The fetish of marking

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Even the most valuable fetishes will turn into dusts and ashes!
Mehmet Murat Ildan

Fetishism hasn’t always been about rubber and high heels. The word originates from the Portuguese feitico, meaning an object or charm of false power. When explorers first encountered native religions in West Africa, whatever talismans or totems the locals revered were dismissed as fetishes.

A fetish has since come to mean an object or practice onto which power has been displaced from the original source. Marking seems a good example. At the most basic level, marking is a totemic symbol for the power of feedback. What we want is for students to receive feedback on how to improve, so we do marking in the hope that it provides feedback. But it goes further than that; marking also stands for hard work, professionalism, caring, motivation and all manner of other desirable outcomes. But is marking the best way to get these things?

Ask any roomful of teachers if their marking load has increased in the last five years and you’ll be deafened by the grumbling. Effective marking is time-consuming. Increasingly there’s an expectation that teachers should be prepared to give up every evening and weekend in order to keep marking up to do date. I think there’s something very wrong with this.

Dr Becky Allen, director of Education Datalab, suggests there may be some benefit to schools outsourcing marking; she says outsourcing is cheap, reliable and would go some way to alleviating teachers’ crippling workload. But from the torrents of abuse showered on the suggestion, you could be forgiven for thinking she’d actually recommended that children should be ritually dismembered. I can sympathise. I got much the same response when I wrote about a school which employed a team of homework markers.

First up to bat was the general secretary of the ASCL, Brian Lightman. He said:

Marking of pupils’ work is an integral part of the professional duties of a teacher. Whilst we would agree that technology can, in appropriate cases be used to process some assessments, I would have serious concerns about outsourcing routine marking. Teachers need to see pupils’ work themselves so that they can fully understand the degree to which their pupils have understood what has been taught. Schools must be resourced adequately to provide them with the time to do this.

On the face of it this seems measured, but the underlying assumption that marking is, always has been and always should be ‘integral’ to a teacher’s professionalism is curious. I have three questions about this assumption:

  1. Does all work need to be marked by the classroom teacher?
  2. Do teachers actually need to see pupils’ work for themselves in order to fully understand how well teaching has been understood?
  3. Do teachers actually need to understand – fully or otherwise – how well teaching has been understood?

You may think the answer to each question is a resounding YES, but I’m not so sure. There are many parts of the world where teachers spend far less time marking and students’ results are at least as good (or in many cases significantly better.) Dylan Wiliam says,

In most Anglophone countries, teachers spend the majority of their lesson preparation time in marking books, almost invariably doing so alone. In some other countries, the majority of lesson preparation time is spent planning how new topics can be introduced, which contexts and examples will be used, and so on. This is sometimes done individually or with groups of teachers working together. In Japan, however, teachers spend a substantial proportion of their lesson preparation time working together to devise questions to use in order to find out whether their teaching has been successful (Fernandez & Makoto, 2004).

So with that in mind, here are some brief answers to the question raised above:

  1. We already accept that students produce some work which class teachers shouldn’t mark. The marking of most summative, externally validated examinations is already outsourced. And the expectation that teachers should mark coursework and controlled assessment has always seemed little more than a way for exam boards to cut costs. But if the bulk of students’ work has been accurately and efficiently marked by someone else, this would leave teachers free to spend their time on something potentially more productive. Hell, it might even allow them an evening or weekend off once in a while!
  2. Whilst we may want to argue that teachers need to understand how pupils are grappling with tricky concepts, there seems little justification for requiring teachers to wade through exercise books to find this evidence for themselves. The sort of marking Dr Allen advocates provides teachers with a summary of pupils’ progress and misconceptions. As longers teachers are aware of the impact of teaching, there’s little actual value in the hours it takes to mark the books themselves.
  3. If you accept that learning is invisible, then the picture presented in pupils’ books will only provide evidence of performance. Were we to put the effort into producing a curriculum which spaced and interleaved the troublesome threshold concepts of our subjects then misconceptions become predicatable and performance data misleading. If we’re serious about long-term retention and transfer between contexts, regular marking might actually get in the way.

