Why ‘triple marking’ is wrong (and not my fault)

You can’t blame celebrity edubloggers for teachers’ unreasonable workloads – Albert Einstein

In his indefatigable efforts to get schools and teachers to recognise that much of what is done in the name of demonstrating progress for Ofsted’s benefit is a pointless waste of time, apparently, Ofsted’s National Director, Mike Cladingbowl has been blaming me for inventing ‘triple marking’.[i]

This is an accusation I refute.

As I understand it, the phenomena of ‘triple marking’ of goes something like this:

  1. You mark students’ work
  2. They act on your marking
  3. You mark students’ work again.

The logic is that in responding to students’ responses to your response you are having a dialogue. This is a hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting back on itself.  However, the prevailing feeling amongst school leaders appears to be that having a dialogue is A Good Thing. How do we know? Because Ofsted say so.

Or do they? In this clarification document, Ofsted say the following:

Ofsted does not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders. Ofsted recognises that the amount of work in books will often depend on the age and ability of the pupils.

Ofsted does not expect to see unnecessary or extensive written dialogue between teachers and pupils in exercise books and folders. Ofsted recognises the importance of different forms of feedback and inspectors will look at how these are used to promote learning.

So that’s clear then: there’s no need for “unnecessary or extensive written dialogue”. Except, how do we know what an Ofsted inspector might perceive as ‘unnecessary’ or ‘extensive’? Doesn’t this suggest that they are looking for moderate amounts of ‘necessary’ written dialogue? Certainly this is open to interpretation and you can see how an over zealous type might infer that teachers must produce written dialogue and, that being the case, it might be safer to err on the side of extensive rather than insufficient.

As always, no matter how hard the people at the top protest otherwise, some school leaders (and some Ofsted Inspectors) persist in doing the wrong thing.

At this point I need to come clean. While I didn’t invent it, I have written and endorsed a system developed by Clevedon School termed Triple Impact Marking (or TIM). The important difference is that the three parts of TIM are:

  1. Students self assess their work
  2. You mark their work
  3. They respond to your marking

As you can see, the onus is on students’ rather than teachers. But even so, this system can result in meaningless exchanges like this:

  • Student: The work was fun. I found it easy.
  • Teacher: Please use capital letters and write in full sentences.
  • Student: I will, thanks sir.

There is little in this dialogue that seems necessary or useful. Here’s another example, this time from a maths teacher:


This sort of dialogue would seem to be a waste of everyone’s time. I don’t really care how students feel about the work they’ve done, nor do I want them committing meaningless platitudes to paper[ii]. I’d much rather class time was spent learning stuff and then practising it.

The type of ‘dialogue’ I do think is worthwhile should go more like this:

  1. Students proofread their work for accuracy and highlight sections on which they particularly want feedback.
  2. You check they have proofread – if they haven’t, refuse to mark it until they have. Then read through and provide feedback where it has been requested.
  3. Students then practise on improving their performance in the identified area.

In terms of the impact on teacher workload, this can and should be minimal. Ideally, I would suggest the only thing you need to write in students’ books are numbers which correspond to feedback tasks which are displayed on the board; students can write the feedback in their books themselves. Then, as they begin practising, you are able to have discussions about the work you have read as required. This means that time is spent reading students’ work rather than writing in their books. In this way, I was able to mark a set of books in less than 10 minutes.

One further point: teachers should not mark students’ work for accuracy. If we point out their mistakes, there is no impetus to complete work accurately first time round. By insisting that the minimum expectation for written work is that it be proofread before it’s handed in, we make committing careless errors burdensome. If they know they will be expected to correct these mistakes before you are prepared to mark their work then they will learn that it easier to write correctly first time round. And if they don’t know how to correct an error then they will be requesting feedback at the point that they are ready to learn. Any input we give is far more likely to have impact than any amount of unsolicited advice.

So, just in case anyone is unclear, the expectation that teachers should spend every evening and weekend ploughing through students’ exercise books is wrong. If teachers are unable to complete their marking obligations in, let’s say, half an hour a day, then the school’s marking policy needs to be carefully rethought. As I’ve said before, any policy which is predicated on the belief that teachers can or should work harder will fail.

[i] Apparently Mike didn’t really blame me, he just asked Old Andrew at a teachmeet whether I was responsible. Any blame therefore is entirely Old Andrew’s

[ii] Only someone depressingly and unimaginatively literal minded could take this out of context to imply that being uninterested in compelling children to waste time writing something trite and plodding in the pretence that it is somehow a marker of their progress, somehow makes me some kind of soulless monster who doesn’t care about children’s feelings. Obviously I am such a monster, but that’s not the point.

24 Responses to Why ‘triple marking’ is wrong (and not my fault)

  1. Bryn Goodman says:

    A brilliant post, David. I really like the system you use, particularly the way it leads to students being placed at the edge of their learning therefore making the marking very effective as a tool for progress.

  2. […] You can’t blame celebrity edubloggers for teachers’ unreasonable workloads – Albert Einstein In his indefatigable efforts to get schools and teachers to recognise that much of what is done in the name of demonstrating progress for Ofsted’s benefit…  […]

  3. Angela Robson says:

    What if SLT have a marking policy that does involve triple marking, your books are scrutinised frequently and you are graded – and – this is used with lesson observation and pupil progress to put the grade 4 and 3 teachers on a ‘progress contract?’

