Sunday, July 29, 2007

The psychology of marking

So, how do you mark work then?

Yes folks, it may be the holidays but nevertheless I found myself marking a pile of homeworks this morning... if this sounds like dedication, then it's not really; more a case of not having got round to doing it during term-time.

Anyway, it struck me that marking a pile of jotters can be done in many different ways. It's almost like the Cadbury's Creme Egg "how do you eat yours?" advertising campaign.

Confused? Well, let me explain. You may think that teachers simply mark the jotters in the order that they have the jotters in, which will probably be rather random (having been schlepped home first). But not necessarily. When I first started teaching I was given the advice to try and mark the best homework first (ie dig out the work from the pupil you consider the best) as this is a good way to check that you haven't made any mistakes in your marking scheme. Good advice. But... this may mean that you end up penalising rather minor errors (we dont' want anyone do get 100% too easily, do we?), and then when you get on to weaker pupils you're then struggling to give many marks at all. So care is needed.

Nowadays I do actually mark jotters more or less as they come, until I get down to the last ten or so. Then I have a quick look through the names of those remaining, and save a few good ones for the end. I like to finish on a high note...

I've heard of other equally idiosyncratic approaches taken by maths teachers, and am happy to hear of any more. Own up now to your petty foibles!

(I haven't mentioned here the modern approach of "mark less to achieve more", or "comment only marking". Blimey but I have reservations about this. Apparently when (for example) a pupil makes an error in calculating a gradient, I'm not meant to mark this as wrong, but somehow at the end of the piece of work I'm meant to make some kind of constructive comment instead. Aye, that'll be bloody chocolate!)


Anonymous said...

quite often i'll go through
the whole stack over & over
grading one problem at a time.

sometimes i'll even make
a bunch of corrections
before deciding what kind
of mistakes earn what penalties.

wanna be in the "carnival of mathematics"?
(two fridays hence.)


maths teacher said...

Hey vlorbik - many thanks for the offer, and yes please, I'd be honoured to be included.

These are good suggestions for setting up marking schemes and being consistent. If I'm honest then - as far as marking homework goes - I don't feel able to devote the time to this. But for marking actual tests, I can see the benefit. If I'm marking a large number (several classes' worth) then I'll usually try to go back and remark the first ten or so that I've done, to make sure that I haven't been over- or under-generous.

The real pain is of course when you decide half-way through a set of papers that something is worth a mark after all, and then you have to go back over all the ones you've done.

On the plus side, if you have a really good red pen...

beans said...

I think the modern approach can be quite ... erm something in some cases. If a student has got the general idea then a comment will be enough, but what if the student has got the completely wrong picture?

I know once I'd got the wrong idea completely (induction) and I'd only been left a comment. This made me think that I knew the concept when I actually had got it all wrong. Only one line in my argument had been wrong and that was the most important one (I'd assumed k+1 to be true!!), but the message didn't hit home.

Sorry for going on, but my second semester supervisor wrote a lot on my work. Comments like, 'write proper sentences', and 'where is x from' were common. I felt that much effort went into marking my work, and so I put more effort into doing it as best as I could. (Although, school is probably much different. :p )

maths teacher said...

The idea behind comment-only marking is that school pupils will only ever look at the mark otherwise, as they're not particularly interested in reading comments if a number's around which sums things up for them.

However most teachers I know end up going over homework n class, so I'm not quite sure why, in a sense, the comments should have to be made twice! (I'm guessing that lecturers at uni don't start off by saying "Now, did anyone have any problem with the homework?")

beans said...

I think if only the mark is given, and then the answers are discussed in class that's okay. But it does seem to be inefficient to do things twice over. Also it depends on students, since some actively try to seek out what they got wrong and correct it, whilst checking their mark.

Well we have supervisions in the first year, and there is only eight of us who have to hand in work (starred questions). Hence the supervisor tends to know what we all struggled with, and does them questions when we meet weekly. He does ask about problems with other questions but not always.

Shame they don't do this for second years! Thats more of an independent system, where you have to take the initiative and go to example classes for problems. (But no the lecturers don't start lectures by saying that. :D)