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Teacher blog: A better way of marking

Most of us can remember getting something back from a marker and seeing red. Not from our own anger, but from an entire red pen’s worth of ‘fix this’. I still don’t know whether it’s worse to get that, or nothing at all except a tick.


She needs the resource this post is subtly trying to flog

When you’re marking – which has a different philosophy to ‘correcting’ – 200+ scripts three things become very clear:


1. It’s the same problems again and again. And they’re principally related to English. Some way down a very, very long road of weird language might be problems with argument.


2. All the kids want personalized feedback. Feedback, to a student, is an acceptable way of saying ‘corrections’. It still boils down to the noise you get when you play an electric guitar too close to the amp.


3. They would be completely overwhelmed if you actually laid out just how many things they really need to fix.


Many schools use a half-way house where they gather the group together and give them the feedback. It ticks a box but isn’t really effective for students for the simple reason that most teenagers now seem to believe that they need to hear individually what their teachers are compassionately keeping from them.


The solution

Could be a method of marking called Pattern of Mistakes. This is basically where you point out the top three or four (or two, depending on your level of optimism) things that the candidate must fix for the script to ascend a rank or two. There’s no point in underlining a mistake which is made once if there’s a more common mistake in the paper – the student doesn’t pay attention to the one-off and you’ve depleted the value of pointing out the repetitious one.



P.O.Ms marking ‘empowers’ the student (God help us, but bear with me) by prioritizing what they need to fix. It’s also easier for the marker, who can point to three or four really big reasons for assigning the student that result.


Happily, the mistakes in Stage 5 and 6 English have a pattern themselves. They tend to fall into:

1. Three big categories: Language, Argument, Technical terms


Obviously, there are a number of common sub-categories in these: prepositions, idiom, verbal nouns, adjectives, possessive apostrophes, relative clauses and so on are common ones for grammar.


2. Three minor categories: Presentation, Length, and Style - and these have their own subcategories.


Ideally, you’ll know the common mistakes that your students make and be able to generate a pro-forma which reflects those, but if not you can use the pro-forma which a wise and experienced English teacher (i.e. me) has put together.


It’s not quite tick-the-box marking, but it does show students that there are very concrete reasons for their result. Presented correctly, you should link these patterns of mistakes to the marking rubric; a student who consistently writes sentences like the one following is unlikely to get a high-band result:


‘Trencher’ through its surrealist form highlights the oppression of personal expression and constraining of development through regulations and expectations.


This student has shown the same problems throughout his piece, so his POM would definitely include:


1. Grammar (prepositional phrases, verbal nouns)

2. Technical terms (misapplies the term ‘form’)

3. Style (overwritten, imprecision through too many abstract nouns)


That’s probably enough to slug him with – we want him to turn up for the exam in October, remember, and also to believe that he can handle the problem himself – and by addressing these problems, he’ll definitely hit the Band 6 of which he’s capable.


Have a look at the shop for a little pro-forma that you can use while you mark – there’s a pdf version and an editable word version https://www.divingbelleducation.com/shop/english

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