Why pupils, not teachers, mark some of their classmates’ work these days – it fosters their communication skills
Attitudes towards marking have changed. Many schools have dropped the red pen, instead focusing on students’ ability to become independent learners. Others go for a mix of marking styles, including peer-marked work
Looking through my son’s primary schoolbooks in the summer holiday I noticed some work has been marked by children instead of the teacher and some not marked at all, writes a Hong Kong parent. Is this usual and acceptable?
Thoughts and beliefs about marking have changed over recent years. Depending on a school’s approach to marking and the time they give for student reflection, it can provide useful feedback or frankly amount to a total waste of time for everyone, simply adding to a teacher’s already heavy workload.
Many schools use a variety of marking techniques as an integrated part of the learning process. They are now more likely to use their policies to focus on pupils becoming effective independent learners, encouraging them to think about tasks more deeply and be confident enough to make mistakes and learn from them.
When marking work, teachers have an opportunity to provide positive comments, set targets and highlight areas for improvement. If a student is given time to reflect and follow up on any comments and make corrections, this type of marking can be worthwhile. Most importantly, teachers can build in time to conference with individual students about their learning to deepen understanding.
Peer marking can be an invaluable component of this process, even in the case of young children. As well as helping young learners to evaluate their own work, this process also helps to build competent communication skills in both verbal and written forms and provides the occasion for discussions with peers with whom they may not otherwise socialise.
During activities such as creative writing, peer conferencing halfway through an exciting poem or story can be extremely useful. Through the process of reading someone else’s work and offering both positive comments and areas for improvement, pupils can reflect upon their own writing and make changes as they go along.
It is important for teachers (and parents when appropriate) to be clear about the difference between giving feedback about content and accuracy – the creative ideas being the most important focus early in the process, then editing for accuracy later.
In the case of peer feedback, the teacher has most probably quickly scanned the piece of work as well as observing the students in their discussions but won’t necessarily write comments. Another useful tool is when students give their own feedback about how easy or difficult they found a task, for example in the form of a traffic light system, written comments or numbers out of 10. If this is done too often it can be laborious, but if used for key learning points it can be very informative.
Bear in mind that different subjects require different types of marking. Maths, for example, can be more straightforward to mark and therefore easily checked by pupils themselves when appropriate. This gives immediate feedback rather than reviewing performance days later when students’ minds are no longer in the zone. But in other, more subjective activities, teachers can discuss targets with the class at the beginning of the lesson so they can chart their own progress as they go along and be clear about their objectives.
This gives teachers the chance to circulate in the classroom and intervene immediately if any misconceptions are spotted or pupils are on completely the wrong track. In this way, repeated mistakes are more often avoided.
Marking can often be a contentious issue, but when managed well by schools and individual teachers it can prove invaluable for students, helping them to progress to their next steps in learning. Marking policies will vary from place to place, so you can ask your son’s teacher for details.
The recent approach to marking creatively as an aid to encouraging independent and critical analysis has been a learning curve for both teachers and pupils. Many pupils guided in this way feel that they have more ownership over their workbooks, and without teachers’ comments littering every page it can be easier to see the progress made over time.
As for teachers, they can focus on planning exciting and innovative lessons and on the art of teaching itself rather than wasting hours on marking away from the classroom that is hardly ever looked at and acted upon even less.
Julie McGuire is a former Hong Kong primary school teacher