Monday, October 02, 2006

The joy of marking

It comes with the territory, this marking malarkey. I’m not complaining, but by heck there are times when marking homework gets you down. And that’s even with my new classy Faber-Castell red pen (still going strong and now very much my pen du jour).

So, besides the ever-present glass of red wine, what else can be done to help pass the time while doing battle with the old orange jotters (half-centimetre squared, natch)?

The first bit of advice I’d offer is: don’t take it personally. By this I mean that, as you are marking, you’re bound to get a tad… let’s say, annoyed, at the number of numpties who have insisted on doing the wrong thing, time and again, despite all your best efforts to persuade them otherwise. Examples? Well, brackets with a negative multiplier springs to mind. Ah yes, negative 2 multiplied by (x – 4) – that’ll be –2x – 4 then, won’t it? Aaaaaaaarrrrrrggggghhhhhhh.

So, don’t take it personally. And this is why you’re marking after hours: cos you’d reach across and thump the wee b*gger if it was in class.

If I have the usual number of jotters – around 30, say (insert cheap gag about practical sets and other subjects here) – I’ll sometimes separate them into piles of, say 10, in order to get some small sense of achievement once I get through a pile, so to speak. You could even set up a reward system, I suppose: “once I get these ten done I’ll have a chocolate biscuit” sort of thing. It might work. Or you might end up saying “sod this for a lark”, taking the whole packet and heading off to watch some trashy telly.

Other advice? Well, some folk say you should mark the best kids’ work first, on the grounds that this way you’ll be able to check your marking scheme. If you get two thousand and fifty-six and they get 36.8, you’ll want to check that working, mate.

This is fair enough, as far as it goes. But I say, leave some of the good ones until the end, to cheer yourself up – because you’re probably going to need it. Yep, no matter how good a job you think you’ve done in class, you’ll still find some topics where you’ll begin to question whether or not you even taught the flippin’ thing… so hopefully you get a nice wee surprise at the end when good old Tarquin and Jemima reassure you that at least they were listening. (Or at least that their tutors were.)

Of course, under this whole new assessment is for learning thang, there’s folk who’ll tell you that you shouldn’t give a mark at all for homework, but rather write a wee essay telling each pupil how well they’ve done: “I liked the bit where…”. Aye, and that’ll be chocolate. (“I liked the bit where you said that 5 divided by zero was zero – man, I laughed like a drain at that!”) Let’s get this straight: big, solid homeworks exist for two reasons: one, to get the kids doing some work which includes regular revision of old material; and two, to let you know what stuff has sunk in and what hasn’t. So, OK, the mark maybe isn’t that crucial at the end of the day – but it’s useful that the pupils clearly think it is. And you do build up a picture of pupil ability and effort: always useful when a parents’ evening comes along. And finally, if people honestly think you’ve got enough time to write all these mini-essays, then they really need to get back into the classroom, wake up and smell the pencil sharpenings.

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