Making marking work

Photo Credit: BenjaminCookDesigns Flickr via Compfight cc

Time to get out the red pen

This post should probably start with a disclaimer.  My marking is not perfect.  I do my absolute best to make sure the pupils get the best feedback on their work but it will not always yield the seismic improvements that one might hope.

Before we discuss marking and feedback, I think it is worth pointing the reader towards this document produced by Sean Harford HMI.  Yes, he does work for “they-who-shall-not-be-named” but you really do need to read it.  You could also follow him on Twitter as he is quite good at busting the various OFSTED myths that fly around.

Over the past few years, I have seen a variety of marking policies in my own school and in visiting others.  Out there, there is a plethora of feedback and marking styles such as “comment only” marking, highlighter marking, DIRT time, group feedback, whole class feedback, flipped learning, self-marking online assessments, self-assessment, peer-assessment, raw scores, averages, levels, flightpaths, progress indicators, RAG etc.  Don’t worry, this post is not going to cover all of those!  Instead, here are three that have really worked for me, and my students, in the classroom:

Whole class feedback & Individual Feedback.

Whilst marking a set of books I will formulate a series of targets to be placed on a PowerPoint.  In the book, I will simply write something that the student did well along with T1, T7, T8.  There is an example below.  The following lesson will probably follow this pattern:

1) Whole class feedback or starter activity relating to an issue most struggled with.

2) DIRT time – students have opportunity to act upon individual targets.  Extension tasks available for those who finish.

3) Remaining time refreshing material from previous lesson or preparing for subsequent lesson.

The activities in part 1 above could be…

  1. Grammar exercises
  2. Spot the errors / Correct the errors (anonymously lifted or amalgamated from work marked)
  3. Match present and past tense verbs so that students are clear which is which.
  4. Spot the correct sentence from a choice of 3.

An example of what students will see in part 2 above is below.  I have found that the “what it means” and “what to do” leaves no room for excuses of “I don’t get what I have to do”.


Feedback needs to be about improvement and development, not simply error correction. That is my hope behind targets 2,4,6.  However, where some heavy error correction is needed, then I still want them thinking about it (see T1,T3).

T5 allows me to challenge, and insist on improvement of, any poorly presented pieces that I may not notice from across the room during the lesson.

T7 allowed me to work with one to one with a student who was miles ahead of the rest of the class and teach them something they can add to their work.

T9 was to give a student time to catch up on work missed through no fault of their own.

This approach massively shortened the time I spent marking and still allowed me to deal with misconceptions and give specific, personalised feedback that led to definite, visible improvements.

Highlighter Marking

Mentioned in a full length post  a while back, I still think this is one of the best ways for boosting confidence of students.

Underline an entire piece of work in two highlighter pens.  Green if it’s good.  Yellow if it needs work.  Immediately a student can see what is good and what is not.  If the overwhelming picture is green then it can be a massive confidence boost.  If they realise that the yellow is a repeated error, then we are on the road to eradicating it.  If there is a substantial amount of yellow then maybe a rewrite is in order.  Sometimes the yellow would not be underlining anything, to demonstrate that there was a need to add something.  To show students bits of their work that were particularly good such as a wenn clause (German), a reflexive verb in the passé composé (French), or use of the imperfect subjunctive (Spanish), I simply double-ticked those parts.  

I have tried to demonstrate the visual impact below:

Gestern Abend habe ich mit meiner Famille ins Kino gegangen.  Dort wir haben “Fast and Furious 14” gesehen.  Es war toll.  Ich mag Actionfilmen, weil sie sind spannend

Advantages include how well it combines with marking codes and it is speedy. Disadvantages include that one needs a constant supply of highlighter pens or felt-tips!

Self/Peer Assessment

Peer assessment is something I struggle with in MFL.  Sometimes I find that the students do not have enough knowledge to effectively assess the work of another.  You find comments such as “great use of connectives”, when there were none in the work at all.  I think it works best when the students have sufficient knowledge to draw upon, or with a reasonably restrictive mark-scheme. 

I have tried a little bit with the new GCSE roleplays.  The following pattern yielded some success.

  • Teacher shows students mark scheme and script for roleplay.
  • One student is selected to conduct the roleplay.  Teacher plays role of student
  • Roleplay is then performed by teacher and student (in reversed roles).
    • Teacher (as student) produces a roleplay that can be described as a shambles full of mistakes, hesitation, use of English, use of Spanglish, use of French, adding O to any English word to make it sound Spanish.   
    • Teacher (as student) produces a half-decent roleplay that ticks some boxes but not all.
    • Teacher (as student) produces a roleplay that would knock the socks off the most examiners.
  • After each the students are asked to give numerical scores.  The AQA mark-scheme is extremely helpful in this as for each element of the roleplay there is a score of 0, 1 or 2.  Their language says “message conveyed without ambiguity” or “message partially conveyed or conveyed with some ambiguity”.  In short:  2 = job done   1 = partly done  0 = was it done?   Students are then asked to give a score out of 5 for quality of language.  The teacher can guide them towards this one a bit more.
  • Students then have silent prep time for a roleplay on the same theme but with different bullet points.  10-12mins.
  • Students conduct the roleplay in pairs with script on projector screen.  After which, they assess their partner’s performance.  When they switch over, you need to switch the unpredictable question to something else!  Or generate a new task for the other.  
  • They need to repeat this so that they have two sets of scores.  They can then calculate an average.  By doing so, hopefully any overly generous or overly harsh marking is minimised.


Joe gives Martina   2+2+1+1+1   /10   +3   /5     = 10/15

Kelsey gives Martina 1+2+1+2+2  / 10      4/5     =12/15

Average = 11/15  



Been trying to get more of this into my lessons recently.  Although that was before I read an article on (check it out, lots of good ideas and reflections).

80% of feedback a student receives about his or her work in primary school is from other students.  But 80% of this student provided feedback is incorrect!”

So how can we do it well?  I’m not great at it but these are things that I have been learning.

1) Give students a simple set of criteria and a simple scoring system. 

You may need to ditch the levels for a while.  If for example you are assessing speaking could you assess various aspects of it, e.g: confidence, pronunciation, intontation etc.  Score each one out of 5 to keep life easy or 4 if your school is not facing OFSTED.

2) Teach them how to identify levels

If using levels then make sure they know that the need multiple examples of tenses to get higher levels.  Ditch the sub-levels for a while.  Make sure that they know what the verbs are.  I find this is the most difficult bit.

3) Don’t let them get away with minimalist contributions or comments. 

Last year, I remember one student wrote “good use of connectives”, the only issue was that they had no idea what else to write.  There was also not a single connecting word in the piece of work!  Students need a checklist of things to work through.

4) 2 stars and a wish is not always practical.

Make sure that if peers are asked to give positive and negative comments (or areas of improvement) then they do as many as they can.  I find sometimes that 2 stars is a bit of a stretch.

5) Don’t give it to the person next to them.

Shake things up a little.  Get them to hand their books to someone completely different.  Even insist they do not look at the name on the front.  They’re more likely to write honest feedback if they don’t know who they are writing for.  Also helps to avoid numerous hearts, flowers, declarations of affection and all sorts of teenage artwork gracing your exercise books.