But of course we’re not simply interested in understanding how our pupils are doing. Marking also builds relationships; it is motivational. So, scratch everything I’ve said so far, right? Wrong. Just cos marking can result in motivation, doesn’t mean it will; it doesn’t mean classroom teachers have to do it in order for it to be motivational, and it certainly doesn’t mean marking is the only or even the best way to motivate students.

This table shows just how easy it is for marking to result in demotivated students:

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 10.34.32

All too often the time we spend loving crafting well-intentioned comments results in students aiming lower, giving up, or deciding not to make the same effort.

Now, just to be clear, I don’t really think marking is a bad thing, but I do think it comes at an appalling cost to teachers’ well-being. The fact that very many teachers seem reluctant to cast off their shackles shows the extent to which we’ve imbued marking with magical powers and superstitious awe. Teachers probably do need to mark some work, if only so they understand the process of assessment, but I don’t think the practice needs to be nearly so onerous or widespread. Marking is only a proxy for what we actually want. Let’s put away childish fetishes and think about where the power really lies.

To this end, I’m taking part in a research project with Leeds Beckett University and Wakefield Regional Teaching School Alliance which has as its aim prioritising teachers’ well-being whilst finding ways to mark and give feedback as quickly, efficiently and effectively as possible. I’ll tell you more in due course…

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

2015-05-10T14:49:34+00:00April 30th, 2015|assessment, myths|


  1. chrismwparsons April 30, 2015 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    I desperately want to go with you on this, and might well think about how far I can go with the idea in more detail, however…

    … It actually seems to sit somewhere in my head alongside ‘you can just Google knowledge when you need it’. The skill of the expert teacher draws on implicit knowledge.

    When I mark a pupil’s work, I draw on implicit knowledge of that pupil to guide where I focus, how I evaluate and how I feed back.

    When I teach a child, I draw on implicit knowledge of independent work they have done – including the things I saw, but didn’t choose to highlight during the marking process.

    Aside from ‘have they learnt the main learning objective or not’ – which I accept is harder to assess than we’d like to imagine, you gain a lot of insight about the strengths and weaknesses of a child from looking at their work. For example – I noticed recently that a few of my pupils were putting ‘of’ instead of ‘have’ (as in ‘could of’) and so I decided to briefly discuss in class why it was wrong, but why people think it’s right. Teachers grab small, incidental learning opportunities like this all the time.

    If I was going to be able to inject as much insight into how someone else marked, and then also derive as much feedback to myself from someone else’s marking, then it would actually take me longer than just marking the damn things.

    Ultimately, assuming that we DO want to gain insight into how pupils are doing, and we DO want to give carefully nuanced feedback that pupils act on, and we DO want to show that we care and understand them etc. then the right kind of marking has to be one of the most compact and efficient tools a teacher has to deliver all these things.

    How about if you were told we were responsible for teaching some children, but you weren’t allowed to mark their books – what emotions would that create within you…?

    • David Didau April 30, 2015 at 1:18 pm - Reply

      You’re right to say that it’s useful to know that children are writing ‘of’ instead of ‘have’, but this is a great example of something which is utterly predictable. Even my own daughters do this! If as a teacher we’re surprised by these kinds of misconceptions something has gone badly wrong.

      But more importantly, why do we ned to mark books in order to see this? As long as someone has marked the books and reported the problems to us, we get the same effect, no?

      And hopefully no one would ever actively prevent a teacher from marking, would they? Obviously, that would be the height of folly. I’m not arguing teachers shouldn’t mark books, just that they shouldn’t have to mark so much.

      • chrismwparsons April 30, 2015 at 2:47 pm - Reply

        Thanks David – I think I’m with you on the general spirit of your last point.

        I agree that my of/have example was quite predictable – it didn’t particularly startle me – but it’s one of those things I would never put on a plan to strategically teach children unless something had made it seem particularly pertinent at that time. You are right that somebody else could feed that back to me for me to act on if required.

        But how would they judge what to feed back to a particular child – or at least how to nuance their focus during the marking? I find it hard to picture a system that is fully useful in the long-term for the student without making as much work as it saves.

