I'm very proud to have been asked to be the first English teacher to write for the newly opened Times Educational Supplement English Blog.
Peer Marking and how to make it work in your classroom.
English and media teacher Ms Findlater explains the process of introducing peer marking to her pupils.
Effective marking is essential. So, too, are time-saving strategies. How can we juggle the two? We want it done well but we can't, and shouldn’t, undertake detailed marking on every piece of work a student produces. So, how about a strategy that both reduces the mark load and enables students to take charge of their own learning?
As a new teacher, I remember ‘doing’ peer marking with a year 9 class a few times. I would hand out the red pens, ask students to ‘be kind’ and to ‘keep it neat’ when writing in their classmates’ books. When I look back, I now see that this was little more than a chance for the class to play teacher. I recall telling a colleague that it was ‘a bit of fun’ and that, obviously, I would have to go back and mark everything properly as the ‘students don’t have a clue’.
This would, indeed, have been the case at that time. Their marking would have been surface, and not particularly helpful to the other students or themselves, and I would have to go back and re-mark. As I now know, however, this wasn't their fault - it was mine. To address this, my approach to peer marking has changed and I now ensure that students know the what, how and why of any peer marking task. Although it does take time to train a class to do it well, the approach is simple – and highly effective.
Don't dumb it down
Prior to the peer marking task being completed by the students, a copy of the success criteria/mark scheme is shared with them, the same one that I’m expected to use. We discuss it as a class and talk through the different skills/knowledge being assessed. I reassure them that they can access this and we will do this together. They only ever need reassurance the first time we do it. I allow them to discuss the wording and look up unfamiliar words in dictionaries.
Show me the skills
Students highlight three key words at every level that helps them remember what they’re being asked to assess. For example, when writing students could focus on vocabulary, spelling, sentences or punctuation at differing levels of difficulty. The selected skill or skills need to be discussed in detail with examples looked at. I model the top level for them and they do the rest in pairs.
Moving on up
The students underline the word that describes the level of difficulty within each grade description. For example, clear/confident/sophisticated, etc. Again, I would model the top level and they would do the rest in pairs.
Follow my lead
I then ask students to look over past marking in their books from me. This is for them to see the finished product, to see an example of what they are aiming for. (I tick whenever I see a positive and write one word in the margin to show what I noticed. At the end I write a positive comment on their best achievement in the piece and at least one target for improvement).
Spelling, punctuation and grammar is marked lightly. Work that is over-marked leaves students switched off and they can easily to lose sight of how to improve. We discuss, as a class, what and how I mark, and why. I allow them to ask questions and I project an example up on the board for them to follow. Sometimes, if I feel they need it, I will live-mark a piece for them to see on the board.
I’m also known for my love of a good sticker. If a student has really shone in a certain skill I will pop a sticker at the end of their writing celebrating that skill visually. There are many great slicker companies out there that can create custom stickers with your school/class name on them. I tend to mix up my stickers to keep them fresh and appealing to the students.
Over to them
Now is the time for them to put it all into practice. They swap books and we allocate a good amount of time to slowly and clearly marking the books. I provide them with green pens and stickers, and away they go.
I will remind students about the use of stickers and direct them towards my use of them. Students are then asked to raise their hand to request the set stickers on offer that lesson to reward their peer. This is not too time consuming as I get the students to help give out the stickers and limit the ones on offer. Yet again they’re refocused on the skills and the level their peer has been working at. I may get a student or two at random to explain aloud why they want a particular sticker, justifying their answer with evidence for the work they have marked.
It is vital to discuss the importance of the process with them. We discuss the fact that the author has put time and effort into their work and the marker, therefore, must do likewise. I circulate, assisting those who need help. We remind ourselves to use the mark scheme and look for the specific skills listed there. They place a grade on the work too, using the mark scheme to justify their decision.
Take it all in
Once the marking process is complete, the work is returned to its original author. It is extremely important that the student who has had their work marked has time to reflect and plan for improvements. I ask them to write a brief response to their peer marked work, making them look carefully at the marking with the aim of progress and improved targets firmly in mind.
Looking at the success criteria before they do the task, using the ideas as they complete the task, and having to apply those criteria to someone else's work is an extremely empowering process. They are using the complex terms in the mark scheme in every day talk before they even realise they are doing so. Their desire to improve increases once they see there are clear, achievable steps towards the next level.
Each class I have used this method with consistently have made outstanding progress over the year with me. They have taken charge of their own learning and are fully focused on the specifics of how they can do better. It is a huge motivator.