Mark the Damn Books

Once upon a time there was a little girl.  She was generally good, but she was a bit of a dreamer.  She liked reading storybooks and losing herself in them.  She enjoyed finding out about new stuff, and she liked writing with new pens.  She liked getting attention, but only for nice things.  She didn’t like being told off, especially by teachers.

One day the tranquillity of her life was shattered.  One day her teacher gave her a shock.  He declared that he was collecting in the work.  The little girl’s stomach fell through the floor.  For weeks she had been happily not finishing every single piece of the soon to be completed project.  Tomorrow the depths of her not-finished-ness would be found out.  Tomorrow she would be in deep doo doos.

Not to be defeated, the little girl looked at her friend James (for she was not alone in her predicament) and the pair of them came up with a plan.  They would take the unfinished work home and they would bring it back the next day, completed.  No-one would be any the wiser.

So stay up working til ten o’clock she did, and her parents called it a lesson learned.  She continued to forget her homework every so often, and leave her PE kit behind, but she never left the class work unfinished again; she never assumed that because the teacher hadn’t asked to see it for weeks, they wouldn’t spring an inspection on her one day.

And now that little girl is all grown up and she knows there is another lesson.  Yes, she took the blame for not doing her work. Yes, she paid the price.  Yes, the parents still mention the Man Project.  But now that little girl is a teacher herself, and she knows that it takes two to make learning happen.  It takes the child, yes, but it takes the teacher too.

In the end, the work was handed in, marked and returned.  It was covered in big red ticks and little girl sighed with relief.  It didn’t matter that there weren’t many comments.  It didn’t matter that what was there was written in red.  It didn’t matter that there were no points to work on, no ways to make it better.  What mattered was that someone had looked at it and read it.  That’s why she did it.

If you haven’t got time to make a mark on a child’s book, if the child believes that they can leave the work unfinished, or write nonsense and mark it themselves as right then you have a problem.  If it’s because you teach bazillions of lessons and have tower blocks of marking, then that’s a problem.  If you have to mark in depth, leaving you little time to look over some of the books, then that’s a problem.  If the marking is to show evidence to an inspector, whoever that might be, rather than to pick up on the misconceptions, or the laziness, or to make sure that work is finished, then that is a problem.

Last night I wrote an alternative pledge for teachers, one I wonder that a politician will see.  Apparently it’s sweet.  I’m not so sure.  You see, I think that putting the children first, ensuring the things that we do are for their benefit and their learning, not an inspector, or a head teacher, or anyone else who cares to peer into the books is harder than you think.

I don’t care if it’s a tick or a cross or a vg or a see me.  Mark the damn books.

It doesn’t have to be much, after all, the proof that they are learning is the child’s work, not yours.



17 thoughts on “Mark the Damn Books

    1. Thank you Jules 🙂 sometimes I think we overcomplicate things. And I have been increasingly wondering who the marking is for? Sometimes (well, a lot of times) I don’t think it’s for them. And if it ain’t for them, why are we doing it?

    1. Thanks for the comment, and your thoughtful response, with which I fully agree. Making a mark on a child’s book is a bare minimum, and, at the very least, an acknowledgement to them that you have seen it, and valued it. I agree, that feedback should have happened before then (I am a very mobile teacher, so this is the way I tend to work), and sometimes, especially with longer, written pieces, it needs to be written into the book.
      One of the nicest things we do happened to me only yesterday. We had made some books in class and I put them on the bookshelves for everyone to read. My little ones had worked hard on them, and were delighted to see them there, in pride of place. We need to invest the work children do in class, not only with great learning, but also great value and meaning.
      It’s a complex business, ours.

  1. Perfect, we all like our efforts to be acknowledged. I find walking around the classroom with a pen whilst pupils are working and just reading through their work cuts down on large piles of books at the end of the day. They love the instant feed back. Target at few per lesson you will soon see them queuing to get feedback.

    1. Absolutely agree. Marking as you are going along is efficient in so many ways – and as you rightly say, they love it. And they especially love it when you read their work out or show it to the rest of the class.

  2. So very true! It’s not surprising how quickly they switch off if you don’t value their work by reading it. Really driving this with my team at the moment. It absolutely should only be about valuing their work and helping them continue to progress in their learning. Achieve those and results, inspections, etc all fall into line too without being the focus.

  3. There is nothing wrong with what you say in theory but when I was a full-time teacher of RE in secondary school I taught well over 500 students, sometimes over 600, and I found I just couldn’t mark all the books in a term. I tried and it made me ill so I found other ways to feedback so that the students knew I cared about their work and that I was well aware of the quality of their work. Maybe I’m making excuses and there are some who can cope with this volume of marking but I haven’t met them yet! Thanks for the article.

    1. Thank you for your comment Julian. You make one of the points I was trying to make very well – if there isn’t capacity for teachers to complete the marking part of the plan-teach-mark process then there is a problem, isn’t there? Marking in such volumes in a literacy-heavy subject is unsustainable.

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