        …But there are definitely different kinds of marking – done for different purposes – based on very different kinds of tasks – in different subjects – at different times. So who knows… maybe I’ll become a champion of this…?!

        • David Didau April 30, 2015 at 3:14 pm - Reply

          You’re right. The point is not to stop marking altogether – that would be a bit mad – but to do a bit less of it. Outsourcing offers one potential solution which could be considered amongst a suite of other ideas.

          • Leah @LearntSchool April 30, 2015 at 4:38 pm

            Great post David and I’m with Chris on there being room for a huge amount of imagination on marking IF the individual teacher is in control of which methods are used.

            What if, for example, a teacher declares that they’ll only mark or give feedback on work their students ask them to look at? This may bring a wave of insights that compulsory homework/marking is missing, plus reduce the volume while increasing the satisfaction of both the students and teacher.

            Here’s an insight: Students are feeling guilty at the level of work our teachers must mark. For a certain type of marking, deemed necessary by the teacher, outsourcing would have the so far un-discussed advantage of reducing the feeling students have of ‘always being in the way’ of teachers enjoying life. Think of how empty it feels to pour yourself into homework that is ultimately piled amongst 30 similar pieces and looked at because the teacher is obliged to work after hours and is therefore becoming exhausted and irritable. This is not great from a student perspective, or any perspective!

            In summary: ‘school as usual’ is making important people -students & teachers- feel pretty crap about themselves. great to see new approaches being discussed… I’d just like to know that the power to decide which approaches to use, and when, is ultimately in the hands of the teacher.

  2. TheOtherDrX April 30, 2015 at 12:43 pm - Reply

    Keep up and get in the 21st century! Manual marking is so yesterday.
    Just received this on autamation of essays through Turnitin. Webcast is today (30th April) at 5pm.
    (A little part of me has just died…)

    • Tom Burkard April 30, 2015 at 1:19 pm - Reply

      Using essays as the primary means of assessment is a particularly British fetish, as is our scorn for machine-scored tests which are used extensively in other countries. The latter accurately predict performance on essays and absorb far less classroom time–and of course they eliminate marking altogether. Machine-scored tests are the antithesis of personalised learning, which no doubt accounts for educators’ reluctance to use them.

      However, I sometimes wonder if we’re all living in the same world. It has been a few years since I taught, and the following excerpt from the Guardian is almost ten years old. But I seriously doubt that things have improved that much recently:

      “In relation to the GCSE candidates’ general standard of writing, as a part-time lecturer at a university, I had already become aware that many undergraduate students had abysmal reading and writing skills. However, even that did not prepare me for the written skills of your average GCSE candidate. The handwriting, most of the time, resembled that of a five-year-old toddler or a drunk (grotesquely sim-ple or an illegible scrawl). A lack of basic punctuation, such as full stops, commas, capital letters etc, was commonplace. There were countless inarticulate, immature sentences, which did not make any sense to the reader.”

  3. benjaminjevans April 30, 2015 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    “Ask any roomful of teachers if their marking load has increased in the last five years and you’ll be deafened by the grumbling. Effective marking is time-consuming. Increasingly there’s an expectation that teachers should be prepared to give up every evening and weekend in order to keep marking up to do date.”

    Is this true? If so, why has the marking load increased? Does such an ‘expectation’ really exist? Being deafened by the grumbling of hypothetical teachers is not a strong argument for change.

    • David Didau April 30, 2015 at 1:14 pm - Reply

      It is true, yes. Marking load has increased because of the belief that ‘feedback is the most powerful intervention teachers can make’ and that marking books = giving feedback. I’ve written before critiquing feedback here:

      But more seriously, you picked out a single strand of my argument and concluded that just because teachers grumble about their workload we shouldn’t do anything in response. This attitude is very much part of the problem. The expectation that teachers should sacrifice their home lives on the altar of meeting minimum professional requirements is immoral and unsustainable. We’re currently experiencing a shortfall of around 30,000 teachers and more and more leave the profession every year. This is much more than “the grumbling of some hypothetical teachers”.

