Marking musings

The recent ‘marking madness’ article in the Guardian got me thinking yesterday. It’s funny because marking policies are somewhat paradoxical, whereby we (the sensible ones) know it’s nonsense to be using different colours/stamps/stickers etc, whilst also realising how meaningless marking each and every piece of work and evidencing every bit of feedback is. However, all it takes is that one individual (usually more senior) to say “don’t you think it’s important to give feedback?” Or “how will the learner remember it if you don’t write it down?” Then there you have it, you’re made to feel guilty about not going over the top with marking and a mad marking policy seems well justified.


I try my damnedest not to mark work. Not because I want my learners to fail, or because I don’t value giving them feedback, but because I want a life. I give loads of verbal feedback in class, they get some from one another and have the opportunity to reflect often – this is not documented. I set up automated feedback for any homework (multiple choice questions via Google forms and Flubaroo). I frequently use the information gathered from results of this to plan my next lesson (i.e. where there are common misconceptions found, I ensure that these ‘gaps are filled’ in the following lesson). Failing that, I get the learners to feedback to one another using online forums, but not on my time – that’s homework too. I then have a browse to give me information on their understanding and use it in subsequent lessons. Other than this, the odd draft here and there and the standard summative assessments that have to be marked and there you have it, my own marking policy – I have autonomy.


I know that it’s slightly different working at a college to a school, but why should it be? Learners do not need or benefit from excessive marking. There comes a saturation point surely where marked work with different actions to be taken in order to progress is so frequent that they don’t end up progressing.


We know that feedback can be powerful just look at the work of Hattie and Timperley, Wiliam, and Kluger and DeNisi to name a few. However, Kluger and DeNisi suggest that if feedback is in the absence of prior goals, it is less likely to have a positive impact. When thinking about outrageous marking strategies, I’m skeptical as too how much of the feedback/ marking is linked to learning goals and intentions, simply because it becomes mechanistic, a process whereby teacher’s feel obliged to put something, regardless of its meaning. Hattie highlights further problems with marking, informing us that:

‘When feedback is given in writing, some students

  • have difficulty understanding the points the teacher is trying to make
  • are unable to read the teacher’s writing
  • can’t process the feedback and understand what to do next.’

So basically, marking is good, but ain’t all that! When you’re made to feel guilty about not marking enough, try to think of the impact on the learner, not the impact on the big box that needs ticking. You’re a professional.


On the topic of coloured pens, I’ve never understood it. I literally pick up the first pen in sight (*note to self: whiteboard markers aren’t good on paper). Don’t even get me started on the purple pen of progress!


3 thoughts on “Marking musings

  1. I agree that there can be an over reliance/focus on marking and feedback.

    Some of the most effective feedback I’ve seen was on inspection and the tutor recorded it verbally, emailed it to the student when they returned their work.

    No markings/annotations on the work, but the feedback was rich in detail, included opportunities for “feed forward” and really allowed the student to learn.

    Didn’t need writing down for it to make a difference to the student.

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