Odd expression really isn’t it. I can’t think any nice ways to skin a cat. In fact, I can’t think of any reasons why I would skin a cat. Was cat fur a vital resource at some point. Why think of more than one way of skinning a cat. Surely none of them are pleasant.
Anyway, marking as Joe Kirby has said on several occasions is a hornet’s nest . It is high effort, for relative low impact and we must focus on butterflies. Things that are relatively low effort, but high impact.
Of course he’s right, he often is, but for many of us abandoning marking would result in a long walk to the dole queue. So what can we do about the problem of marking. Well, first we have to work outwards from the fact that huge bodies of research have shown that feedback is one of the single most effective strategies in the teacher’s locker. Then we have to accept that red pen, book marking may not be the most effective method, but it is often a requirement of our roles as teachers.
Over time, we may be able to change the landscape of expectations around schools- I’ve heard of schools where teachers mark every piece of work every day- but in the mean time here are 5 of the 10 strategies I have used in my classroom to mark quickly for high impact.
- Live marking
As the students are working, you can either walk around and mark their work, or you stay at your desk and have the students come to you. If you stay seated there will be a time cost, but you will be able to monitor behaviour far more easily.
This is best applied to tasks which will take a full lesson or longer, as you will likely not get through all of the class in a single lesson. As methods go, it requires excellent pre-teaching and a good intuition that they’ve ‘got’ the idea of the task.
What’s great about live marking is that by the end of the two lesson cycle, your third lesson, DIRT, is ready to go. It also means you can go home, and see the people you love, or at least those you tolerate lovingly . Win-win.
2. Paired writing
One way in which to reduce your marking workload by half, particularly earlier on in the term when students are feeling less confident is to have them construct a paragraph in pairs. This works best with analytical writing, and needs careful explanation. The students MUST, and you will need to emphasises this, must argue about the wording. Yes, argue. If they do not, they will miss an opportunity to explain why one idea needs ‘hedging’ or another idea needs explaining fully.
How you pair the students is entirely up to you, but it is important that you think carefully about ability and existing relationships. The students also need to be embedded in how to perform the task, what for example is hedging, when should they use it.
A few difficulties with this idea is that it may not pass a stringent marking walk, or equivalent. Also unless you are very exacting with your monitoring you don’t know which student misunderstand which idea. It is best used judiciously, and I maybe only use it once or twice a year.
3. Dialogue marking- Question marking
Suggested by my colleague, Marie Maloney. Very similar to ‘T target marking.’ You give all students the same quotation to write about, after annotating the extract (together or separately depending on the needs of the class.) From there you simply prepare a series of questions they will most likely need to have answered to have dealt fully with this question. Once you take the work in, you quickly scan for a question they have no answered and add the appropriate code (Q3.)
This involves knowing common errors with the particular quote, and text as a whole. It also involves superb knowledge of procedural knowledge errors. Without this, it is basically just another way of formatting T targets and does not add the depth that their analysis needs, or reflection that creative writing requires.
4. Focused marking.
After a sequence of lessons, share a criteria with the students. You then take in as many or as few books as you feel fit. Only mark for the criteria you have shared. In fact at times it may be useful to mark only parts of that criteria. Be it, the parts that are closest to being learnt or those elements in which the largest number of students are struggling- use your judgement.
Many people spend an inordinate amount of time marking every single detail. For the most part students will not learn by you correcting every red mark on their books. Try to live by the rule, ‘my marking should result in more effort by them than me.’
5. Quiz based marking.
This fits nicely with the above. Say for example, you’ve given a writing task which requires students to use the four front loaded phrase types you’ve just taught: adverbial, adjective,participle and prepositional. The students write a lovely story in which they attempt to use these sentence types. You could take their books in and spend an evening looking for these sentences. Alternatively, you could create a quiz which tests their knowledge of these sentences. In four quick quiz questions you can estabilish if the students can identify an adverb,participle, adjective, and preposition. If 17 of 20 can’t do an adverbial phrase, chances our they’ve not used that in their writing. Re-teach it and ask them to re-write two sentences using an adverbial phrase. Of the remaining 3, one student got the question about participles wrong and another prepositional. Again re-teach and ask them to use in their writing. The remaining student got all four questions correct, and you will need to think of a challenge task, possibly relating to difficult sentence types.
There is a small chance that a student will be able to answer all four quiz questions correctly, and not have used them in their writing BUT the effort you’ve been saved will help them have a better teacher today. So they WILL benefit eventually and more importantly, you’ve caught a lot of fish in your big net, so relax.
Equally, there is a small chance that a student will have used a sentence, but got the relating quiz question wrong. This student will tell you about this…almost always. Again, this is not a perfect method, but to increase the amount of purposeful marking you’re doing. It’s not a bad idea.
Again, I’ve not used this idea often but it comes highly recommended from a colleague and I’ve used it to some success this year.