In order to test the hypothesis that omitting a grade when marking a student's work will ensure he or she pays more attention to comments and suggestions, Jon Tait conducts an experiment with his class and notices quite a distinct change in atmosphere when their homework is received.

For some time now I have been toying with the idea that grading student work might just be one of the biggest barriers to improving student performance. Sound strange? Let me explain.

My theory is that we have all been programmed by society to look for a grade, result or classification on anything important we do in life. This system informs us of our level of success. What we aren't good at processing, however, is appreciating what to do to improve.

Take for example your driving test – when you heard the words 'passed', did you pay any attention to your 'minor faults' or what you weren't that good at? Or did you just want to grab the keys and get going? My point is that students rely too heavily on their grades and view these with far more importance than their comments and suggestions for improvement.

When work is marked, it usually only includes a single grade with a sentence of constructive criticism. However, the benefits of using categorised marking ensures that the student is totally clear on where his/her strengths are, where they need to improve, where they lack understanding and any parts of the exam criteria that they have missed.

Using different colours or symbols will also ensure that students take more notice of specific comments as they are given a thorough analysis and a clear and plausible route for improvement. Who knew just one piece of work could hold so much insight?

Ah, the dreaded red pen. Students, parents and SLT often cringe at the sight of the red ink used by a teacher. Maybe because it's a symbol for blood?

I think it's more likely to be linked to the idea that teachers from a previous age would use just a red pen to mark work and would be likely to mark negatively; pointing out mistakes or circling poor work.

However, when a teacher marks their books now, they are usually (or hopefully) better trained into what marking works and what will benefit their students' learning.

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