Marking is Planning

We are about to start the next cycle of Teaching and Learning Communities at my school. Each community or group is looking at a different aspect of teaching and will help inform the future policy and practice around that area by carrying out small scale action research projects. They are mostly based around what we believe are the non-negotiables of a lesson (learning intentions, differentiation, questioning, AFL for in lesson intervention and plenaries), alongside two broader topics, namely Progress over Time and Marking is Planning. It is this last one that I’m facilitating and that I want to explore a bit.

I first came across the phrase in a post from David Didau – I think he coined it – and it hangs on the premise that marking to which students respond not only informs you and the student but also plans a chunk or entirety of a lesson. David talks about Dedicated Improvement and Reflection (DIRT) wherein students work on individually assigned and focussed questions and tasks. This helps reduce the problem of feedback that is never acted on by students, gives meaningful differentiation for every student in our classes and reduces the time involved in the feedback loop.

Most of the bloggers that have explored this are teachers of written subjects and for them the individually assigned task can be about redrafting based on feedback. I’m not sure that works in the same way in Maths – redo this problem based on my feedback? Maybe sometimes. Mostly though, I think it is about giving a directed, probing question that helps push my students thinking further and that begins a dialogue over time. There must be time built into lessons for students to respond to this feedback otherwise I have wasted time for no meaningful reason.

Possible ideas to support marking

Over the past few years, we have tried various methods to make our marking more effective. Some of these are great for certain topics and some don’t work as well for others. The marking needs to be speedy and, a concept I read about on this blog, needs to follow the x10 rule – it needs to produce a task for students that should take at least 10 times the amount of time I took to mark it.


I love my highlighter, almost as much as I love my post-its. Graphs, calculations, constructions … highlight errors and have students identify and correct them. This could be the scales on an axis or a sign error in a calculation. If it is repeated error then you could do one worked example and highlight the other occasions this error crops up. Having students to write what the error was and how they can avoid doing it in future has been really powerful for my students.

Probing Questions

While my department never really bought into APP as a way to continually assess our students – at least in so far as the A3 grids and tracking was concerned – the collections of probing questions are invaluable in my marking. I collect the ones on the unit we’ve been working on at the start of the unit and then when I’m marking use these as prompts to set a probing question for the student. I want a probing question to explore the thinking behind a concept, to address a misconception or to drill down to an issue that needs to be addressed. I want a student to have to think about it – it shouldn’t be something they can answer off pat – and it should be something that helps them move their understanding forward.

Screen cast

If there is an issue that I’m seeing appearing in several books then I start to think about other ways to help support these students. One method I have found working well is a screen cast. I simply use my iPad to talk and write my way through a problem, explaining my thinking and reasoning, asking questions and pausing. I aim to make the videos 2 minutes or less. The students then watch these as homework and then error spot some sample work or try some examples themselves.

I’m always searching for feedback and marking strategies that minimize on my workload while maximising on student engagement and progress.

Are there any corkers I’m missing?


A New Year!


Woohoo!! Happy New Year!  Hear the party poppers and experience the joy!


I’m imagining that the night before coming back to school wasn’t as raucous as 31st December can be but I also imagine there were a few unsettled bellies.

I always feel nervous before the new term starts – thinking I’ve forgotten how to teach and plan and remember names and all the other things we have to do in a day to day basis.  But, I also know it’s never as scary as I imagine.  To start of this year, here are my 5 New Year’s resolutions!

1. I will stay organised.

I can be quite messy at work and this can distract from my thinking and students learning.  With this in mind, every day will start and end with a clear desk and a tidy classroom.  I’ve been trying to use a digital markbook and so I’ll be curious to see if that is as seamless as my old paper one.

2. I will make the most of every work day.

I can spend a lot of time faffing, even (or maybe especially) if I have lots of work to do.  With this in mind, I will continue my practice from last year and assign every free lesson a job but this time stick to it.  I’ll try to start jobs when I get them and make the effort to discern the important from the urgent.  I’ll try to keep my email inbox low and respond sooner rather than later.

3. I will post here once a week.

I’ve had this blog thing for a while but I’ve had no discipline with keeping it up-to-date – posting at least one idea or thought or reflection every week should be easy and I’m going to try my best to stick to it.

4. I will try to follow a marking is planning routine.

David Didau has been talking about this for a while and I’m leading a research group at school based around it.  I’m determined to shorten the feedback cycle and make meaningful marking an integral part of all I do.  I imagine I’ll be posting about this soon!

5. I will keep on top of my phone calls.

Since I first started teaching I’ve always made positive phone calls home and I know they make a difference.  But, they often slip away as time becomes more pressured – so I’ll aim to phone home to one student from each class, each week.  From experience, Friday afternoons are a great time for this – awesome way to start the weekend.

Those are my work resolutions – I hope they don’t fail to materialise like so many others or end in disappointment a week or a month from now.  I think each of them are important and am keen to give them the time they need.

How about you?  Any resolutions as you start the new year?