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Monday, 16 December 2019

5 steps to LESS MARKING!!!

Very quick one today - partly because I’m late publishing; partly because it’s very nearly the end of term; mostly because I have two more essays to write.  Ah, academia.

I did promise a few weeks back that I would post another entry about making marking simpler, so I am going to share my creative/extended marking criteria and tips that can be adapted to fit any genre and topic.  Hope it helps!

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Make your learning intention specific; 
mark ONE paragraph using success criteria agreed with the class

Tip the first: Be specific with your learning intention

Call it your LO, call it your WALT, or your LI or even LQ if you (or your management) are so inclined, whatever you call it… it is largely irrelevant.  However, it can be made useful if you keep it brief and to the point.

Be sure to ask yourself: What is it I want to assess in this piece of writing? That is your only learning intention.  Ignore everything else. What have you been focussing on?  Is it spelling (I doubt it)? Is it fronted adverbials (don’t bother, just teach adverbials in general and challenge the class to use them all over the place)?  Is it paragraphing? Voice? Tense? Tone? Whatever it is, make it the only learning intention (Older children can have up to three, but more than that is pointless).

Do not fall into the trap of thinking that you must have a different learning intention every day!  Learning is a process. Sometimes these concepts can take a whole week (or longer) to establish. If you need to have the same learning intention for more than a day, that’s okay.

When marking, your (clear) learning intention is what will inform your ‘focused feedback’ section (see below).
Tip the second: Write success criteria with the class!

They are the ones who have to follow it, so they need to understand it.  Obviously, you can steer the criteria in the right direction but make it a joint effort.  It doesn’t matter if the wording isn’t 100% academic, so long as they understand what they need to produce in order to meet the learning intention.

Keep this brief as well.  No more than 5 points. You can add those five points to a SideBar for when they write their work.  

When you mark their work, use these criteria to inform your ‘focused feedback’ section.
Tip the third: Don’t be the first person to mark the work!

I had a friend once who had plastered all over her Year 1 classroom the following rubric:

Brain --> Buddy --> Boss

Simply put, the child checks their own work against the success criteria (which is why it is important to establish these with the children - they have to understand what they need to produce).  Then they check with a partner (ideally one who has already finished) using the ‘Vertical Marking’ approach (again, see below), then and only then do they approach an adult.  Any adult - it doesn’t have to be you.  You’ll be marking it later anyway but your mark should be the final assessment.  

I would sell it to my Year 6s like this: If I mark it now, that’s your grade.  Or you can pass it around as many people as you like to correct it, improve it and make it perfect.  The work you hand to me is you saying This is the absolute best work I can do.  Is this the best you can do?

If they said no, which they often did because children are lazy (I love them, but they are lazy) I would (literally) throw their book away and say: Do not waste my time with anything less than your best.  Being your best and I will show you how to make it better; bring me rubbish and I can only make it less-rubbish.

It sounds harsh, I know, but it really does work.  Nobody ever cried and my results were always high.

Tip the fouth: don’t mark it all!
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Your job is not to mark 30 lots of 3-page assignments.  Your job is to educate the children into writing well. This involves them spotting their own mistakes.  But this requires them learning how to spot those mistakes, and most children learn by doing.

I’ve mentioned this before but a great way to get through a whole class of extended writing in less than an hour is to only mark one paragraph.  

You can do this is one of two ways.


Tell the class that you will mark one random paragraph - you won’t even know which one until you open their book.  You will mark it thoroughly according to the success criteria and you will give advice on how to improve.  


Ask the children to indicate on their books which paragraph they would like you to mark in depth.  Explain to them that marking the work they are most confident with will not help them. They should ask you to mark the paragraph they think is most in need of help.  

Not all children will do this of course, but you can always revert to the random-paragraph method next time.  

Once the single paragraph has been marked, it becomes the child’s job to apply that feedback to the rest of their work.  This is great because it means your next lesson is already planned - they will be up-levelling their writing.

It’s also great because it is teaching them how to check their work.  Life skills a-plenty! 

Tip the final: How to mark… quickly AND effectively

I break my writing marking up into five categories:

  1. What you have written (zooming in)
  2. What you have written (zooming out)
  3. The way you have written it (zooming in)
  4. The way you have written it (zooming out)
  5. Focused feedback

The first two areas concentrate on composition (zooming in - creativity on the sentence- or word-level - eg: are their verbs accurate and deliberate to create character and environment while not wasting time; does everything they have written serve to move the narrative forward?  That sort of thing) and attention to audience (zooming out - the overall atmosphere; attention to genre features; how it makes you feel as a reader).

The second two areas are more about transcription and GPS.  Zooming in would be the secretarial-level marking (a word of caution here: don’t spend too long on this; only if it breaks the flow of the reading.  A quick tip is to simply place a dot in the margin for every error in the line - let the children find and correct). Zooming out would be more general technical detail based on your school’s writing policy.

Focussed feedback is where you can literally check off the agreed success criteria.