      • benjaminjevans April 30, 2015 at 2:07 pm - Reply

        I didn’t conclude we should do nothing – I questioned whether it was true that marking load had increased, and if so, why? I also questioned whether such an ‘expectation’ existed, and for every evening and weekend? For something to be an expectation, it has to be expected by someone – who? Parents? Managers? The teachers themselves? Teacher shortage is an issue, but there are other factors (money, behaviour, status) that IMO exacerbate this problem far more than hours spent marking. ‘Teachers sacrificing their home lives on the alter…’ is a little too emotive for me, but maybe it’s an issue about which you feel more strongly.

        • David Didau April 30, 2015 at 2:23 pm - Reply

          Ben, maybe the expectations are very different at Oundle. It is the lived experience of huge numbers of state school teachers that their marking load has increased. Workload massively outweighs behaviour and pay as the reason people give for quitting and wanting to quit teaching. Even Nicky Morgan acknowledges this as a fact. For the most part the expectation has come from Ofsted. Quite understandably, school leaders then kick the dog. It is an issue about which I feel strongly; what we accept becomes acceptable and it’s past time to resist some of the unreasonable workload pressures.

          • benjaminjevans April 30, 2015 at 2:46 pm

            In that case I have nothing much to offer by way of expertise or comment, given that I have very little knowledge of the workings of Ofsted. I don’t think teachers in general work harder either in the state or independent sectors, though if workload is seen to be unmanageable to a far greater extent in one sector, something must have gone wrong.

          • David Didau April 30, 2015 at 3:12 pm

            Right – this isn’t – or shouldn’t – be about who’s working harder. That just adds fuel to the macho teacher narrative.

            Something has, in my opinion, gone wrong and Ofsted is at least partly responsible.

          • teachwell April 30, 2015 at 6:47 pm

            benjaminjevans that you have indeed missed something. Having taught for the last ten years the workload has gone from a couple of evenings and maybe half a day on the weekend to every evening and the whole of at least one if not both days of the weekend. Similarly holidays just seem to be a chance to catch up on everything you did not have time to do except that it is really your only chance to rest.

            The problem is that effective (or quality marking as we called it) was recommended by EEF and then Ofsted. The actual recommendations which do not state the amount of effective feedback at all was interpreted as marking every single piece of work in the books with a comment and next steps (sometimes with examples for example in numeracy). Different coloured pens and highlighters have had to be used as well as children responding to marking – again with a different coloured pen.

            My workload in the last two years went up exponentially. I always marked the children’s work each day prior to all this but it went from taking between half an hour maybe each night to at least 2 or 3. That meant that I never planned after school anymore – that had to be done at the weekends when I had time.

            Even photographs had to be marked with a next step and so doing practical lessons (where before would have been sufficient for me to make observations on my planning) not had to be added in. I stopped writing on my planning as I simply did not have the time.

            Verbal feedback had to be written down to prove that it had been given.

            Nightmare and I don’t miss it one bit. I left because actually I don’t think anyone should have to work twice their paid hours just to be considered competent in their role.

            I’m in the private sector at the moment and despite the insecurity of my current job situation monumentally less stressful than working as a teacher.

    • barefoottutor April 30, 2015 at 4:18 pm - Reply

      During an observation feedback with the acting deputy head at my school last term, I was told that I didn’t mark enough and that everything in the student’s books should be ‘marked’- if oral feedback is given there should be a ‘my teacher said’ sticker filled in by the student. This despite the fact that my results are regularly the best in the department (English). I know that some of the NQTs in my department slavishly at least ‘flick and tick’ everything. It’s a waste of time and expertise, as is having to set homework every week at KS3. Ofsted fuelled nonsense. Time better spent is on using focussed marking to then plan. As one student said to me recently ‘the best teachers are those who clearly enjoy their job. You can tell which ones don’t and it makes you not want to try your best for them.’ Of course, he’s absolutely correct. Ironically, and unbeknown to the students, things beyond the control of teachers, things supposedly designed to improve teaching, only disempower and increase workload, conspiring to make us enjoy our jobs less and thereby become less effective teachers.

