As the new term rapidly approaches, many teachers will be resolving to get a proper work/life balance this year. However, this intention is often forgotten by the third week of term as the planning and marking load starts to take its toll. Teachers are super busy and, given that keeping resolutions involves creating new habits, this can be hard when your job is so all-consuming.
One way to succeed at creating new habits is to focus on only one at a time, so the focus here is centred on maths marking. When planning, considering the following questions could help to reduce your marking.
Do I need to mark this work?
Some pages in maths books are full of ticks and crosses against numerous calculations followed by a general comment at the bottom.
Although this marking can be achieved relatively quickly, it is still likely to take at least 30 minutes on a class set of books containing 30 pupils if a minute is spent per pupil. The question that always has to be considered is what the teacher and the child are learning from the marking.
I am certainly not advocating that pupils should not be given feedback on whether they are on the right track. However, I would argue that young pupils will gain the most from finding this out while they are working and this can be achieved by reducing the number of examples and working with a group of pupils to discuss the work as they go along. Other adults in the class can also carry out this activity.
Older pupils can be provided with answers so that they can mark their own work. Occasionally, teachers have concerns about honesty in this situation but primary teachers are usually in the fortunate position of knowing their pupils well, and it is often evident when this is happening. Besides, if your classroom environment is one that welcomes learning from mistakes, the pupils will be quite happy to announce that they are unsure about something.
Does this work need to be recorded?
According to Gov.UK, “Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy.”
Therefore, although we should be exploring maths on a daily basis, teachers should not be under pressure to record maths every day in pupils’ books. However, when work is recorded, my view is that the pupils deserve some form of written feedback. With my own class, I would aim for three lots of work per week to be recorded in books. This may include a piece of work that has extended over a couple of lessons.
What format can the recording of this work take?
The three strands of the UK National Curriculum cover fluency, reasoning and problem-solving.
Within fluency, it is suggested that pupils can attain this through varied and frequent practice, but this does not have to entail repeating numerous calculations. Games are an effective way of developing the ability to recall and apply knowledge rapidly and accurately. If there is a desire to record this work, pupils could fill in a score sheet with space for calculations, or they could comment on what they learnt from the game and what they found difficult. The best games require decisions to be made and pupils could record a couple of decisions and why they were made.
If pupils are working in an active lesson either inside or outside the classroom, photographs could be taken by them or a teaching assistant, and this could be stuck into books. Pupils could record something that they now understand or something that is still puzzling them. For pupils who grasp the concept, they could pose a ‘What if’ statement to explore further.
Examples of Best Practice
When working on problem-solving or reasoning, pupils can be invited to show their written work or explanations in a gallery format so that the class moves round to look at different examples. Pupils can be asked to choose the top three pieces of work within the class or group, based on certain criteria, and these could be used as examples on a working wall with annotations explaining why they are effective.
A similar idea could be employed for pupils’ books where a good example and one that needs improvement could be stuck into books with the pupils’ annotations explaining what makes the work clear and easy to understand, and what needs improving.
Do pupils need to work individually?
On occasion, pupils may need to work individually, but paired work can often be more productive due to pupils having to discuss their ideas. This helps them to clarify their thoughts and can reveal misconceptions. The advantage for marking is that pupils can record their work together on one sheet, so the marking involved is halved. Feedback can be given to both pupils, and this can then be copied, and stuck into both books.
It can take some time for pupils to get used to this but it also allows you to work with more pupils than if they are working individually. You can also check that the work is actually a joint effort although pupils will often readily point out when a partner is not pulling their weight!
There are various software programmes which pupils can access at home, and the completed work can even be marked so that teachers simply need to log in to look at pupils’ scores. This usually comes at a price, and they tend to focus on consolidation exercises, but some have accompanying lessons which can help parents to understand what is being taught in class as well as the methods that their children are being taught.
One of my favourites types of maths homework is to give pupils a game to play. These are generally popular with parents, and they avoid marking. Pupils are provided with a feedback sheet which they are expected to complete that includes what they liked about the game, what they learnt and any problems or questions that arose. Parents can also comment on the homework.
Another option is to ask pupils to explain a concept to someone at home or to discuss whether a given statement is true or false and why.
Quality over quantity
In summary, to reduce your maths marking, firstly focus on recording quality rather than quantity, and then decide how this should be marked so that both you and the pupils benefit regarding ongoing assessment and progression in learning.
Also, when you ask pupils to complete a task as a result of you reviewing their work, such as explaining why an answer cannot be correct or trying a different example that you have provided, ensure that time is allowed for this in the following lesson. After all, if you are going to spend time marking thoughtfully, it is important that your efforts are not wasted.