"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.