Personal Development


How to mark learner scripts

I have never seen a single teacher who would rather prefer to mark scripts than teach (and if you do, give me your address. I’ll send you a large package full of learner scripts to mark. Thanks!) However, marking essays, tests and homework is part of the responsibility of being a teacher. If learners would simply learn everything that we taught them, we wouldn’t need to mark anything at all. But they don’t, so we have to mark assignments, tests and exams to make sure that they have learned what they need to know, and make adjustments if they don’t.

If you are a Languages teacher, you can easily be bombarded with a lot of papers. It can seem like this large stack of paper will never get smaller and just when it does, a new set of papers come in.

What can you do?

Here are some strategies that have helped me over the years. And no, assigning less work to your learners is not one of the strategies.

  • Set a deadline

My main goal is usually to submit marked scripts a week after they are handed in. During exam time in June and November I reduce this to 4 days. I don’t always accomplish this, but setting this deadline for myself is one of the best ways ive found to help me stay on task so that I can submit them back quickly.

If you are brave, you can tell your colleagues about your goal. It will help keep you accountable.

  • Find your most productive time

I used to have a free period in the morning, and I used to mark learner scripts much quicker in the morning than in the afternoon. My mind is fresh and I don’t get distracted easily. During the weekends if I had papers to mark I would more likely do them first thing in the morning on Saturday and Sunday. Those were the times I would feel very energetic to play with paper and some red ink. I would make some tea, turn on some classical music, sit outside in the morning sunlight and I’d be ready to go.

You need to be aware of the times of day that seem to work best for you. You need to mark during those times and do other tasks during the other times. Put your phone on silence or switch it off entirely. Avoid distractions during that focus time. Distractions can rob you of more than 30 minutes that you could have spent marking.

  • Pair marking with something you like to do

On rare occasions where I would be marking something in the evening, I like to have a glass of wine. I know some teachers who love to mark in their pyjamas – even in the afternoon! Pairing something you don’t want to do with something you like to do is a great way to make the task less of a chore. Put on some of your favourite chill out music, grab that red pen and go.

  • Create cues

I had a colleague who always lit a candle in his office when he was marking learner scripts. This signals to his mind that its time to get to work.

Similarly, we can create these cues in our own lives that signal to our brains when it’s marking time. Make a cup of tea, listen to a certain CD, go to a certain place in the building. I used to like to mark in the computer room in our school with a cup of tea. Once we signal to our brains that marking is what we are supposed to be doing, it’s easier to get in the flow and play with some papers and red ink.

  • Don’t mark for yourself

I have been guilty of putting way too many comments on my learners’ scripts. I put comments on the script to justify the marks I give them rather than to teach them how to do better next time.

Excessive comments take up time, and if the learners don’t read them when you hand them back, it’s a waste of time. Don’t mark to prove that  your learners deserve the marks you give them. Only put meaningful, purposeful comments that will help your learners do better the next time. If the learners have questions about how they can do better, or don’t understand the marks they received you can address it then. A good rubric will also help you to make less comments.

You can also make the argument that if your assessment is summative – like a test or an exam –  you don’t need to add any comments at all. If you’re only trying to assess what learners have learned, all you need to do is give a mark.

Now its your turn! What is the most effective strategy you use when marking your learner scripts? Let me know in the comments below.

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