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Managing the marking mountain

Marking is a major pressure on teachers’ time and may feel like it's consuming too much of your non-contact time, both in and outside school. 

Read on for helpful tips from the physics teaching community on how to balance marking against the many other demands on your time.

Why are you setting homework?

Buckinghamshire physics teacher Mike Metcalfe says: “I think a lot of homework is set with no particular purpose in mind other than to generate a mark and that usually means teacher marking. It's worth asking the question – what is the purpose of homework? I imagine that most enlightened senior management would like teachers to spend time planning, and would be dismayed if the marking load was getting in the way.”

Mike suggests not every piece of homework should generate a marking load: “Homework can be used to reinforce and extend ideas discussed in a lesson, to assess understanding, to carry out research, to carry out activities, to revise. Some of these activities just require a check that pupils engaged with the task.”

Sometimes you do need to set homework to generate a mark, for example, before a parents’ evening when you are still unfamiliar with a particular class. But if that is your aim, self- and peer-marking are excellent ways to get your marking done whilst ensuring your students engage with the assessment process.

Set homework that is efficient and effective

Tom Dawson, an IOP Teacher Network co-ordinator based in Shropshire, advises NQTs to prioritise planning lesson content and developing teaching skills over marking. “Only then can you start thinking about homework,” he explains. “When that is in place, think about tests. And only when all that is working well can you realistically start working on how to get each individual student’s achievement levels up.”

He points out that physics has many mathematical elements which can be easier to mark: “Homework designed to test understanding does not need to be marking-intensive. Filling in the blanks, solving problems and questions requiring short answers can test a wide range of topics and pick up where students are struggling.”

Think like a physicist

Some physics teachers develop a coding system for their marking comments to reduce their workload.

This not only saves time but it can actively benefit the pupils themselves.

David Collyer, a physics teacher in Leeds, said: “I often find myself saying the same things over and over again – underline headings, put units in results table headings etc. So I wrote a list of all the things that crop up and put them onto a PowerPoint loop. When marking the reports, I just annotate them using a code eg M2 is method point 2, G4 is graphs point 4 and so on. On receiving the books the pupils have to write out the points in full as targets for the next time they write a report. I find they take the comments more seriously if they've written them out themselves.”