  4. Andrew Sabisky April 30, 2015 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    There’s also an argument for assigning less homework. I think it’s too easy to use homework as a crutch for poor teaching. You can do whatever in class and the kids do the actual work at home. The problem is that you aren’t there to supervise it being done. The inefficiency is obvious. Do more drill and kill in class and the kids can have the night off, assuming their performance is satisfactory.

    NB I think this works better for maths, Latin, & sciences than it does for say English or history.

    Also NB this is all just based on a hunch, and is not one of my unarguably evidenced opinions

  5. debrakidd April 30, 2015 at 7:40 pm - Reply

    I’m loathe to comments since I don’t have to mark any more and I have my evenings to idle away on twitter, but I always really loved the relationships that emerged from my marking. Not just with the kids, but with parents at parent’s evenings who would comment on my comments. And I can’t imagine how I would have given effective verbal feedback to pupils if I hadn’t seen their written work. I think this is perhaps particularly true as an English teacher. BUT it was partly the marking that drove me insane. No-one should be working 15 hour days and most of the weekend. And that’s what it took. So I completely agree that something should be done.

    I think there are two strands which might help – stopping the unrealistic expectations of marking work to the spurious deadlines of SMT and following those ridiculous triple marking policies. And secondly, seriously considering reducing the contact time that a teacher has (or class sizes). While the impact of reducing class sizes has not made it up the EEF scale, that research was done before the marking frenzy began. And in terms of costing, it is surely more expensive to be training up new teachers to replace those fleeing in their droves largely due to workload.

    I’d have hated to hand my books over to someone else. But that’s easy for me to say now I’m out of the classroom.

    • David Didau April 30, 2015 at 7:47 pm - Reply

      Hi Debra – I know what you mean about the relationship built up through marking but I’m just not sure this is the only, or the best way of achieving this end. The instance on more and more marking in ever greater detail requiring increasingly ludicrous numbers of coloured pens shows, I think, a failure of imagination.

      The investment required to reduce class sizes seems very likely to materialise in the climate of cuts all the political parties are signed up to enforce, so the answer is either, change the ‘unrealistic expectations’ and ‘spurious deadlines’ you cite or outsource to someone else. It’s not that I think outsourcing isn’t without issues, it’s just preferable to widescale burnout and a mass exodus out of the profession.

      • Leah @LearntSchool May 1, 2015 at 9:06 am - Reply

        Hey there Debra & David, I find the class size discussion an odd one. Some teachers will thrive best giving one to one or one to two training- maybe in 30 to 60 minute slots/or personal email coaching… other teachers would be fully drained with one to one teaching as they become energized and better teachers in front of huge crowds: a room of 100+ and a 10 minute presentation recorded and shared with 1000+ students. Some teachers require more intimate smaller groups 10-30 student to thrive. There is no ideal class size because we are all different, including teachers. Finally, who says students need to be in the same room to be in the same class any more? What if we are holding onto an outdated belief (based on lack of technical infrastructure before 20 years ago) that is now limiting our students and teachers?

  6. steve April 30, 2015 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    A colleague has spent many (many!) hours producing multiple choice quizzes for his GCSE and A level classes on almost every topic that he teaches.

    Students complete them as homework (I believe the questions are presented to students in a random order with answer options shuffled too). Students get instant feedback (some now produce hyperlinks to websites, videos etc. explaining the topic again if the student gets something wrong or clarifying the misconception) and he gets feedback about misconceptions at individual student level and also at class level.

    This only works with great question design (especially writing great ‘incorrect’ answer choices to capture the key misconceptions) and is most appropriate for key facts but it frees up his time to mark other work (essays etc.) more carefully and has aided his work/life balance a lot.

    For me this is a win for everyone (other than the set-up time costs!)

