking in class

Shocking I know. How can anyone be an effective teacher if they are using afternoon lesson time to do a bit of marking?? Don’t panic. I believe I have now perfected the technique. It is of course task dependent and would not work in the middle of a science lesson for example, or if you have one of those classes who take no prisoners by 2pm. When my class were all engaged in a draw and write or research type activity, I have on occasions taken the opportunity to be time efficient. There are 2 ways to do this; the right way and the wrong way. What you shouldn’t do is sit at your desk with a pile of books with one eye on the door in case anyone walks in and catches you, whilst you feel guilty for marking not engaging with your class. What you should do is take one group’s books at a time, sit on their table and monitor their work while you are marking their books, addressing misconceptions and giving praise as you go. Change tables when you’ve done your books and get another set. This allows you to have contact with every child in the class during the afternoon as well as doing a bit of marking with feedback. I should add that in reality, especially with younger children, you’d only get 5 books done in total, as 15 children would need a piece of you at some point (but 5 is better than 0!).

13. Enlist a marking friend

If you are in one of those schools who thinks that the pig will get fatter if you weigh it a lot (i.e. tests every 6 weeks), you may feel overwhelmed with the amount of tests you need to mark. Find a colleague to help with the work. Order the papers from worst to best and level them together. That way you share accountability for what was agreed, you are engaging in professional dialogue about writing and you are having a good laugh about that child’s spelling of can’t.

For even more ideas to reduce your marking workload this year, make sure you have a look at these previously published blogposts.

14 thoughts on “13 Marking Workload Tips For Teachers

    1. Hello and thanks for your comment. The schools where I have seen this used have a strong emphasis on verbal feedback which doesn’t need recording (as set out in their policy) therefore, children can still make progress and respond to feedback even if the books don’t explicitly record this.

  1. Number two is a real shame. Fast finisher is another way of phrasing a child who isn’t challenged. The concept of then enlisting them into marking books for you instead of having the opportunity to learn? Really disappointing.

    1. From an assessment perspective, it’s also a good way to keep students involved with their own learning… This research suggests self-directed learning is important for lifelong learning… and this research suggests “teacher identity changes led the teachers to gain insights about the individual learners in their classroom, seeing the adolescents’ true potential as learners and peer leaders.”

      As always, what works in your classroom, works.

    2. Thanks for your comment Daniel and yours Ross. I should have added some more detail to this one. I was referring to the AFL practice of students embedding their learning more deeply by explaining it to others. In this instance, pupils who are marking can be giving peer support as they go.

  2. This tips are all well and good for KS3 and GCSE/ A-level teachers but what about those teachers like myself that have to mark internal assessments. I teach 3 different courses with internal assessments that all need to be marked with specific comments and during specific times of the year usually all at the same time. I also teach 2 A level subjects which require mock marking at the same time as coursework. I loose my life to marking from January to May as well as planning and monitoring and running a department. Teaching has just become impossible. I’d love to know how I could manage this workload.

    1. I don’t dispute the level of work required for exam classes. It can be relentless. Who is driving the internal assessments? Are they compulsory? Does everything need to have written feedback?

      1. Exam boards dictate the amount of feedback and type of feedback students need in order to improve work. Exam boards also determine the number of assessments. All assessments are compulsory for getting students grades. I would love to know how to better manage this but requirements are insane. A-level students also must sit PPE’s which add to marking pressures particularly when you have large cohorts.

      2. Yes, I agree. I’ve been researching teacher workload for a decade and whilst marking features as the number one issue, it’s not for the fault of some schools. It’s totally exam board expectations, sometimes exacerbated by external inspection.

  3. Thanks for your comments Jake – I agree that sometimes workload is simply untenable. I would suggest as Ross has said to question what needs doing. Also, a good way of monitoring workload is to keep a diary on a blank timetable of actual hours worked and on what. This needs to be shared with senior leaders so they understand the extent of what they are asking you to do. If you can get colleagues on board with this it is even more powerful. The numbers of teachers resigning recently is also saying that something needs to be done at a government level to improve conditions and retention. I only hope that enough of us can add to putting enough pressure on the government to ensure they review and improving the situation.

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