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?


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