  7. Frank April 30, 2015 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    Interesting stuff,a s always David. I still think many of the things you wrote here (eg marking is planning) hold water

  8. Hugo kerr May 1, 2015 at 7:37 am - Reply

    This sits very closely with your previous blog on homework. What we call education these days seems to have become a grinding, measurement-driven source of dangerous levels of stress for teacher and pupil alike. There is an excellent case for looking into how much time is being wasted and how many moments of peace and discovery lost. Time for a re-blog?

  9. Steve Hunt May 1, 2015 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    This is a very interesting post. I work in HE, and we are under different pressures associated with setting and marking assignments which I will not go into here. However, I have two children in school.

    I find myself wondering why it was not considered appropriate for me to be given homework when I was at primary school, except in year 6 when I got one small piece per week, but both of my children were given homework from Key Stage 1 onwards and the amount increased in every year. My daughter is stressed and depressed because of the sheer quantity of assessed work she gets to do (she’s in year 11) and my son (year 6) is not looking forward to secondary school. They are both bright and capable, but the effect of all the homework has been to demotivate them. And the expectation that they will move forward at the same pace in all their subjects is a killer too.

    I was shocked when I first saw my daughter’s exercise books at primary school. Every page with an identified Learning Outcome. Every page marked by the teacher. “What’s wrong with that?” you may say. The problem is that we’re slicing and dicing knowledge into tiny quanta, and assessing each of these quanta separately. Of course it keeps the marking manageable, and it helps to satisfy Ofsted that we are keeping track of students’ progression, but it sends totally the wrong message about learning. Modular GCSEs and A Levels tend to reinforce this. And when students reach HE they cannot cope with the idea that they should be able to remember and apply what we taught them last year.

    But what does this have with the blog post? The issues are inextricably linked. If we slice and dice and have to provide ‘evidence’ that students are progressing after each ‘learning opportunity’ we are drawn into getting them to provide written evidence of everything they do, and marking It. So we set them homework after every one or two lessons. Just a tiny bit, but a tiny bit in every subject soon adds up to an awful lot. Besides, if teachers of subject x set homework then teachers of subject y have to set it, or else the students don’t work on subject y. So we end up in an inter-subject arms race. And if we don’t set and mark homework, how can we keep track of our students?

    My son is well ahead of his contemporaries in mathematics, and is ready to tackle work that most of them won’t be able to handle until year 9 or year 10, but he’s going to have to go through all those homework hoops alongside them, because the teacher will need to show evidence of his progress at each little step. My point? All of this setting and marking of work is counter-productive. It demotivates both the strong and the weak students, and it makes teachers’ jobs more of a grind than they should be. And replacing it with machine-marked multiple-choice tests really only addresses the problem from the perspective of the teacher’s workload.

    The crucial differences between the state and independent sectors are resourcing and ‘accountability’. The per capita funding for state school students is a fraction of that available in the independent sector, and independent schools are not subject to the whims of the DfE and Ofsted to anything like the extent that state-funded schools are (and yes, that includes academies, free schools and UTCs). So independent schools can afford to buy more kit and to employ more staff, and they have far greater freedom in how and what they teach, and in how they monitor progress. This doesn’t mean that state school teachers work any harder than their colleagues in independent schools, or that they care any more or any less for their pupils. Some do, some don’t. What it does mean is that teachers in the state sector are on a treadmill that is not of their own making in a way that teachers in the independent sector are not.

    I’m not saying there’s a magic solution, because there isn’t. But extra resources, better support, and trust in teachers’ professionalism would go an awful long way towards solving these problems.

    • David Didau May 2, 2015 at 10:53 am - Reply

      Thanks Steve – really appreciate you taking the time to comment at such length. Intuitively I think you’re right about the tendency to ‘slice & dice’; we’re definitely not doing kids any in favours in the way we think about progress as a smooth, arithmetic line of improvement. Have you read any Robert Seigler? His book Emerging Minds suggests an ‘overlapping waves’ metaphor as an alternative way of conceptualising progress.

  10. wfberkhof May 1, 2015 at 6:08 pm - Reply

    I’m always a bit baffled by the whole marking culture in the UK. Here in Holland the vast majority of teachers do not mark their pupil’s workbooks ever.

    The amount of homework pupils have to do is also quite limited compared to the UK.

