Marking, reflection and feedback should be worthwhile


Owain Hoskins – History Teacher and Learning Innovator

Since my time as a teacher, the one thing that I’ve seen change the most is marking. Gone are the days where marking would just include comments such as ‘well done’ or ‘good work’ and in most cases pupils would probably not even read them. Over the last couple of years I’ve incorporated and planned into my lessons, reflection time for students. Here, pupils are challenged to go back to their work and rewrite a section to improve it in a specific way or to correct errors. It was something that I picked up from Barney Ware in Geography who used the acronym DITRY Time. (Directed Independent Reflection Time for you) This was also commented in a popular blog by David Didau, Educational Consultant and author of books such as ‘The Secret of Literacy’, who said, ‘The big difference is DIRT. The idea that I should dedicate part or all of a lesson to Directed Improvement & Reflection Time in which pupils act on my feedback has been a revelation’.


As a result, in History we have been using our own version called the Purple Pen of Progress. This is a time saving technique that is based on focused marking which has an impact on student progress. I use a specific purple pen to jot questions for students to respond to.

Purple Pen

One example of where this can be seen is with my Year 8’s. After looking at a portrait of Henry VIII in class and instead of making general comments when I took their books in, I wrote questions like; ‘Can you use any more evidence from source 2 to justify your opinion?’ or ‘Is the painting a representation of Henry or an accurate portrayal?’ I allowed the class 10-15 minutes to respond to these questions the next lesson. This method actively involves pupils who respond in the following lesson on the skills they had been learning. Here, it had been source analysis and the context, message and purpose of the painting. They were taking more responsibility for their own learning and it gave the marking more meaning.

Marking Examples

I had about 5 or 6 target questions in mind before I began marking their books and I then applied them accordingly. If I’m going to commit time to marking then I want it to be purposeful and I believe this really helped in saving time. I have also used it with my Year 7 classes.

Year 7 Marking

As David Didau mentions, ‘Marking is also differentiation. There can be no better way to respond to the needs of an individual than to read what they have written and give them specific tasks to challenge them to be better than they currently are’

For my key stage 4 classes, I extend the process and expect the older students to do more. I ask more questions (Purple Pen of Progress) and use a marking key to enable them to see how I have annotated their work.

Marking Annotations

Students have to work out what they have done well and why. They also have to set an individual target. (Two stars and a wish) Ultimately, the annotations show pupils how well they are doing, the Purple Pen of Progress asks them questions to move their learning forward and finally a new target is set by them.

KS$ Marking Examples


Finally, as Richard Charlesworth has mentioned in ‘Bright Spots’ on the BCS Sharing Practice webpage, ‘we have developed in History ‘drop cards’ for use with the L@B initiative for Key Stage 3. The idea of how to use them is that while walking around the room you drop the card next to a student you feel has demonstrated that skill. The cards have the 4 bullet points of the skill which match the classroom poster. Therefore you can say to the student that you will return to them later in the lesson and if they can explain why you have ‘dropped the card’ there then they will have earned themselves a merit. We have embellished this further by stamping a smiley face in their books where they can also write down why they got the merit. This records oral feedback nicely and is also a time saving activity that is documented in their class books. Year 7s and 8s are still young enough to enjoy this type of activity.’

L@B Marking


My belief is that marking, reflection and feedback should be worthwhile, both for the teacher and the pupil. I believe the type of feedback outlined above enables effective planning by the teacher. For one minute spent marking a class book, a student could spend ten minutes responding in some way. Therefore, marking becomes planning and we see a shift towards the increasingly proactive participation of the pupil.

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