Marking will tear us apart...
"When routine bites hard,
And ambitions are low,
And resentment rides high,
But emotions won't grow,
And we're changing our ways,
Taking different roads.
Then love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again."
Joy Division 1980.
There is nothing like a marking debate to increase the level of resentment in the staffroom, to cause friction and literally tear a staff moral apart. I am going to write this blog from a primary point of view with little reference to secondary marking and workload as I am not familiar with the practises.
When I was KS2 leader in a large school, which regularly gained satisfactory from Ofsted and eventually was placed in RI, I had the joyous task of revamping the marking policy. The system at the time was becoming unmanageable. We were supposed to mark ALL work with two stars and a wish. That also included maths, however we were sometimes able to get a away with a star and a wish here.
In a previous school we had used pink and green pens: 'tickled pink' for positives and 'green for growth' to highlight those sections that needed developing (or were incorrect). I didn't want this.
We needed to simplify our marking model.
The stars seemed to be a rewrite of the learning intention.
For example: LI: I can add two 3 digit numbers
Star: Well done you can add two 3 digit numbers.
Star: You have set them out correctly.
POINTLESS!! So we needed an alternative, some schools I saw, ticked the learning intention to show it had been met and we decided that we would have a code in the form of a triangle. 1 side of a triangle means that they have not met the learning intention. 2 sides of the triangle means that the children have partially met the learning intention and finally 3 sides of the triangle mean that the child has met the learning intention.
Next came the wish, we wanted to make a comment that would help the child improve, reflect or deepen their understanding so we asked staff to add a wish, often in maths it was a slightly more difficult question.
In literacy it may have been to add some adventurous vocabulary to an ineffectual sentence, to add an adverb to some of the verbs or to rewrite a passage which was muddled.
This works well. The children only write on the right hand pages in their books and the teacher writes their comments on the left. The children can then action those comments in the next lesson in the 1st 5 minutes before anything else happened. Ofsted saw this in June and seemed to like it. They could see the learning dialogue we were having with the children. As staff we realised that the attainment, effort and enthusiasm in the children was also increasing as they could see that their work was being valued.
As time has passed I have noticed that this process does not need to take place in every lesson. If a child gets all of their questions correct in maths, why do they need an additional one? Sometimes they do not need to edit their writing because they are developing it in the next lesson any way.
So I started leaving off wishes where they were not necessary. All was good! I'd found a balance! However, the wish, or wish work has become a stick for SLT to jab staff with. This was 'routine that was biting hard!' All work needs a wish because Ofsted were impressed with the teacher/student dialogue and visitors to the classroom could see the improvements made by the pupils.
Then recently we receive a memo from Ofsted which states that :
Ofsted does not expect to see extensive written dialogue between teachers and pupils.
Staff all over the place are celebrating, no more long marking sessions, we can tick their work and just use a really short code. Job done - marking workload is no more!
Hang on! Hold Up. It doesn't say Ofsted do not want to see extensive written dialogue, it says they do not expect it. It does not say 'Do not give your children written feedback' merely that they do not want an extensive dialogue.
So what does this mean for those of us on the chalkface?
I would suggest that there are occasions where this dialogue is a great tool. Where children have written an extensive piece of writing the teacher can act like an editor. With comments such as: 'How can this paragraph be improved?' 'Can you improve this sentence by using synonyms for said to show how x is feeling?' etc If a child can't read these comments then yes it is pointless, however in UKS2 and for higher ability children further down the school it can still be a very valuable excercise.
We need to be professionals about this and use it when it will be beneficial to children rather than make it a hard and fast rule about when and when not to use teacher/pupil dialogue.
How is the Pupil Premium being used?
In support of children across the UK, the Pupil Premium was introduced in 2011 so that additional
funding could be provided to disadvantaged children from low-income families, those who have been
eligible for the Free School Meals (FSM) programme and also those whose parents are serving in the
According to Ofsted investigations and reports, many schools are using Pupil Premium in the most
effective way possible. They are focusing on the main stages of a child’s development with special
emphasis on the core areas of literacy and numeracy.
One of the initial steps to ensure appropriate spending is to improve attendance. Many academic
institutions devote a lot of time to understanding children’s behaviour and their family dynamics. In
order to provide the right kind of support and to get a child to learn, you have to get them to come to
school. Teachers encourage students to communicate and provide feedback, as well as plan practical
family activities, with some schools even extending the school day to accommodate their students’
Another initiative undertaken by many schools involves private tuition and coaching as a way to help
those students from less affluent or disadvantaged backgrounds.