    So more free time for Dutch pupils and a lot more free time for Dutch teachers.

    And somehow Dutch pupils score just fine on all international tests.

    Now personally I believe that good quality feedback is king. How do I know what to provide feedback on when I don’t even mark? I give regular formative tests digitally (via socrative for instance). This gives me an excellent overview of what my pupils are struggling with both as a group and individually.

    Now I am not saying that marking is a bad thing it definitely has it benefits. However when you look at how cost effective it is (learning progress/hours spend), it scores really low.

    • David Didau May 2, 2015 at 10:24 am - Reply

      I’d really like to get a clear picture of how teachers in other countries give feedback. There are barriers with edtech solutions like Socrative – isn’t there a potential opportunity cost here too?

  11. Gerald Haigh (@geraldhaigh1) May 1, 2015 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    Not much mention of technology here. Nor of flipped learning (which is surely respectable now, having got over the problem with the word ‘flipped’) The many teachers I’ve talked to about this all emphasise that it’s the feedback that matters, not so much the mark and comment in the book, and it’s here where technology can help.

    • David Didau May 2, 2015 at 10:25 am - Reply

      I’m sure technology can help, but it’s never quite as helpful as teachers might like. Sometimes it’s just quicker and easier to get a pen out.

  12. Chris May 2, 2015 at 11:23 am - Reply

    Great post, great topic. I don’t like marking. But even though I don’t like it, sometimes needs to be done. In my opinion, pressure to mark is closely connected to a certain interpretation of feedback being king. Paired with a student-centered approach and, in my view, lowered appreciation of teachers’ professionalism and authority, means ‘we’ (I think it’s in PE, SE, FE, HE) have to ‘account’ for our judgments. I think it would be better if all of this would be less, overall. So no outsourcing, just do less summative assessments. At a diagnostic level students can perfectly do it themselves just as long as it’s clear that if they don’t do it seriously, then that’s ‘their problem’.

    For the summative stuff you do do, I think it should not be outsourced. Not only is it insightful to know what students do, it also is a problem with regard to aforementioned ‘credibility’. Whether we like it or not, when we sign off on marks others have marked, there should also be the responsibility for it. I actually did an experiment like this, with a colleague doing some of my marking. He made some mistakes, caused problems with ‘accountability’.

    On different countries: that is a very interesting topic, probably TALIS tells us more. Must say I don’t recognize the ‘Dutch situation’. It’s hard to compare but anecdotally I see my kids certainly not getting as much homework in UK as in NL. One reason could actually be the use of textbooks.

    • Emanuela May 2, 2015 at 10:09 pm - Reply

      I was educated in a country where teachers have never marked any exercise books or homework. The only marking that ever took place during my entire education was that of very frequent summative tests.

      This country still manages to export many, many highly educated professionals to this country. Often, we find that our level of proficiency in the grammar and spelling of the English language is quite obviously higher than those of the native speakers educated here. As a teacher, this never fails to surprise me.

      What surprises me even more is my own inability to deliver the same outstanding education that I received to my students. This is simply because the threat of being sacked for not going along with the punishing marking routines that we call school policies is enough to make me spend 80% of my planning time pretending to give students “effective feedback”.

      The solution is obvious: the unions need to get involved, look at alternative systems and present them to the policy makers. The problem is that the unions are imbued with the need to show a “caring” attitude, which many of us still believe to be directly correlated to the profusion of red in books!

  13. […] We are held hostage by our superstitious belief in the mystical power of marking to cure all educational ills. It won’t. A teacher inscribing marks in students’ exercise books is every bit as mundane as it sounds; in my 15 years in the classroom it rarely resulted in much. But that’s not really why we mark. We mark because it’s the right thing to do. Because not marking is worse than marking. This is the marking fetish. […]

  14. […] The fetish of marking – David Didau: The Learning Spy. […]

  15. nappits1443 May 4, 2015 at 12:39 am - Reply

    To the teachers who insist on marking/working every evening and a substantial chunk of the weekend: you are undermining your colleagues and the profession as a whole. More than this, you are partly responsible for the (I guess numerous) head teachers who lean towards employing young childless teachers, who they know will be able to work all hours.
    Instead of complaining about the fifteen-hour days and twelve hours on Sunday, just don’t do it. Work hard, cut corners (not quality) and be brave enough to say: ‘these are the hours I’ve worked and this is the work I’ve done. If all that other work hasn’t been done, then that’s not my fault’.

