Coded marking…

#15MinForum – 4/11/16

Our latest 15 Minute Forum was led by Lucy McDonald on the topic of coded marking. This is an idea that Lucy first started exploring as a pgce student and which she continued to develop last year when she joined us as an NQT. It is certainly a nicely refined approach to marking that sits nicely with the message we are trying to push around being as efficient as possible with written feedback (see some thoughts here on the topic of trying to ‘Mark less but mark better’).

At the heart of the approach that Lucy adopts when it comes to providing written feedback on assessments, tests, key pieces of book work etc, is the principle that any sort of feedback should require more effort on the part of the student than the teacher. This is an idea that a number of staff are exploring in a variety of ways as part of the work of our Learning Communities this year, and sits nicely in our drive to make sure students are being made to think hard as part of their learning.

Lucy’s full presentation can be seen below, but the steps are as follows:

  1. Rather than providing each student with individual written comments on their work, create a numbered list of feedback points (this could be done in advance or built up while looking at student’s work). Then, as you go through each students work, simply write down (in the margin or at the end of the work) whichever numbers relate to the appropriate feedback points for this student. Depending on the nature of the work being assessed, a student may be given several numbers, or just a couple.
  2. Students are then provided with the full list of feedback points (on the projector or via showbie) and are then given time to write out the feedback points that the teacher has indicated to be most relevant to them. By the end of this stage, every student has a number of detailed feedback points for their work, but written out by them rather than by the teacher. As well as being a significant time-saver for the teacher, there is also the added benefit that in getting the students to write the comments out themselves, they are forced to engage with that comment.
  3. The final stage – and for me the big development on similar models that I’ve seen elsewhere – is that each of the numbered feedback points also correspends to a DIRT (Directed Improvement and Reflection Time) task. Again, students write these out… and then do them! This means that not only have the students been forced to write, read and consider the feedback points, but they are also then given an improvement task that relates directly to whatever their feedback was.


It might not work for every task on which a teacher is wanting to provide feedback after the task has been done (as opposed to feedback in the classroom to shape the work as it is being done), but there is a lot of scope here for increasing the return on our investment of time.

Other examples of coded marking would include providing literacy codes or letters which highlight where something is missing or underdeveloped. As long as the students know what the codes mean and how the system works, it would seem that any sort of coding could be very valuable! I think there is also scope to link this sort of approach to one where feedback is given, coded or otherwise, but the student then has the job of locating the section of the work to which the feedback refers. For example, on simple recall questions, why not tell a student they have got X number correct and Y number wrong, and then let them try and identify which ones were right and which were wrong…

For more suggestions of ways to reduce the time spent by teacher’s providing lengthy written feedback, this article from @joe_kirby has some thought-provoking suggestions!


See Lucy’s full presentation here…

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Takeaway Homework…

#15MinForum – 8/3/16

Homework has been a topic of discussion for us over the last year or so, at least to the extent where we have clarified the expectation of our staff in relation to the setting of homework to make sure it is set at the right time for the right reasons, rather than setting banal tasks just because the homework schedule says a teacher should set it every Tuesday for a particular group. Making sure that homework embeds or extends learning is surely the key to making it worthwhile…

My own personal interest in homework over the last couple of years has been about encouraging a shift in student mindset from one where they think they are doing homework for me because I asked them to do it, towards a mindset where they are choosing to do homework for themselves because they recognise the value in the process… no small task!

The idea of takeaway homework is an idea that I think could really support this shift, partly because of the owernship it gives to the students and partly because of the fact that it forces a teacher to put together a medium-term plan of home-learning tasks that nest within the bigger scheme of learning for a unit of work (rather than, as we are probably occasionally guilty of, grabbing a random worksheet or giving them a page number to answer a few questions from in the closing minutes of a lesson without as much consideration as you might like!)


Photo Credit: jam_90s via Compfight cc

The Forum…

Dan Toomey (@MrDToomey, our KS4 Science Coordinator and Teacher i/c Physics) opened his session with the preface “Just to be clear, this is not my idea – I saw Lucy McDonald [one of our wonderful geographers] using it, and there are loads of versions floating around on twitter”… a magpie indeed!

The idea is fairly simple: students are given choice and encouraged to be creative by providing them with a range of homework tasks to select from – a recipe for students taking ownership of the homework tasks. Whatsmore, the choices given to the students can be easily differentiated. Dan’s version, based on an idea that seems to have come originally from @ItsNads88, uses the Nando’s menu:

Takeaway Homework Magnetism_ Higher

One difference between the way that Dan is using it in comparison to the way some of the other versions seem to be used, is that each column on the menu represents a task that is expected at different points across the unit. So the ‘starter’ (first column) encourages students to select a task that must be completed within the first few lessons of the unit and the ‘dessert’ (final column) offers a selection of revision tasks. The ‘main’ (middle column) is (or at least contributes to) the main assessed task for that unit of work. In science, this is typically a task that is the focus of our formative assessment policy (i.e. it will have explicit success criteria, involve a round or two of peer and self-assessment, a bit of DIRT, and then teacher assessment with formative marking (WWW/EBI).

With students from a single class working on a range of different tasks, it presents some exciting opportunities for a bit of jigsawing with the seating plan to get students assessing the work of others who did the same task, but also looking at the work of those who did a different task…

menu and workmenus

The whole menu is shared at the start of the unit and due dates are attached for each column, though students can work on tasks as and when they see fit and submit work at any point before the due date. Dan also indicated that there may sometimes be a bit of smoke and mirrors with regards to which tasks are the easiest and which are the hardest if there are students who seem to be opting for the easiest tasks (the lemon and herb option!) or who are jumping into the top one (the extra hot) when they aren’t quite ready…

Have a go… and then share it on #TakeAwayHmk!!

Interested in a little more reading?

  • See more about Takeaway Homework from @TeacherToolkit in his blog-post here
  • See some more general musing from Stephen Tierney (@LeadingLearner) on the value of homework in his blog-post here
  • See Tom Sherrington’s (@HeadGuruTeacher) discussion of some of the research on homework in his blog-post here.