Marking and data collection is a major source of concern and stress for teachers in England, according to a 2019 Granada Learning Assessment survey into teacher workload challenges [1].

The survey of more than 800 school staff revealed that over a third (38%) of teachers thought that their school does not take workload matters seriously.

Teachers spend an average of 6 hours and 48 minutes testing and assessing students every week. Across a 39-week school year that is the equivalent of more than 265 hours (or 44 days) of assessing.

Almost 7 in 10 (68%) of teachers thought that their school could do more to make assessments less time-consuming. Teachers said that addressing marking and reducing data collection would have the biggest impact on their workload, improve their wellbeing, and allow them to spend more time in the classroom.

As this survey was conducted before the pandemic, the events of the past 2 years will have only served to exacerbate pressures on the teaching workforce.

Academic literature into the impact of marking on both teachers and students is a mixed bag. Some claim that marking can be extremely effective:

“Marking has twice the average effect of all other schooling effects” Brown and Hattie 2012 [2]

Other research states that marking effectively is hard to do well:

“38% of feedback through marking resulted in negative effects” Kluger and DeNisis 1996 [3]

There is a large proportion of educators that believe that marking in the traditional sense, is highly inefficient in terms of teacher time.

Ashdown Primary School

Ashdown Primary School in Sussex agreed that a significant factor in teacher workload was marking. They decided to look at the way that their school approached marking.

Kate Owbridge, Executive Headteacher at the school stated that there ought to be a distinction between feedback and marking. They believe that the two are not the same.

Feedback can be defined as:

“Information about reactions and/or performance which is used as a basis for improvement”

Marking is more of a binary scoring system that consists of abrupt assessing through mark-making on the student’s work, telling the learner whether they got the work right or wrong. Feedback is a more in-depth and holistic method of assessing.

Additionally, Kate explained that feedback does not always have to involve the learner. Sometimes feedback can consist of a teacher looking at what the student has done, getting the feedback from the work rather than giving feedback to the learner about it. It becomes feedback for the teacher about what to do next.  

Responsive Teaching

With this in mind, the school decided to move away from calling it feedback. They relabelled it responsive teaching. Assessing students work should evoke a response from teachers that inspires them to rethink how they are teaching a topic.

Ashdown Primary School believe that looking at students’ work, either during the lesson or after it and responding to what is seen, is the most valuable form of feedback.

The teacher compiles what they have found from looking at the student’s work, spotting universal strengths in the class, as well as gaps in knowledge, they can then decide what to teach next.

Responding to the work should indicate to teachers whether their next steps are to:

  • Reteach?
  • Revise?
  • Redraft?
  • Practice?
  • Check?
  • Move on?

“What do I need to do in response to what I’ve seen?”

Reteaching:

Reteaching should be done when the students have not understood the topic. The topic should then be retaught with different examples.

Revising:

It is clear from the students work that they know something about the topic but will need to go over it again, otherwise, it will be forgotten.

Redraft:

The work shows that they have understood but they can do it better. The response should be to create a model that improves the quality of the work.

Practice:

They can do the work, but it’s not yet embedded so needs to be repeated until it sticks.

Check:

It is worth reteaching and checking whether the students have understood the topic when the work does not clearly show either way.

Move On:

The student’s work is satisfactory – they completely get it.

This responsive way of teaching and assessing allows teachers to think hard about what feedback is needed to plan effectively. This is more thorough than a single, readymade ‘feedback solution’.

Kate emphasised that feedback and marks are useless if the student will likely struggle to understand what is being advised. They used this example of feedback:

“You need to be more systematic in planning your scientific inquiries”

Unless it is guaranteed that the student will understand the use of the word systematic, this piece of feedback is ineffective as it will be read – but not digested.

Feedback needs to be not only accurate in its diagnosis of what is wrong, but also helpful in enabling the learner to put it right.

Part of responsive teaching is trying to identify what is holding learners back. However, if the learner already knows how to put something right, they should be the ones diagnosing where they have gone wrong. This self-diagnosis is evident in the work, which the teacher should absorb when reviewing it.

Ashdown Primary school have been inspired by research from Hattie and Timperley (2007) from the American Psychological Association that supports their model of responsive teaching. The research found that:

  • Asking students to improve their responses to a specific piece of work has limited effect
  • Students are unlikely to transfer what they have learnt form one task to another through responding to a written comment
  • Feedback should deepen understanding
  • Feedback should be applicable to a range of tasks
  • Feedback should show how the general improvement links to specific tasks
  • Schools and teachers should focus on the improvements they want to see

Responding to Parent Concerns

Below are the responses that Ashdown Primary provides to the parents of their students who are concerned about the different form of feedback:

Challenges

Some teachers in Ashdown Primary School struggled to adapt to the change in teaching and assessing methodology. With some still insisting on marking their students work in the traditional way.  This became an issue as it appeared to parents that these teachers were the ones doing it properly and everyone else was being lazy.

There were some concerns about Ofsted inspections. The school had to make sure that they carefully structured their new style around Ofsted requirements. Parental feedback was positive or neutral which reinforced that the responsive teaching mode was widely accepted.

A Year 2 teacher at the school told Kate:

“This has revolutionised my teaching experience, everyday I am out the door at 5pm”

[1] GL Assessment. 2019. Marking and data still adding to teacher workload issues, study finds

[2] Brown and Hattie., 2012. The Benefits of Regular Standardized Assessment in Childhood education: Guiding Improved Instruction and Learning

[3] Kluger and DeNisi. 1996. The effects of feedback intervention on performance

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Marking and data collection is a major source of concern and stress for teachers in England, with teachers spending an average of 6 hours a week assessing students. We heard from Ashdown Primary School about how they have overhauled assessments and feedback to reduce teacher workload.

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