More matter with less art. Probably.

I am an inveterate procrastinator, particularly when it comes to marking. Over the past two and a bit terms I have attempted to continue running the English department while also working on the Leadership team, in charge of (pause for emphasis) ruddy marking. Note the intensifier there. See also: endless; dreary; thankless; overwhelming-to-the-point-of-burnout.
I do subscribe to the @learningspy school of marking, as shown here and have tweeted Mr D to gain permission to share his flow chart with our staff as a whole. I duly delivered my updated Assessment Policy last November with its shiny new approach to student response. I displayed examples of improvements that students had made, some of which still demonstrated a yawning learning gap, illustrating the need to monitor quality of responses to feedback. Staff nodded and three months later, the impact on students has been pretty minimal. Part of this is my lack of time spent really pushing the concept with staff, coupled with the opportunity cost of All The Things but I have recently realised there is something else going on, probably best described as PPPFFFT TEENAGERS.
Our students are super-diligent but unless explicitly directed and monitored, are super-vague about acting on feedback. They politely explain they will make improvements next time but freely admit how little they really remember to. So why aren’t staff making space? The interplay between PPPFFFT TEACHERS and workload arising from PPPFFFT SLT initiatives could mean we only end up marking for the other audiences; parents, inspectors and the like. This is not what I want to give up my Sunday afternoons for*. Having decided to wind up the SLT job early to concentrate on English full time again, it’s time for the Michael Jackson approach; taking a look at PPPFFFT ME.

Recent adventures in written assessment.

1) Year 10 mini-essay. Marked at speed but instead of repeating similar feedback on most, just wrote ‘see spreadsheet’. 5 key areas RAGGED and hey presto, my first experience of a PLC. If this is an acronym too far, I mean this sort of thing
Rest of lesson spent with them working to convince me one or more aspect was now green. Minimal effort for me, decent impact on progress. Plus, I happily avoided endless repetitions of the analysis mantra**.

2) Year 12 coursework. Proper old-school process: formal submission of first draft on which I spent ages scribbling detailed written feedback before standardising with a colleague. What was fascinating here was the absolute shambles I made of my handing back lesson. Total ineptitude by any measure then an early finish because I’d run out of pointless fillers and yet most students stopped to thank me on the way out.

3) Year 13 mocks. This year we went for broke and made them sit a January mock on a text we hadn’t actually studied. The method in this madness was to get a baseline assessment and ensure they all read at least the core text over the holidays, ideally the partner too. We made some appropriate concessions to offset the demands we placed on them, including giving them the broad question themes and letting them take their own annotated texts in. Once we had got past the moaning, what they produced was incredible. So much evidence of wider reading to ensure informed response. They had essentially researched the two themes in depth and in doing so, grasped far more than just the basics of plot and character. This puts them far ahead of the previous cohort at the same point and means that we have a clear action plan for focusing on two AOs in particular as we study the texts this term. I am stunned by how little content I needed to teach, having got the approach to testing right.

Three kinds of assessment with corners cut: Y10 work not deeply marked; Y12 lesson not fully planned; Y13 exam barely taught at all. Each one of these experiences was reactive to some extent, as much a product of circumstance as design but I am beginning to fall back in love with marking, after some time spent fighting the urge to become a martyr. Saint Kerrie of the nicely sharpened pencil. Oh and I have a new gimmick to push the urgency of student responses. I am swapping my ‘verbal feedback given’ stamp for something more demanding.


* I’m lying. It’s Sunday afternoon now and the marking is all the way downstairs
**Repeat after me: How? Why? In what ways?


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