How often have I heard a pupil ask “but do I need to know this for my exam?” Indeed, how often have I said to myself “time is short, do they need to know this?” No matter who says it or thinks it, it is equally frustrating. As teachers we have become slaves to league tables and all that that entails. Pupils have to get the grades because they have hopes and aspirations and there is so much competition. I do want them to get those top marks because I genuinely want them to realise their dreams. However, how can I get them to see that learning uniquely for an exam is not the best, nor the most important, approach? What matters is that they learn to love studying, that they learn to discover the art of studying and that they realise that there is always another step that can be taken, another fact that can be considered, and another equation that can be solved.
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.
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.