If needed, provide a question to help the child improve their work.  Do not add a challenge for the sake of it.  If they have written a really good sentence, don’t ask them to re-work it.  If they’ve used a weak word, don’t ask them if they could use a better one - tell them to.  Remembering at all times that the watchwords for writing are:


If the child has used an adverb (let’s say he ran quickly); then that’s not very specific or precise.  Instead, get rid of the adverb and change the verb: he sprinted.  You can always challenge them to explore metaphors or similes instead of adverbs - He flew; he was gone in a flash; he was out of there like a greased-up duck on a slide.

Use a highlighter to box-up the paragraph you have marked, use the same highlighter to indicate a space where you want the child to respond.  You’re done.

I use a template and type my responses because I am a left-handed male who grew up in the 90s - my handwriting is terrible.  If you would like that template, drop me a line and I’ll share it.

That’s it!  That’s my tip for getting through lots of work very quickly.  You should never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever have to take books home.  If it can’t be done at school, then you’re doing too much.  I don’t know what the future holds for education but I suspect it’s not going to involve lighter work schedules.  Do school work at school. You have a family; you have friends; you have a life outside of the classroom. Live it.  
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Merry Christmas everyone and thanks as always!

Carl Headley-Morris

Carl Headley-Morris  - @Mr_M_Musings

Thursday, 5 December 2019

3 things you should do for your Christmas party... and one thing you definitely shouldn't!

It's December!  Nativities are either in full swing or have happened.  Christmas Fairs are imminent or have happened.  Over-excited children are equally proportionate to tired staff.  Surely the only thing left is the obligatory class Christmas party?

Couldn't find a useable classroom pic but you get the idea!

Now, I'm no Grinch, but I despise the forced half-day party for various reasons.  The mess is on the list, but it's more to do with the fact that children really do enjoy structure and two hours of complete anarchy is too much for them.  Luckily, I have a solution...

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Two or three whole class party games will easily pass the time.
Don't serve food!

Indulge my old-man-ness for a second here.  Kids these days never get the chance to play traditional party games.  In my experience, they have never even heard of many of them. Maybe I had a magical upbringing, but I don't think it's that.  I think they just haven't been exposed.  Luckily, this plays right into our hands as educators!

I have personally used everything I'm about to share with you over a span of several years with Year 6 children (10-11 year-olds).  If they can entertain the oldest and most cynical children, they will work for anyone!

Dining at the Ritz

This is sometimes known as The Chocolate Game but I've only ever known it as Dining at the Ritz.  You will need a few things for this one:

a scarf
a pair of gloves (the bigger the better)
a hat
a knife and fork (they won't kill themselves, don't worry)
a plate
a (cheap) chocolate bar
a 6-sided die

The concept is really simple.  A table with a chair is set up in the middle of a circle of chairs.  On the centre chair is a scarf, pair of gloves and a hat.  On the table is a knife, fork and plate, and on the plate is a wrapped bar of chocolate.

The children sit on the chairs and take it in turns to roll the die.  If they roll a 6, they run into the centre of the circle and begin to put on the clothes unassisted.  When they are properly dressed (this is the Ritz, after all), they sit down to eat.  They must unwrap the chocolate bar using the knife and fork.  They must then cut off a chunk of chocolate and eat it... using the knife and fork.

If at any point another child rolls a 6, they leap into action and begin to get dressed.  Time's up for the child already 'eating', they must stop.

When the chocolate is gone, the game is over.

It's that simple.  However, it is a good idea to have an adult supervising the chocolate table to make sure that rules are followed (and to make sure that hair is not ripped off with the hat on the change-over!).  I tended to have two sets of clothing and would introduce a second die going the other way round the circle if I sensed that the game was going on a bit.  

They love it.
Concerns I have been presented with (only ever from adults) are:

Isn't it unhygienic for the children to be using the same knife and fork?
No.  They are children.  They've done worse.

It doesn't seem fair.  Some children go up several times.
That's the curse of a random dice roll; use it to demonstrate probability.

The children not eating will get bored.
No.  The children not eating will get noisy.  Keep the enthusiasm up and the volume reasonable.

The chocolate will run out.
Buy lots of bars.  Many supermarkets sell cheap chocolate bars (in the UK, Morrisons sell 300g bars for 29p.)

Some children can't eat chocolate.
That's true.  They can be a helper.

This game has lasted for two solid hours before.  Honestly,  it was only ended because I got bored!

Suits You

For this game, keep the chairs in a circle and get a deck of cards.  It doesn't have to be a whole deck, but it's better if it is.  Remove the jokers.

With the children sitting on the chairs in a large circle, begin to label them hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades.  Keep going round until you've labelled each chid.  It doesn't matter if you end up with an uneven number.

Have each child remove their left shoe and place it under their chair.  It doesn't have to the left, but I like to do a quick check on who knows their left from their right.  

You stand in the middle with the deck of cards, shuffling while you explain the rules:

I will turn over a card and call out the suit.  Anyone who is that suit (hearts, clubs...) will stand up and move one place to the left.

Check for understanding; maybe do a practice run.  Simple.  Then you deliver the killer blow.

If there is someone sitting on the chair, you sit on them.  If you have someone sitting on you; you are not allowed to move.  There is no limit to the number of people on a chair.

