Marking and its importance is the subject of much discussion between teachers and those who monitor educational performance.
Marking with the provision of effective feedback is considered to be worthwhile but marking for its own sake is generally seen as a waste of valuable time. And yet, because teachers are too busy to provide timely and effective feedback they often find ourselves ‘flicking and ticking’ so that students feel that their work is valued and don’t become demotivated.
Feedback has obvious implications for students because it lets them know where they might have gone wrong and how to get it right or how to extend their skills and knowledge bases further. Providing feedback also has advantages for teachers because the process helps them to clarify the position of a student and plan next steps.
Feedback should be timely, as well as accurate and relevant. Also, opportunities to act on the feedback are essential if it is to have any impact. Ideally, student work should be assessed between lessons, but very few teachers have time for this. Intervals between the marking of exercise books of two or three weeks are far from uncommon and in some schools, the expectation is simply that books are marked every half term. While such a policy may temporarily lift some of the workload from teachers, it can be daunting to open a student exercise book eventually and find a thick sheaf of pages that need your close attention… especially when it’s the first one on the pile!
One solution to this problem might well be to be more selective about what is marked in detail. If a teacher does embark on a thorough marking session and finds themselves writing the same feedback comments repeatedly, then that is clearly an inefficient use of time. Before embarking on such an exercise, it might be wise to check the exercise books of a small number of well-chosen students to see if there are common misconceptions to be addressed. This can then be done with the whole class and another similar assessment task can then be given.
There are also strategies that can be employed to support students to carry out self and peer assessment, but even this must be monitored to ensure that it is effective, and still, intervention may be needed. Nevertheless, for certain assessment tasks where the correct outcomes are clear, and mistakes are relatively easy to identify, self and peer assessment can be very useful and can engender valuable discussions between students.
Yet another way might be to use a computer-based package to provide instant scores and feedback. However, there are dangers here. If students can get to the correct answer simply by clicking on each answer in turn until they get to the right one, then it is likely that little or no learning will take place. The package must provide a formative rather than a summative experience for the student if it is to be successful.
So, what would a good computer-based package look like?
- The question writers must anticipate student misconceptions and be prepared to address and challenge them.
- Feedback must be thorough and immediate.
- Assessments must be constructed in such a way as to allow feedback to be applied immediately.
- It must provide detailed and accurate feedback to the teacher to help them plan interventions and next steps.
If you are using a computer-based package does it meet these standards?
Can such a package, even a good one, replace the teacher or reduce their marking to zero? The answer to this question is obviously NO. What a good package can do, however, is free up time so that teachers can concentrate on extending their students so that progress can become rapid. That is what we aspire to achieve here at EzyEducation.
Mark Simpson is the Science Course Leader at EzyEducation. With over 30 years of teaching science behind him, most recently as Head of Science at The Wavell School in Farnborough for more than a decade, he has overseen the development of our EzyScience courses. These are being used up and down the country by schools and colleges keen to increase the level of formative assessment completed by their students whilst relieving teacher workload.