Quick and Easy Effective Marking

Over the last few weeks I have engaged in many tweets with people over marking. Love it, hate it or neither, marking is an integral part of any teachers job. But who do we mark work for? Our pupils? Ourselves? SLT? And what is effective marking anyway?and should it really take us hours?

Well, these are the kind of points I hope to address, they are not definitive and may not be right for either your, or my context but they are practical ideas, hopefully ones which may usefully support practice.

Ideas in this post

  • What makes good pupil feedback
  • Stamps
  • Who do you mark for?
  • Label making
  • A-Z coding
  • Easy marking homework
  • Absent peer-assessment homework

Firstly, rule one of any teaching job, do what your school tells you. If you have a whole school marking policy, use it.

Who do you mark for?

Depending how you answer this will depend on your style of marking.

Formative Comments – pupil focussed

If you are marking for your pupils, your comments must be helpful for pupils to understand how to improve and what they’ve done well. They must also have DIRT time in the next lesson to. DIRT is an abbreviation for Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time. Also giving grades is not useful as this seems to be the only focus pupils have. I’ve tried a few things this year, and this was my first pupils progress marking stamp.


Pupils liked this, but struggled to be original in their replies, for example to “make sure you know about…” they may reply “I now know one thing” so more of a question was needed like “Write one extra thing you know about….” as this checked or furthered pupils thinking.

Recently we’ve moved to these stamps… (pictures from wingdings font).


The advantage is that the idea is the same, one thing I like, a question or something to take forward and pupil response. It highlights clearly that pupils need to do something in DIRT time.
By having them reasons to your comments created a very clear demonstration of both marking being a conversation between teacher and learner and that the progress comments given have been acted upon and this more progress made.

Label Making

As you have probably noticed in the image, my handwriting isn’t the best, DIRT time was generally spent explaining my handwriting. I’ve recently bought a second hand label maker, which chops continuous labels into appropriate length labels. I now type my comments and pupils, in DIRT time now act on them or ask for the answers to the questions I’ve posed. These are then written down to show clear progression and conversation during marking.


The danger of using any ICT based technology, like auto cutting labels, is a mass print run at the start of marking results in every book have the same target and comment, regardless of the appropriateness of it. That, in my opinion, is not effective marking. There are some stock phrases we may use regularly, ie “Well done Luke, you’ve met the objectives, now please underline your title.” clearly, where appropriate these are useful and may save some time being stored. But irresponsible marking is just as unhelpful as no marking, leading to pupils not reading comments or making progression.  Label’s have saved me about a third of my time, but my handwriting is so poor that is understandable!

SLT marking

If you are marking, with SLT inspections in mind, you need to be reflecting what they want in books looking at whole-school strategies.  What does you school focus on?  Literacy?  Citizenship?  Reflection? PLT’s?  If you are marking with them in mind, your marking may look somewhat different than pupil focussed as you may be looking at ticking boxes depending on the school.

Your own assessment

If you are marking for teacher assessment, pupil progress marking (as suggested above) may be unhelpful as it’s difficult to record in mark books, so you need to work out what assessments are really important and what information you want to record to track.

A-Z – Marking Letters

A-Z version 1

But what of even more abbreviated marking, leading to effective formative feedback?  I have taken this idea from the REToday magazine, about 8 years ago and used it well at one school I worked at.  Pupils are given an A5 sheet of the letters A-Z.  (Click on the image to get the full A-Z list).  Next to each letter is a comment.  When marking, you simply record the letter in the pupils book as appropriate, then given them time at the start of each lesson to record the comment next to the letter to check they have read it.  You could also write the letters in your mark book to see if there is an ongoing pattern.

From this, I suggested to the school a more progression driven one, where letters from each section would be taking, leading to pupils needing to make a change to their work as instructed (again click on the image for download).

A-Z Version 2

Easy marking homework

I have worked two alternatives to homework marking in the last few years.  Firstly I have worked with others to develop ‘long and thin homework projects.’  Pupils are given a choice of projects throughout a range of methods over a unit and have the unit to create the project.  This means light-touch checking throughout the unit, then only really marking at the end of each unit.

The second is working on self-marking VLE homeworks.  Using programs native to VLE’s or HotPotatoes means that when pupils complete them they are recorded on a markbook on a VLE done anyway.  If you need a start, it’s a pain to set up, but Moodle does the job brilliantly.  Homeworks may sent time to set up, but if your unit stays year on year, the time spent will return big time to you.

Absent Marking

Of course, there always comes a time when teachers are off, and pupils work in books needs marking.  When I was off on paternity leave recently once class had written 8 pieces of classwork – all of which needed to be formatively marked.  To do this, on my return, pupils swapped books and checked and highlighted each others spellings and wrote one comment about each piece of work to improve it. Pupils then swapped books back, and acted on each others comments.  Is that just a cheat – or is it effective marking leading to them reassessing their own work?

I hope you have found this post helpful and thought provoking. Please feel free to comment or reply or follow me on twitter @sheltont101



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7 responses to “Quick and Easy Effective Marking

  1. Pingback: No 38. An alternative and better way of marking tests yourself | Classrooms and Staffrooms

  2. Sarah

    Thank you for this! I have adapted your a to z to use this week in Science – cant wait. I have always marked badly and really want to start more deeper conversations about their work and the feed back I give.

  3. Pingback: Feedback and meta-cognition | KristianStill/Blog

  4. Timmy


    I love the stamps you use with the wingdings symbols. How can I get myself some stamps like that?

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