Monday, 16 June 2014

Marking: From Loathing to Loving

Earlier today, I read a couple of blog posts (including this one) about 'common language' and its pros and cons. I then sat down to continue checking my Year 8s writing corrections and realised that I was actually enjoying it; definitely progression in my attitude toward a task that I met with procrastination more often than not.

What's the link?

In the past, when I've annotated a learner's writing, I have struggled to give them enough direction to self-correct without a. 'telling' them the 'correct' answer (and thereby robbing them of a learning opportunity) or b. being so vague that the learner really doesn't know where to start with how to improve what they originally penned.

However, over the last couple of weeks, I've been trialling a resource from Laura Randazzo on TeachersPayTeachers and it has been transformational for both me and my learners. The idea is that there is a shared set of codes used to annotate texts - nothing new there - but the feature that separates it from the rest is that the reference sheet gives technical guidance on the error, using authentic concise and accurate terminology. I like to think that my editing of the reference sheet has also enhanced its efficacy as I inserted shortened urls (using Bitly) linking to further guidance and self-tests.

The first 'win' with this resource occurred after I asked learners to go through, and note in their workbooks, the error codes. Lots of mental sweat visible here! Next, they wrote out the guidance, followed by the corrected version of the extract. At that point, I did an anonymous feedback survey and the results were most encouraging. While a couple (surprisingly, not more) of the 24 surveyed mentioned they hadn't enjoyed the physical wrist tiredness they'd experienced in writing out at such length, every single one (yes, without even one exception) gave positive feedback. They said they felt it made them more aware of their errors, how to correct them and that the exercise meant it was less likely they'd repeat the errors in their next writing task, partly because of their raised awareness and partly because they would proofread more carefully so as to avoid such onerous writing out of corrections again. (At the point of writing this post, this remains to be seen, so I'll be back to update on whether this is indeed the case or not.) I had explained to the class that I would make a decision on whether to continue using the system or not based on their feedback, so a positive response was effectively the class telling me, "We want more!" 

The next victory came as I sat down to mark their corrections and realised that having this common understanding of technical terms made it so much easier for me to mark up their work. As learners had already corrected themselves following guidance on aspects such as 'preposition', 'tense shifting', 'fragment', 'subject', 'verb' and a range of punctuation terms, it was effortless to concisely note where their focus should lie for future proofreading. 

Furthermore, an added bonus was that the learners I would usually worry most about understanding my feedback found they had an advantage over the rest of the class: my EAL learners. As they have all experienced learning English with regular exposure to grammatical terminology - especially around tense formation - I was able to be even more specific in my feedback to them, using terms like 'past participle', 'present perfect' and other such terms the rest of the learners (and many English teachers) would baulk at.

The enjoyment factor for marking now comes from the strong sense that it is a constructive, collaborative experience that is visibly building the learners' skills, while being differentiated, personalised and putting the onus of learning where is should be: with the learner.
"If I had to reduce all of the research on feedback into one simple overarching idea, at least for academic subjects in school, it would be this: feedback should cause thinking." (Dylan Wiliam (2011)
A massive thanks to Laura Randazzo for this resource; I receive nothing for promoting her materials, monetary or otherwise, but I do wholeheartedly recommend a look here.

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