Marking & grading school work must be the most painful part of teaching, right? Well, it’s time to remove the pain and look at a number of reasons why teachers should work towards an almost marking-free professional life. If we get this balance right, the school environment becomes far more inspiring for all involved. The key issue centres on everyone’s historic understanding of the purpose of school and the role of teachers within it. Here I will attempt to challenge this with some common sense arguments that I hope will help teachers change these expectations held of themselves and their learners.
1. Raising expectations
The factory approach to education has always encouraged the idea that teachers exist to grade products at the end of learning ‘assembly lines’. The factory workers (students) are given ‘assembly’ instructions and attempt to follow them, waiting only for the teachers to assess the end results. This creates thousands of classrooms where learners do not consider the success of their efforts whilst they work because the understanding is that the teacher is paid to worry about the success after the task is complete. In most classrooms you walk into, you will not find students discussing their current progress with their peers or naturally critiquing each other’s work, without it being directly requested by the teacher. What’s needed if we are to change this situation is teachers who see their role as one who scaffolds peer critique, progress tracking, and goal setting. The learners need an expectation that they will understand the assessment enough include assessment as a key part of their own on-going learning process.
2. Self-reporting students
Under traditional teacher-driven education, the students become passive learners and expect to be processed through the teachers’ programmes. By including self-assessment as part of their learning programme, students develop a growth-mindset through being helped to monitor and understand their own current progress and calculate their next steps. Teachers are needed for producing the tools with which students can do this self and peer-tracking. Rather than spend hours marking, teachers need to use that time to produce resources to help students develop learning habits that include self-reporting on progress to either peers or their teacher. If students don’t understand the assessment criteria inside-out, you can’t expect them to be getting the grades you’d like them to. When teachers reflect on all the considerations they have while marking school work, they often realise they are considering more things than they have made clear to students. We empower young people when we build an expectation in themselves to take charge of their success with all the required tools.
3. Building learners is easier than processing students
To build a learning environment free from teacher marking takes time and practice. You must start with your school’s new intake and get them accustomed to these expectations that they will report to teachers on progress, success and next steps. But it’s time better spent. Teachers reduce the pressure on themselves to have processed a class correctly by focusing on what learning environment they are nurturing. A learning environment that exists predominantly in the mind of each learner.
If two students cannot work together to mark and grade their own essays, they weren’t ready to attempt the essay in the first place. Let’s all raise expectations and I know young people will rise to match them.
Want more …?
There’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.