Talking about Progress

Dont tell anyone, but i find marking SO boring.

I think this is often reflected with how my pupils receive their books back. The first thing they want to see is what mark/grade/level/percentage they got. Then the second thing they want to see is what mark/grade/level/percentage their friend got. Maybe they will then look at the comment and target I wrote – maybe. Unless of course I put it on a previous page to where their mark is. There is no way they are going to be bothered to turn back a few pages to look for something they are not interested in and might not even be there.

And so the lesson starts and, without anyone noticing it, we have all silently agreed that there may be a target in their book but we will not bother referring to it again.

How then do my pupils or myself actually know if they are making progress

So this year I thought we could change things a bit. I have 3 aims: 1) Improve the response to the targets I set 2) Improve my monitoring of these responses and 3) Not increase the amount of time I spend marking (see opening sentence)

So I have drafted this table to put in the front of their books at the start of the year. I would appreciate your thoughts as to the viability and effectiveness of this tactic.


  target Level at the time (if given) Page and date My reply Page and date for proof Teacher’s response
1 You need to describe geographical patterns in more detail 4c 12 and 10/10/13 Please see my comments on the map 16 and 29/10/13 Well done you have definitely got a level 4a now



Thanks to twitter suggestions, I am considering the following changes:

a) Speed the whole process up so pupils respond to original comment quicker. Maybe by setting the next homework as this task

b) Ditch mention of levels

c) Try it with only one year group and review at October half term ( I would prefer y8 I think)

still open to more suggestions though 🙂


Assessing Year 7

I have always felt sorry for our Y7s. In their very first week of secondary school life they are all funneled into the hall, sat at desks, made to be silent and instructed to take CAT tests. It makes me wonder what they think we are like, if that is what we think is the most important thing they should be doing to start off their KS3 and 4 educational career. Mind you that would be hypocritical of me, as we in Geography give our pupils a baseline test in their second lesson to assess where they are in their Geographical skills and understanding. We base ours on a good one I stole from @davidErogers a couple of years back.

When we have looked at these results we have noticed 2 things: 1) they are rather low and 2) by the end of the year most pupils have really improved. Does this mean that our Geography team is stunningly gifted at our job? or is it that Primary School teachers are notably poor at theirs? Or is that Primary school teachers are inflating the levels of their pupils at the end of KS2?

I personally don’t believe any of these are the case. And I specifically find it distasteful when secondary colleagues of mine propose the last of these to be the case.

But I have been suggested another possible cause and I think it is one that rings true. Primary schools are pressured to get the best possible Levels for their y6 pupils. these SATS are taken in May when there are still probably 9 weeks or so of the year remaining. After that the pressure is off. There is a  chance to do whole school productions and the like is quite rightly grasped with both hands. This means that pupils aren’t being educated in a “NC level” style for 3 and half months. That is a long long time in the life of an 11 year old. They are then expected to walk into this new classroom staffed by this strange Geography teacher and sit a Geography test to prove how well they can explain the human impacts of a tourist development in a rural area or something similar. This would be like asking Gareth Bale to play like its the European champions League Final in his first pre season friendly away at Stevenage in August.

So for September 2013, we are going to teach our new year 7s all about the wonders of geography for half a term and then in late October ask them to sit an assessment. Alas, with the increasing demand for data at all times, in all classrooms and for all cohorts ( I mean pupils) I cannot see the whole year group September tests disappearing any time soon.

Lazy Marking

This year the timetable has given me 4 Year 9 groups. I am in the middle of marking their books for the first time this term. I want to set them some early year targets, so as to focus their minds on making progress. Last year I started to use a target sheet, where they could choose from a list of possible goals to aim for. However, I found that this took up to 15 minutes in lessons; explaining what they had to do and for them to write them down.

So this year I am trying a different version of this. While marking their books I noted the things that overall had gone well and more importantly the aspects of their work that needed improving. I restricted this to a list of 8 targets. I based these around NC level descriptors, but made no mention of levels in the targets as I hadn’t done so when setting the work. These were numbered.

The list is here ……Early Y9 targets

Under the comment I wrote in their books, instead of writing out 2 different targets for about 120 pupils over and over again, I just wrote down 2 numbers instead. In the next lesson I put the list of goals on the board and the pupils write these down in their books themselves. In fact, since it is the beginning of the year I have borrowed a colleague’s idea and have had the pupils write them down on the inside cover of their books. Therefore, if SLT or anyone else, should ever come into my lessons and ask the pupils if they know how they can improve their work…….

I like setting the targets like this because it has the advantages of:

  1. saving me a LOT of time when marking
  2. allowing me the chance to explain what some of the targets mean to the whole class, so pupils don’t just ignore them
  3. Because pupils write them down themselves they have to spend some time reflecting on what they mean
  4. It is quicker than giving them a choice
  5. they all start the year with the idea of improving being high in their minds (hopefully)

If anyone has any similar or different methods of target setting and lazy marking I would to hear them. In the meantime, please feel free to use these targets if they are of any use to you.

