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 mrmorristeacher@gmail.com