It can take a long time to become a teacher, I realised today, as I scrawled “Capital letters at the beginning of each sentence, please.” in red pen beneath a pencil-written story.
I know that comments beneath student work don’t really make any difference. I’ve been doing this for years and, as I tackle another pile of copybooks, expending more ink on the same students for the same reason, I wonder why I never learn.
Don’t get me wrong, I sprinkle a little AfL into my schemes of work: a sprig of peer marking here, a smattering of student-generated success criteria there. But, when it comes down to it, it is the red pen that counts as assessment around here.
I’ve simplified my marking. I use symbols (shared by the department and stuck into the back of the students’ copybooks); I use a tick and a question mark to signal what I liked and what would improve the work. Finally, I spend a little time reviewing my comments with the class and (all too rarely, I admit) with individual students.
Should I really be surprised that the students who ignore my comments are the very ones who have most need to take heed? Of course not. The student who rushes his work, omits punctuation, and so on, is of course going to be the same student who (when he gets his work back) quickly scans his book (if I’m lucky), riffles the football cards in his pocket, and wonders whether now is a good time to ask to go to the toilet.
Common sense dictates that if, for those very students, the red pen is a not a reliable means of communication, then I ought to talk to them – probably quite regularly – about their errors. Goodness knows they don’t enjoy talking with me – so perhaps that will be deterrent enough against repeated errors of punctuation and spelling. It is so much quicker to write “See me”!