Teacher wellbeing is top of the education agenda, a high workload being an issue raised by many teachers. Being an English teacher, I understand the pressure of marking extensive pieces of writing only too well. But are we marking in the most efficient and effective way?

The value of feedback 

The time spent reading a learner’s work is an opportunity to have a one-to-one dialogue with learners. John Hattie (2008) conducted a meta-analysis where he measured the effectiveness of various interventions on learning. This effect size approach of research highlighted that effective feedback is a high impact tool on learning, at a low cost. It sounds ideal, especially for schools on a low budget; a teaching tool that costs nothing, yet makes a huge impact upon attainment. Where can I sign up? But despite the research telling us this, do we actually have a working knowledge of what ‘effective feedback’ is? 

Roll your sleeves up and get DIRTy

Following the school policy of marking work every two weeks can be challenging. However, there are various approaches that can cut down the time spent marking, but most importantly, make it more powerful. David Didau writes about marking in his blog, highlighting the importance of teaching literacy, redrafting work and fostering independent learners. Didau models high expectations to learners by stating  ‘if it’s not excellent it’s not finished.’ Providing time in lessons to proofread work, correct spellings and edit can weed out silly mistakes and improve the quality of work. Introducing Dedicated Improvement Reflection Time (DIRT) to a lesson sets a routine for regular self reflection in class. Insisting to pupils that all work must show evidence of annotating, editing and correcting ensures that the final piece is of a high quality. Didau suggests that the teachers should refuse to mark a piece of work until it shows evidence of redrafting. Having incorporated 10 minutes DIRT at the end of each year 8 lesson, I have noticed that pupils’ work is becoming more accurate and self reflective. Black and Wiliam (1998) make clear that formative feedback is the most important learning tool. Putting a grade on the bottom of a piece of work provides no learning content. In my experience, providing a ‘What went well’ and an ‘even better if’, DIRT to respond fully and highlighting to learners that the editing they do now can lead to a higher level, hugely effects the quality of work and the motivation of learners. Incorporating these tools, I found the time I spent marking became much more efficient. I was able to provide focused comments on quality in relation to the success criteria as opposed to correcting simplistic mistakes.


Seeing red pen scribbled all over your work can be disheartening. Many schools use a clear literacy code to highlight spelling errors and avoid a sea of red pen.  But it is often easy to over mark. If you teach a learner with an additional learning need it’s not useful to correct every single word they have misspelt, in the same vein if you have a more able and talented learner it is not useful to correctly spell a difficult word they misspelt and ask them to copy. Limit spellings to three a page and encourage learners to find the correct spelling themselves. If you place value on the process of improving as opposed to the outcome, the culture of the classroom can become more focused on a ‘growth mindset’. 

Crack the code

After marking 28 books it begins to get repetitive. No doubt there are five things in general most learners could improve on, you have spent your time rewriting these to the whole class. Flip it. Write down the five things you assume they may need to work on and number them. As you provide feedback simply write a number. As a starter next lesson display these numbers and ask learners to write them down then respond and make changes. This encourages learners to reflect but also makes your marking more manageable. This can even be tweaked for peer-assessment. 

Key Takeaways

Looking at effective peer-assessment will have to be for another post. But, to improve your provision of teacher-led feedback here are three tips. 

1. Introduce DIRT every lesson and refuse to mark work without evidence of proofreading. 

2. When marking extensive feedback use codes to help. 

3. Before you begin the task of marking a piece of work give some verbal feedback first, ensure it is of the highest quality before getting out your red pen. 

Excellence is not a skill, it’s an attitude. 

Ralph Marston