Class action

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 9:38am

Sometimes when I look at my daughter's copybooks from school I find some of the work has not really been checked. There are marks in coloured pencil or there is a smiley face or just some numbers. This lack of certainty makes me wonder whether her teacher is actually marking her work.

Different teachers have different ways of marking books, and the most important thing is that teachers give feedback to the students, whether that is in their books or not. You can ask the school what their marking policy is, but not all schools have a school-wide policy, in which case teachers have their own schemes. Talk to your daughter first to see if she can tell you what some of the marks mean.

If work is self marked, teachers often ask the children to give themselves a smiley face if they think have worked hard or done well. Marking or feedback should give the child time to reflect on the learning objective and if they feel they have worked hard to meet it. These methods are designed to develop a child's sense of self-esteem, as well as to give them time to reflect on what they were learning and how they did.

Children like feedback and benefit from encouragement and getting their own personal challenges

In the past you might have expected to see a copybook filled with red, but some children feel nervous looking at lots of red marks. However, a book filled with smiling faces and thoughts a child has brought to their own work gives a completely different feeling. Book work is a time for students to share what they are doing, possibly one on one with the teacher, with a partner or reflecting on their own. It is a time to consider the learning objective and what they are trying to get better at and it is a chance to practice what the teacher has shown them and to see what the teacher thinks about their work.

Children will talk to teachers to discuss their work and take away a new suggestion. Each time this happens the child adds a little more depth to their piece of writing, developing in collaboration with the teacher and not just writing something that is deemed right or wrong.

The idea of marking has changed from one of determining whether a child is passing or failing to one of encouraging them to take the next step that is right for them. Marking systems should help children to evaluate their own writing by looking at the individual elements of vocabulary, punctuation, etc. They are taught to consider the "value" of the words they use. Simple words like big or sweet might be considered to be a level one word, worth one point, while words like colossal or sugary might be a level three word, worth three points. They are taught to have confidence in how they determine if words are more or less interesting than others and how to look at their work and see how many "points" they should receive for their work. The idea is to increase the number of points they get and help them evaluate their own work rather than waiting for the teacher's red marks. These may be the numbers you see at the bottom of the page.

Most schools require that the learning objective be on the page. A green highlighter would mean they have met the objective with another colour meaning they are working towards it. Some schools avoid red as too negative. See if your daughter understands what the colours mean, but remember that sometimes colours are varied to avoid any stigma being attached to one colour. Some teachers deliberately mark with a random selection of coloured pens to add variety and focus the child on the feedback not the colour.

Additionally, some teachers might initial a child's work to show they have seen it. This may also mean they have discussed it with the child. Children like feedback and benefit from encouragement and getting their own personal challenges. This is often done orally as the work is reviewed and praised.

Ask your daughter to talk you through some of the marks. Children will know if they got a sticker or a star they did a good job. If there are numbers, she should have some idea about how she calculated them.

If there is a smile in the corner of many pages this is a good sign you teacher is giving your daughter time to reflect on her work and develop a positive attitude to working hard to meet the learning objectives.

She will enjoy looking over her past work to talk to you about it more if there are positive comments and encouragements not just page after page of red marks.

Kris Gienger teaches at an international primary school