A photo on a tweet by Tim Taylor earlier resonated with me after a conversation I’d had at the end of the day. I was busy marking, when someone casually remarked “I bet you find that really boring, marking book after book. Still, at least it’s done. Then you won’t have to do any work at home tonight, will you?” I had the usual conversation about what us teachers get up to of an evening, and then resumed my marking of my pile of books. This conversation, alongside the “markolepsy” photo (which did make me chuckle, don’t get me wrong!) really hit a nerve – do I get bored of marking? Do I resent doing it? Surprisingly, I don’t think I do – this year.
There are times when the marking pile seems to get so high, it looks in danger of toppling over. This is usually when I have got behind and there are several pieces to mark: that’s when marking becomes demoralising. When I have a few days’ worth to do and each book seems to take forever, that’s when I start putting it off. I have to confess, there have been times at the end of the year when I have frantically raced through history and geography books, even science ones, trying to get to the end of them in time for the end of the year. I’m not proud of that, and every year I have sworn “never again”. Well, this year I may have cracked it. I am approaching a mammoth marking time – we provide detailed comments at the end of topics and we are just reaching the end of a double history topic, but I’m really looking forward to marking them. I know the children have really enjoyed the activities we have done, and they have (mostly) done them well. We have done lots of practical activities and others which have involved thinking skills, so I have lots to comment on. Discussions, group work, written work: there’s a real variety. I know from my literacy and maths marking that the children this year have been trained well to read what I write, and to respond to it, so my marking has a real purpose. Surely that’s what it’s all about? In my maths and literacy marking, the purpose is to develop their skills and to help them to make progress. In science too, there are transferrable skills which can be commented on and developed for the next topic. In many of the other subjects, such as history and geography, art and DT, there may be skills used which may not be revisited again this year. So should I be commenting on these in great detail on their cover sheets? For me, yes, I will make some skills-based comments. But it’s also an opportunity for celebration. My history and geography books have far more in them already this year than I have ever had before. They have always been something of a weakness for me. But this year, largely thanks to the resources from Key Stage History, I am really proud of what they have achieved. I know that some of them aren’t going to be as neat as I would like. In some cases, their recording is not as accurate as I would have liked either, but I know I can make meaningful comments about the contributions they have made to the lessons. We are in the process of moving towards a more topic-based curriculum. As far as I know, discussions haven’t taken place about the way we are going to record this work – subject specific books or theme based books – but I hope we go down the theme route, so the children can produce something they are proud of. It is so much more encouraging to spend hours marking something you know the children have taken care and time over and are looking forward to taking home to show their family. I take great pride in their pride, and enjoy seeing their enjoyment. It makes marking all the more worthwhile. We have to get the balance right – are we marking for the children? For Ofsted? For the parents? Or for our own benefit? If we get the balance right and know that what we write has real purpose and value (and I think we are getting there!), then the task of marking becomes a far less onerous one.