I suspect this is going to be quite an angry post so I will start by nailing my colours to the mast. I think that if you are a school leader who is insisting that everyone mark their books every two weeks you should resign. Here’s why.
I have written before about my love of Teacher Tapp but I am not sure it is good for my blood pressure. When it isn’t telling me that 54% of teachers still believe we should be teaching 21st century skills like “problem solving” it is revealing that over half of secondary school teachers are being directed to mark books at least once a fortnight. This shows abysmal leadership for a number of reasons.
It shows a lack of understanding about your own curriculum design. Saying that books should be marked every X number of weeks is utterly bizarre when different subjects have different curriculum time. Why are English books being marked every 8 lessons and Geography books every 3? In some schools RE books may be marked after every lesson. What is the rationale for this? I would suggest there isn’t one and it is just lazy leadership.
It shows a lack of understanding about workload. Teachers in non-core subjects can easily have 10 different classes on their timetable. To fulfill this policy the teacher would have to mark at least one class set of books every work day and sometimes more than one. Even on days when they are teaching all 5 periods. Even on days with a meeting after school or Parent’s Evening. It simply isn’t possible to keep up with this directive for long and the pressure to try is driving people out of the profession.
It shows a lack of understanding about feedback. Feedback is vitally important. It may be one of the most important elements of successful teaching. Feedback is not the same as marking. Writing written comments in a book may at times be the most effective way of giving feedback but it often wont be (See Making a fuss of feedback for more on this). The problem with insisting that books are marked with written comments every two weeks is that other forms of feedback don’t happen as everyone is worrying about complying with this one. Giving immediate written feedback may actually be harmful to progress and it prevents pupils developing self regulation (see Giving Feedback).
It shows a lack of understanding about the “Why”. This is another example of the ritual of teaching where we focus on a practice and not a reason. A policy that states how often books should be marked inevitably ignores why books should be marked. The purpose of feedback becomes lost as people desperately try to keep up with the workload. Comments become generic, feedback not acted upon, as a result, teaching doesn’t respond . We end up going through the age old ritual of marking books and the original reason for doing so goes unexplored.
It shows a lack of understanding about professionalism. The reason for a policy stipulating how often books should be marked is to make it possible to check it is being done. Marking is therefore done for an audience that isn’t the pupil. It becomes yet another “non-negotiable” on a checklist to use to monitor teachers. This isn’t how you treat a professional. If a leader had any faith in their staff they would spend time exploring the why of feedback and then leave their professionals to ensure that effective feedback was given. A policy insisting that books are marked every two weeks reeks of distrust and a belief that teachers can’t work out how best to do their jobs.
I don’t think that anyone whose understanding is so lacking should be leading schools. If you are one of these people please realise that you are a big part of the problem and do the profession a favour – hand in your notice.
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