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September 25, 2018  

“I used to love line-by-line forensic marking,” says Robin Macpherson, an assistant head at Dollar Academy. “I’m one of these weird people in that I like marking. If I’ve got a huge pile of marking at the weekend, for most people, that keeps them awake at night, but I just go off to a café somewhere and I like doing it.”

This was Macpherson’s approach to marking when he first started teaching. He promised his pupils that if they got work into him on time, they would get it back the next lesson, marked in detail. This was, he felt, his “mark of respect as a teacher”.

But, Macpherson explains in the latest episode of the Tes English teaching podcast, when he started to read the research around marking, he began to realise that all the time and effort he was putting into writing lengthy comments in students’ books might not be as worthwhile as he had thought.

This week, Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson, authors of What Does This Look Like In The Classroom: Bridging The Gap Between Research And Practice talk on the podcast about their own experience of applying research to the teaching of English, and examine the place of research in our classrooms.

Too much marking?

They offer insights into what the experts tell us about three essential areas of teaching: motivation, behaviour and feedback.

“People assume that marking is feedback in its entirety, but they’ve got that wrong. Marking is a small subset of all feedback. It’s just one way in which you can convey to pupils how they are doing,” says Macpherson.

As a result of engaging with research, he has now moved away from those “forensic” marking practices and begun to make more use of peer assessment, self-assessment and whole-class feedback instead, freeing up more time for him to focus on planning – and he believes his teaching has improved as a result.

“Personally, I’ve found it the hardest thing to change about my practice,” he says.

Jamie Thom is an English teacher at Cramlington Learning Village and the author of Slow Teaching: a guide to finding calm, organisation and impact in the classroom. He tweets @teachgratitude1