Mark My Words

I work four days a week as an English Teacher, SENCO, Head of Teaching and Learning and Senior Leader at a brand new, start up school. We have the challenge and privilege of establishing principles and ideologies that are not engrained, burdened and flawed by years of ‘that’s how it has always been done.’ We are carefully selecting through experience, evidence and consultation the best ways to work. We are thinking carefully about what works and how it will benefit all involved in our school. We are sifting, surfing, learning, talking and investigating. It is extremely exciting.

On my final day of the week, every Fridays, I work for myself as a trainer. I travel across the country and offer CPD/INSETs and training to educational institutions. Currently, I am getting asked about ‘Alternatives to Marking,’ a lot! Which, incidentally is something I am really interested in.

We all know the ‘problems’ with ‘marking and feedback

  • Time it takes
  • Who is it actually for
  • Will the students act on it
  • Does it even make a difference

We also, all know ‘why’ we potentially do it

  • Show students we care about their work
  • Pick up misconceptions
  • Parents/Carers want to see their children’s work is marked

However, there must be an alternative way, there must be other routes of working that do not result in hours and massive chunks of our weekends being ripped out, marking books.

Firstly, by definition marking and feedback are two different acts of ‘love’. However, they are ultimately reciprocal to one another. Without one, can you have the other.

The term feedback, as per Hattie’s extensive research and the Education Endowment Foundation’s most recent studies show overly positive effects with its effective use.

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Feedback should be: (Based on the work of the EEF, Hattie and Shute (2008).)

  • Specific/accurate/clear
  • Focus feedback on the task not the learner
  • Base the feedback on complex/challenging tasks
  • Focus on effort and perseverance
  • Reflect on how you receive feedback
  • Disconfirmation is more powerful than confirmation
  • Reduce uncertainty between performance and goals
  • Use the students name
  • Pose the feedback as questions

If done incorrectly, it can be damaging.

“Feedback studies tend to show very high effects on learning. However, it also has a very high range of effects and some studies show that feedback can have negative effects and make things worse.”  EEF

It is also paramount to note that OFSTED do NOT want to see a certain types of marking. It is a MYTH to think that they want certain things, like triple impact marking etc. Ofsted is only looking for consistency in your approach. You must all be working collectively with your vision, that you have created.

Most recently I have been reading the EEF’s new research document and I tweeted out the link for others.

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Amongst lots of sensible suggestions one that stuck with me the most is the idea of marking for Errors or Mistakes.

  • Careless mistakes should be marked differently to errors resulting from misunderstanding. The latter may be best addressed by providing hints or questions which lead pupils to underlying principles; the former by simply marking the mistake as incorrect, without giving the right answer

But, what is the difference between an error and a mistake? We are so used to marking both. Correcting both which takes so much time, but more importantly how beneficial is it in marking both for errors and mistakes.

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“Most studies make a distinction between a ‘mistake’ – something a student can do, and does normally do correctly, but has not on this occasion – and an ‘error’, which occurs when answering a question about something that a student has not mastered or has misunderstood.”

NOW- reflect on your practice;

  • What do you do when you mark and give feedback?
  • What do you correct, errors or mistakes? Or both?
  • Are you highlighting the errors and reteaching the ‘issues.’
  • Are you providing guidance on how to address the misconception? Is this immediate?
  • Are you aware of the student who is making errors, not simple mistakes?
  • Are you providing DIRT – Dedicated/Directed Improvement and Reflection Time. Time, or whatever you call it. Are you providing time for students to act on their feedback?

‘If there’s a single principle teachers need to digest about classroom feedback, it’s this: The only thing that matters is what students do with it. No matter how well the feedback is designed, if students do not use the feedback to move their own learning forward, it’s a waste of time.’

Dylan Wiliam

The EEF toolkit’s study ends each section with Workload Considerations and Discussion Questions… take these to your teams, ask them what they think?

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Marking and Feedback require our urgent attention, think about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and more importantly, what difference is it making. Try this activity with them? Keep, Trim, Bin and Add.

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Here are some other suggestions for Marking and Feedback too. Click on the links to read more about each method.

Scroll down to the bottom of this blog for links to amazing blog posts around this topic too.

Whole Class Feedback- by @MrThorntonTeach

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Aspirational Marking

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Excellent Excel by @DavidJhibbert

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Dot Marking inspired by @BelmontTeach

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Editing Tabs by @Mr_M_Primary

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Personalised Self Assessment Stamps

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Some other ideas include, Request a Selfie, Structure Slips, Parent Marking and so on, all of these can be found with their references via this link here.

My major concern with this tide change is that people don’t conflate a lack of marking with a reduction in feedback. Or that they think we should stop marking and feedback whatsoever. I am reading and seeing lots of, ‘we have stopped marking blogs’ for example…

Good Luck.

I will keep you all posted on our journey.


  1. A good, thorough and helpful post, Amjad – thanks for sharing. And I’m pleased to hear how much you’re enjoying your new role/lifestyle!

  2. Love reading your insightful posts and this topic of feedback/marking is usually quite problematic as you have described. I am an EFL/ESOL teacher in English, so this topic resonates well within my field of second language acquisition. I was interested with the raised issue of an error or a mistake. Language learners are always going to make errors – that’s part of the process of learning a language – so which ones do we correct, do we correct every mistake? Thanks for the input

  3. I enjoyed this post and share your concern about schools jumping into no marking policies without properly considering what will take its place. We are trying to improve feedback through structured whole class feedback sessions and more responsive teaching. Our teachers now have more time to carefully consider what the next steps are for children and ensure they are planned into the next lesson properly.
    Thanks for mentioning my blog at the end.

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