And that's all there is to it.  The winner is the person who gets back to their chair first.  But they have to be sitting on their chair, not on somebody else.  I usually have the prize be a bar of chocolate.

It takes a while for the children to loosen up but by the time you're on the fourth or fifth card, everyone is laughing and having fun.  For such a simple game, it takes up lots of time and the children never fail to enjoy it.

This is the closest I could get to 'lots of children sitting on top of each other. 
My search history this week is looking bad!
Concerns I have been presented with (only ever from adults) are:

The children will get hurt.
Only occasionally and never seriously.  Excitement runs high but painful situations can be managed very successfully if you're paying attention as an adult.

Surely you don't let the boys sit on the girls?
Yup.  They're children.  They tend to perch anyway.  Honestly, the embarrassment factor is stronger than any flirtatiousness.  I've never had that kind of problem.

The children won't want to play.
Some don't.  That's their choice.  They can sit out and watch.  Most of the children are game for a laugh and usually the ones who sit out the first time want to join in the second.

The children forget their suit.
No they don't.  And if they do, remind them.  It's not the end of the world.

If you've never played this game before, I can see why it might seem dubious but I promise it is always a crowd-pleaser.  I'll usually play it twice (a third time can get a bit silly), and a group of children will ask if they can set up their own version in a corner of the classroom.  Luckily, there is never any time for this.

Little Pig, Let Me In!
(formally, Melting Ice Caps)

I changed the name of this one; I don't want to give the impression that I take the extreme environmental issues we are currently facing lightly.  Climate change is real.  But so is this game.

For this game, you will need 5 or 6 double-newspaper pages.  Any large pieces of paper will do but newspaper is the perfect size.  A carpeted floor is also key.

You randomly place the newspaper pages on the floor while the children remove their shoes (and socks is ideal, but I don't like feet so I never bothered with this bit).

Play some music and have the children move around the un-papered space.  When the music stops, they have to be standing on a piece of paper.  Anyone touching the floor is out.  There is no limit to the number of children on a piece of paper.  Children can help others stay on the paper and off the floor.

When everyone who is out has moved to the side, you remove some paper.  You keep doing this every time you stop the music until, eventually, you are faced with tearing the paper in two.  You then continue to tear the paper into smaller and smaller pieces.  The winner is the last person standing (or the last people if you get bored).  

You get the idea
Concerns I have been presented with (only ever from adults) are:

The children might slip and hurt themselves.
Yes.  A genuine concern here, especially with socks on, or a non-carpeted surface.  Have a safety discussion before you begin and keep an eye on excitement levels.  I do not recommend fast-paced music!

The children might get upset about ice caps melting (genuine complaint received from a TA).
Use it as a teachable moment, or change the name.

You're left with bits of paper all over the place.  
Recycle as you go.  Also, if you leave it as the last game (it's not as long as the others on this list), you can have the children pick up all the rubbish from the party/day/term because there will be a lot of space to do so!

This is my least favourite game on this list, I'm not going to lie, but the children enjoy it and it is simple.

So they are my three top recommendations for a fool-proof in-class party.  Now for something I do not recommend at all...
I was torn between my two big bugbears about class-mas parties: free choice of music and food.  My problem with free choice of music is that the children begin to sit down in clumps and the whole thing descends into a clock-watching activity.  They either want to play songs that are completely inappropriate, immensely unpopular/divisive, or are unavailable.  The volume will never be loud enough to satisfy them.  It's just a nightmare.

But that's not my pick.

My pick, if you can possibly avoid it, and I have argued with partner teachers and SLT about this, is food.

If you can BAN FOOD, do.  Here are my reasons:

It is completely unnecessary.  The party will either be in the morning, in which case it can end with school lunch or in the afternoon, in which case, they would have just had school lunch.  They are perfectly capable of surviving a normal school day without boatloads of sugar.

You will end up with lots of crappy food and left-overs.

Parents shouldn't have to fund a Christmas party.  They just shouldn't.

It is messy.  Where there are children and food, there is mess.  Armageddon levels of mess.  If you want to get away quickly after the party, you don't want food involved.

You need somewhere to put it.

The children need time to eat it. Now, I'm all for killing time at a class Christmas party, but there are better ways (see above).

I once had to reach a compromise with a partner class teacher who insisted on both food and music (because she 'didn't want to have to do anything').  I agreed to host all the games in my room if she had the food and music in hers.  She had a horrible time with arguing children and noise problems.  I had a great time.  At the end of the party, I had some tables and chairs to put back (the children did most of it); she had... well I've seen midnight bars that were cleaner.

Food is not worth it.  Avoid wherever possible!

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So there you have it.  Three things that will absolutely make your party and one (arguably two) to avoid.  Hope that was useful.  Thanks as always for reading this and sharing it with people.  If you have any other never-fail Christmas party games or ideas, please do list them in the comments section below, or share them through me on Twitter.

If you missed my Christmas fair trilogy, they are available on November's page on this blog, do check them out.  Only a couple of weeks left... we can do it!

Carl Headley-Morris


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