Well-being is such a buzz word at the moment and while I think it is vital, it is sometimes used as a plaster to cover up the tougher issues. It needs to be more than just adding yoga to the school diary each week. I love yoga but I am also aware that many don’t. I am also aware that if you are forcing yourself to do yoga under the guise of well-being but still constantly worrying about your ever increasing to-do list then how is it helping? Instead I think it involves looking into the nitty gritty aspects of teaching. It is easy to add a well-being event into the school calendar. However, it is not so easy to look at how teachers think about their job or how schools can reduce workload overall. They are not easy questions to answer and there is not an easy solution.
The ‘musts’ in Teaching
Let’s take the basics of the teaching profession. In a nutshell, we have to:
- Mark / give feedback
All three of these should centre around student progress, after all, that is the overall aim of teaching. However, not only do we end up doing countless other tasks which have very little bearing on students’ progress, we end up only using 1/3 of our time actually teaching (DfE 2013, Teacher Workload Diary Survey)
Workload and Marking
Marking, historically (and presently for some of us), takes place after school hours. It can take anywhere between 5 -20 minutes per book depending on what individual schools require. However, it does seem that things might be changing. In a video released in July 2018, Amanda Spielman, the Oftsed Chief Inspector says that:
“If the impact on pupil progress doesn’t match the hours spent on it then stop it” (Watch the full video HERE)
In the same video which is entitled ‘Working Together on Workload’, Kevan Collins (from Education Endowment Foundation) talks about how through research and studies, they have found that feedback completed out of school hours isn’t what makes the difference. He goes onto say that what does make the difference is what happens in the classroom.
Damian Hinds, the Secretary of State for Education actually goes so far to say that
“you do have the backing to stop doing the things which aren’t helping children do better”
The government have also released a Workload Reduction Toolkit which you can access from HERE and which encourages schools to start looking at unnecessary workload.
So what does this mean?
It means that the government are acknowledging teacher workload as an issue. It means that schools should be looking at what they can do improve student progress and decrease teacher burnout. After all, the teacher is the biggest resource in any classroom and as the saying goes ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup.’
So what about marking?
In a paper released in 2016 called ‘Eliminating Unnecessary Workload around Marking’, the review group states that marking should be “meaningful, manageable and motivating”. That we should not confuse quantity with quality. It also states that “marking should serve a single purpose – to advance pupil progress and outcomes”
To further highlight these points, I prefer to use the term ‘feedback’ rather than ‘marking’. Marking implies something which is done away from the classroom and is somehow disjointed from the teaching and learning. Feedback can be instantaneous and is an integral part of planning and teaching and not something which is a separate entity.
First of all, let us look at all of the ways you can give feedback in the classroom:
- Live marking. This can be verbal or written and can be done in many different ways. Avoid giving students a grade or a mark when giving initial feedback as they need to know that this is not a finished product. Concentrate on one aspect and make it explicit to all students. For example, I am going to come around and see how you have used ‘adjectives’ and ‘adverbs’ in your piece of work. Then go round and have a discussion or highlight things they have done well and things that could be improved.
- If you have more time in the classroom, you could focus on marking a small section of the students’ work and mark it in more detail. They could then use this small snap shot to improve the rest of their piece (this is taken from the yellow box idea from Mark, Plan, Teach by Ross Morrison McGill)
- Peer assessment. students giving each other feedback using an agreed feedback criteria.
- Showing examples of work to the class and making improvements as a class. This could then lead to students improving their individual work based on the points which were discussed.
- Walking around and giving verbal feedback on things they have done well and areas for improvement.
Taking the books in
Sometimes, you will want to have a bit more time to look through the books. If you do, don’t mark everything! In my old school, we used to focus on one piece of extended writing which was an accumulation of everything they had learnt that half term. We would then mark the piece in detail and give areas for improvement. Students would then improve the piece in the following lesson and then either self / peer assess it. You shouldn’t need to re-mark improved pieces.
If this seems too lengthy a process, you could split your group up into 3 separate groups (you could do this by ability or just random). When you want to mark a piece of work, take 2-3 books from each pile and mark them, ensuring your write down the common mistakes, the general things that were done well and areas for improvement. You can then discuss these points with the group in the next lesson and they could all improve their work according to the feedback you gave. The next time you mark, pick a different 2-3 books from each pile and so on.
Evidence of feedback
There is a fear that there should be constant evidence of feedback from teachers in books but the real evidence will be their progress. We need to pull away from what will look good to what is best for the students and their learning. I’m not saying that there should NEVER be feedback in books but that the feedback which is evident, should be meaningful and motivating.
If you have any ideas for incorporating meaningful and motivating feedback in your classroom, please leave a comment below.