  16. […] The fetish of marking 30th April 2015 […]

  17. […] We are held hostage by our superstitious belief in the mystical power of marking to cure all educational ills. It won’t. A teacher inscribing marks in students’ exercise books is every bit as mundane as it sounds; in my 15 years in the classroom it rarely resulted in much. But that’s not really why we mark. We mark because it’s the right thing to do. Because not marking is worse than marking. This is the marking fetish. […]

  18. […] 30th April – The fetish of marking […]

  19. joiningthedebate May 11, 2015 at 10:47 pm - Reply

    My present homework policy is this: During the week they have to revise 3 recently covered topics. Then at the start of the next week they get a 10-15min test. It is informal, marked by next lesson. Gone through and stuck into their books so that the marking police know that I am doing some marking. I also note their scores as percentages on a colour formatted spreadsheet. I was setting hwk on rcent topics having it handed in (or chasing it) then going through it etc and finally sticking it in. I changed my personal policy because of some lack of support and criticism from on high [but I won’t go into that].
    The beauty of the present system is i) I dont have to chase hwk. Any student who is abs just does the test the next lesson elsewhere when I am going through answers (and yes they do get some form of feedback later) ii) the feedback is quicker -usually the next lesson. iii) I am marking something that I now they have done alone, so my personal spreadsheet is very informative. With ‘homework’ I found that I was often marking group efforts or even parent answers so you end up with a load of data which is next to useless. I am aware that some students may not be revising at home – but let’s be honest, it is actually impossible to get written hwk from some students and the teacher ends up just loosing breaks and lunch getting them to do it for the sake of it. iv) for a long time I have set hwks (or now informal tests based on recent work – about 2 weeks ago. This encourages retention and allows for abs students who should have caught up with those topics by then.
    Their hwk is also to corrections to previous test. We would have been through it anyway. How do I check that this is done I hear you ask – I don’t Otherwise we are in the realms of triple marking. Finally in my favour – it is a bit arduous but I produce the sheets myself based on what i know I have done with them recently. Allowing for some cut and paste it’s actually easer sometimes than searching around for a pdf that doesn’t quite match what you want. To conclude with some humour (cynical of course). As soon as the management find out I have a workable system which I can just about keep up with, they’ll find some way of deeming it inconsistent with school policy. We can’t have something which is actually workable and useful can we!

  20. […] The more I think about the more marginal the benefits appear. Might display work be just another educational fetish? Are we perhaps mainly doing it to gull visitors into thinking, oh what a jolly school this must […]

  21. […] ‘The Fetish of Marking’ – David Didau writes typically skillfully about the issue of marking and he poses some […]

  22. […] include The Marking Frenzy by @TeacherToolkit, The Fetish of Marking by @LearningSpy and What if feedback wasn’t all it is cracked up to be? by @Andyphilipday. A quick […]

  23. What if… – proudtolearn June 19, 2016 at 10:38 pm - Reply

    […] relating to the pedagogical practice of teachers. Some have been approached on blogs before, (David Didau looks at a whole host of issues surrounding this topic), but the impact of some of these, no matter […]

  24. […] fundamentally flawed some people got upset. Similarly, when I changed my mind about SOLO taxonomy, cast doubt on the efficacy of marking and suggested that teachers should be allowed to talk for as long as is necessary, I’ve been […]

  25. […] the metaphor, I can’t help but see a correlation between the fetishisation of marking (read this from David Didau) and a teacher recruitment and retention crisis. If middle and senior leaders want […]

  26. […] the metaphor, I can’t help but see a correlation between the fetishisation of marking (read this from David Didau) and a teacher recruitment and retention crisis. If middle and senior leaders want […]

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