Lazy Marking in Geography

Its not an original thought I know, but I HATE marking. The only bit all year I enjoy is adding up the scores for my pupils’ mock exam scores and even that isnt really the marking part.

Additionally, the younger the pupils the more I struggle to motivate myself to mark. I think that’s because they are more likely to just regurgitate back what I said in the lesson or they read in the book or from the webpage. So this means I am even more likely to have to write the same things over and over again.

Then there is the question “Do the pupils read what I write?” Even when I remember to set aside some time in class for them to do this I am not sure if they do. Last month I read part of Dylan Wiliam’s “Embedded Formative assessment”

In there he quoted research to say that if you give a grade/mark/level and a comment then the pupils only look at the grade and ignore the comment. I have to say this backs up my personal experience.

So I have developed a plan to get round these two problems of me wasting time marking and pupils not reading what I write. I only use this for the more major assessment pieces where I am likely to give them a level. I dont think for more run of the mill marking it would save me time. Also It would then start to take up too much timje in the mere 90 minutes a week i have with KS3.

The Lazy Marking in Geography Technique

While I am marking their work I don’t write down any targets for improvement. Instead I collect these targets and put them on a document. This I then sort into levels and hand out to the students next lesson. All I write on their actual work myself is a NC level and a positive comment on something they have done well.

Then in the lesson, they read their work and look at the level I gave them. Then I hand out the target sheet and ask them to choose targets that they wish to aim for. I don’t limit them to the ‘next level up’ I tell them they can choose any 2 they wish.

I make them write these targets in the middle of a new page and then draw a simple unadorned box around them. nothing else goes on the page. that way it sticks out in their book and can be easily seen by pupil, parent, tutor and of course me. This target can then be referred to any time over the next half term. After that I find it becomes a bit repetitive.

I have attached below the various lists of targets I have set out over the last 18 months. You will notice there is much repetition in them. The trick is to find targets that relate back to what has just been covered AND to the next topic as well. all the below are my own.

Please steal and adapt them if you wish. If you have any comments or would like to tell me if and how you used them and how you improved them i would love to hear back. The only resource that is not mine is the “Geography Ladders” powerpoint. i cannot remember where on the internet i got this from. If you recognise it and know the author please tell me.

I am sorry they are in no order and their names dont tell much about them. I originally only wrote them for myself

early Y9 geog targets

end of unit targets africa

end of unit targets fashion


level targets start of tectonics topic y9

targets at the start of the topic

targets.topic detail TRF

Term 5 Geography Target Setting

Y9 targets end agricult topic

Year 7 targets before school geog lessons

How I know Parents LOVE summative assessment and why they dont need NC levels

Every Saturday morning I take two of my children swimming. The local pool is stocked full of enthusiastic young swimming teachers who have given all of my children a fantastic start in life. They have shown them how to feel comfortable and safe in water and how to enjoy it. Ratios seem to be a maximum of 10:1 with a lifeguard on duty too. Lessons last half an hour and each child receives individual as well as group teaching and tutoring. The classes are differentiated by ability; when you are good enough you go up the next level regardless of age.  When you look across the pool every single participant is enjoying themselves. For £5 the half hour session is an immense bargain.

However today was different. THERE WAS NO TEACHING AND LEARNING AT ALL. Instead it was a ‘recording how far you can swim’ day. The children were put into lanes up and down the pool and every time they swam the 50 meters there and back the teacher recorded it. All the teacher had to do was shout encouragement and tick a box. Then at the end, write in the gap on the slip of paper how far the child had managed.

Maybe I should demand my money back because my children could not have progressed this morning even if they wanted to. Swimming up and down didn’t seem to serve any purpose. After all I am paying for them to LEARN how to swim.

Then I watched what happened after the class. Normally parents pick up their children from the poolside, get them showered, changed and leave as soon as possible. This morning however, slips were being checked and congratulations given. Timidly at first comparisons between offspring were being made. No one was rushing to leave, even if it was only to queue at reception for a certificate and badge proving the distance that had been swum. All parents were hooked on this measurable outcome. ‘How good is my child?’ is what we all desperately wanted to know. In other words parents wanted to know the outcome and the sum of the summative assessment.

Not only that, but the children wanted their reward too. When my two realised that I wasn’t queuing for their certificates and badges they were upset. I didn’t have any money on me, but explaining that wasn’t satisfactory. Of course they were wanting to have what everyone else was getting, but equally they desired the proof of their success and their efforts.

All this made me think about assessment and parents involvement in their child’s learning and progress. My previous post on parents evenings was partly about how schools may try to involve parents in what their child is doing.  Parents rarely understand the difference between one level or grade and the next. They want to know “How is my child doing? Are they working hard? Are they behaving themselves?” After all if they were excited by pedagogy they would be teaching too.

Now if parents do not understand levels and that is the summative assessment we used to report to them whist their is child between 5 and 14,  then there is something seriously wrong in the way schools are communicating. Since there is confusion over what a level 4 may mean then reporting part levels is even more senseless. I can understand “Your child swam 400 meters” but I don’t know what “your son is a level 4” in French means.

So we need to rid ourselves of National curriculum Levels

Only I don’t know what we could replace them with.