  4. paulgmoss says:

    I like where you are coming from with the idea of getting students to proofread before we see it, but i think that the obstacle of skill in doing so is more of an obstacle than you suggest, particularly with low achieving students. On the whole i think my students do attempt to produce their best work and desire feedback on it, but there are always a large number of errors embedded in their work. Essentially this dilemma renders us back to the original issue.

    I think teachers can significantly reduce marking time if they focus only on the end product of a lesson’s work. After all, that should be the indication of progress. Where issues arise however is if the end product has failed to accurately arrive, and if the lesson is more evenly distributed rather than just a culminating understanding.

    I think it is wise to not undervalue the importance of accuracy, especially as it is becoming the lovechild of all English Boards, and has meant the difference between my students gaining a C or D grade in their GCSE’s.

    My school implements a Directed Improvement Time (DIT) into lessons, where students must accurately respond to feedback (most powerfully in the form of questions) and correct errors made. It is after these responses that i can truly gauge if the gap between what i think i’m teaching and what the students are learning is closed. Yes, this is time consuming, as the dreaded 3rd dialogue moment ensues, but if the focus is on a deeper learning experience rather than a quantitative one, it can be incorporated into lesson time. Actually, there is no alternative at this point than to open the dialogue again, because without doing so, the student would be left behind on that particular skill. What is your process if the student still has it wrong after your feedback?

  5. I’ve seen the ‘proofreading’ stage accomplished collaboratively by having children share their work to and fro in small groups as it develops. In the example I saw they did this by working on tablets in groups of about five (virtual groups, no need for them to sit together) and commenting at defined stages on each other’s work. There were agreed rules about the balance and nature of the comments and, again using the technology, the teacher had oversight of the whole shebang. Once everyone’s got the idea, it seems to work pretty well.

  6. Carmen Aguilar says:

    How can the students start by correcting any errors? If they knew they were errors, one assumes that they would not have committed them in the first place. I want to correct errors, not to comment on laziness. I set the task. The students write their piece. I correct and comment on the errors. I do this by correcting little errors (plural, gender, a preposition here and there), by making a comment on a wrong tense used or word (correcting it only would not make them understand why they got it wrong in the first place) and ultimately, by posing questions, when I know they can be answered by the student and lead to learning. I also highlight (literally) particularly good expressions or vocabulary used. I also make a quick comment on content, structure, presentation and length if appropriate.
    All the above, I consider necessary. But that takes me a good 10 minutes per student and this is only my input. Then the student needs to re-write the piece (sometimes) or make corrections. Then I have to start all over. How can I make this shorter without compromising the quality of the feedback.
    I have even considered to record myself giving oral feedback. Nightmare!!

  7. Daver says:

    I see where you are coming from with the extension of teachers work, but in the terms of progress at the heart of everything we do sometimes our workload is needed to increase for the benefit of the students – or perhaps more importantly that we, as professionals find other areas to spend less time in order to spend more time on feedback. This mean that we, as teachers, should prioritise better.

    It is proven that feedback is the real vehicle to success from a students point of view, and it is needed for them to see where they have gone wrong, make the changes required and to then have it looked at again by us.

    I fully appreciate that really this task is never ending, but it is our job as teachers to see where task ends and then transition it into the next task which ensures students are benefiting from it and maximising progress.

  8. […] Keeping with the marking theme, @LearningSpy asks; “Are We Fetishising Marking?” and Why Triple Marking is Wrong? […]

  9. […] Why ‘triple marking’ is wrong (and not my fault) You can’t blame celebrity edubloggers for teachers’ unreasonable workloads – Albert Einstein In his indefatigable efforts to get schools and teachers to recognise that much of what is done in the name of demonstrating progress for Ofsted’s benefit is a pointless waste of time, apparently, Ofsted’s National Director, Mike Cladingbowl has been blaming me for inventing ‘triple marking’. […]

  10. […] assertions that they categorically do not expect to see reams of dialogue in students’ books (Didau himself wrote a blog about why he may have been wrong after all), but I tend to believe that TIM, when used sensibly, is actually extremely […]

  11. […] That, to me, is the core of it. I could talk at length now about how to mark and how Ofsted don’t expect loads of unnecessary dialogue, but that’s been blogged about by a few people. If you want that information please have a look at David Didau’s excellent blog post here. […]

  12. […] spent on? If teachers absolutely must be held account for meeting targets based on spurious data or triple mark their books, what will they be required to stop […]

  13. […] Why ‘triple marking’ is wrong (and not my fault) 29th November 2014 […]

  14. […] books without providing anything in the way of useful feedback and of course lots of thinking (some of it disastrous) has been done to try to prevent this from happening. Ask any group of teachers if their marking […]

  15. […] a response to their teachers’ written feedback. This is the nonsensical logic of ‘triple marking‘: 1) the teacher gives feedback on student’s work, 2) the student writes a response to […]

  16. […] over time, some schools became preoccupied with looking for particular things in lessons. Like triple marking (and the infamous green and purple pens). OFSTED were usually willing to say they weren’t […]

  17. […] pages of written comments. And I had a (two-way) conversation with each pupil. This wasn’t triple marking, but they did respond to my […]

  18. […] Keeping with the marking theme, @LearningSpy asks; “Are We Fetishising Marking?” and Why Triple Marking is Wrong? […]

Constructive feedback is always appreciated

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