The specific knowledge of a student’s learning patterns can lead to a more informed analysis of
their overall needs. Fleet Tutors, one of the UK’s leading tutoring agencies, works with educational
institutions across the UK to provide professional guidance in the form of one-to-one or small group
This special attention, supported by Pupil Premium, allows many schools to witness a remarkable
improvement in their students’ grades throughout the course of the academic year.
One of the most effective methods also being adopted by schools today is support in the form of
preparation activities. Students are taught to deal with real life situations through work-related classes,
vocational courses, career fairs, mock interviews and various other informative sessions.
Children need the right kind of guidance and the Pupil Premium, if used effectively, can contribute
to revised approaches that facilitate better learning models. With experienced teachers, increased
practical awareness and private coaching classes, students should have the platform to progress in their chosen respective fields.
A couple of people have asked recently how to add suspense and tension to a piece of writing so here are a few ideas with a handy acronym.
Vocabulary is really important when trying to create an atmosphere. Edgar Allan Poe knew this look at these words from the first three stanzas of ‘The Raven.’
Dreary, weary, bleak, sorrow, nameless, terrors, faintly, darkness, echo, murmured.
All of this paints a bleak and gloomy picture in the mind of the reader and begins to build up a sense of foreboding. This section could include ominous sounds and other imagery such as similes and metaphors.
Variety of sentences
Pace is important while building tension. Short and snappy sentences build up a sense of panic or energy. Three, two or even one word sentences increase speed and also tension.
e.g. There was a cool breeze as she wandered between the tall trunks of the trees in the forest on the way to her Grandmother’s house. She wrapped her scarlet cloak tightly around her and pulled up her hood before quickening her pace. It was slowly going dark; it was never a good idea to be out in the woods in the darkness. She heard footsteps behind her. She stopped. She listened. They had stopped too. She continued on her journey to her grandmother’s house with the basket of treats for the old lady. There is was again…footsteps. She hurried. There was rustling to her left. She ran. Something followed. She tripped. It was on top of her. Snarling. Growling. A wolf.
Short sentences build tension and longer ones relax it allowing time for your reader to catch their breath.
Inconsequential description is that which does not have any impact on the plot. It also frustrates the reader. There is nothing more frustrating to a reader than being delayed on their journey to the point of highest tension. To delay their journey we add in some inconsequential and mundane description. That will have your reader screaming that they don’t care what the weather was like outside they just want to get to the point. The point when they find out what is going on and your reader will love it, like receiving a parcel in the post and it’s difficult to get the packing off.
I have added in some inconsequential sections in red.
It was slowly going dark; it was never a good idea to be out in the woods in the darkness. She heard footsteps behind her. She stopped. The moon shone brightly through the twisted limbs of the trees. She listened. They had stopped too. She continued on her journey, as she had done before a hundred times, to her grandmother’s house with the basket of treats for the old lady. There is was again…footsteps. She hurried. Her feet made little impression on the soft, leaf-littered ground. There was rustling to her left. She ran. Something followed. She tripped. It was on top of her. Snarling. Growling. A wolf.
The threat or danger that the characters are facing needs to be realistic. The reader needs to be able to put themselves in the characters’ shoes. The dangers that they face should be believable, perhaps with dire consequences like death or serious injury. Perhaps you could give them overwhelming odds or a huge dilemma.
The reader will know the plans of the villain in the story, or they will have inferred or guessed what is going to happen. Add in some unexpected plot twists. For example: The house fell down but the characters had already hidden in their tree house in the garden. In The Graveyard book the killer is about to murder the child in his bed until we find out that it is a teddy bear and the child, the most vulnerable member of the family, has already escaped by himself. (unwittingly)
Show what is happening rather than use up valuable story time telling the reader what is happening. If a character’s ‘knees are knocking as they entered the building’ we know that they are nervous without being told. Give clues to move the plot on rather than saying explicitly. If a character is being followed then give clues that the reader can infer or deduce that it is happening e.g. the classic footsteps that stop when the character stops.
Of course there may be other devices that you want to add in or discuss such as use of punctuation, similes and emotive language but I felt that these were less specific to the task of adding tension.