Live marking

A bi-weekly T&L bulletin for staff at Community Schools Trust

At Community Schools Trust (CST), we have banned retrospective book marking. Instead, we live mark. 

We realised there wasn’t much use frantically marking books within a rigidly defined window (eg. every three weeks), usually occurring just before a book look. By the time students received our feedback, they had moved on in their learning, it didn’t feel relevant any longer and very often, they did nothing with the feedback. That’s not to mention the hours we had put in marking their books which bled into our evenings and weekends.

Defining live marking

We first introduced live marking at Forest Gate Community School in 2016, and used the EEF’s 2016 review of the evidence of written marking. We defined live marking as marking that is ‘timely and specific’.

Timely: within a timeframe that is meaningful to their learning

Specific: specific to the key learning objective that the student is aiming to secure in that lesson / period of learning.

We swear by live marking at CST. Here’s why.

A) Alignment with the EEF’s 2021 guidance report’s feedback principles:

  1. lay the foundations for effective feedback, with high-quality initial teaching that includes careful formative assessment
  2. deliver appropriately timed feedback, which focuses on moving learning forward
  3. plan for how pupils will receive and use feedback using strategies to ensure that pupils will act on the feedback offered.

B) Instant gratification: students are motivated

Students love the acknowledgment, feedback and approval of their teachers. They feel successful from it. Live feedback means they feel this success ‘early and often’ – a key lever of motivation McCrea mentions in his brilliant book ‘Motivated Teaching’. 

C)  Workload win

Needing to mark 5 books in a ‘free’ period is x1000 better than needing to mark 30 books on a Sunday evening. I would never ever go back to retrospective book marking. Nor would any of our teachers who have reaped the rewards of live marking. Our teachers swear by it; when done well, live marking saves you hours in the week and moves the learning ‘forward’ of your students. It really is win win. 

How does it work?

  • Every lesson has a key learning objective (KO) – a specific focus or outcome for that lesson, as specified in their curriculum. For CST, our KOs are clearly accessible on our online portal, Dynamic Progress Reporting (DPR) by all stakeholders – students, teachers and parents.
  • Every lesson must have the opportunity to apply the learning of that objective, usually in the form of extended writing (or its equivalent in a practical subject). We must ensure we allow enough time for this in the lesson.
  • During this time, teachers should use a success criteria (displayed on the board or in books) to indicate which criteria is missing in students’ work. 
  • They should write this down and students should respond to this immediately before continuing with their work (principle number 3 of the EEF guidance report, 2021)
  • In doing this, feedback would be ‘appropriately timed’ (as opposed to weeks later when the student may have moved to a new topic or skill)  and focused on ‘moving learning forward’ (principle number 2 of the EEF guidance report, 2021)
  • The ‘live’ nature means it also enables teachers to be aware of arising misconceptions and adapt teaching as necessary.
  • It also means the teacher can accurately formatively assess learning and update DPR for progress in the moment.
Live marking by Ms S Sharmin, FGCS

I first wrote about live marking in this blog back in 2018. 4 years on, I have the wonderful lessons of hindsight, which I have included in this piece.

Live marking occurs in phase 4 of our Explicit Direct Instruction framework: the independent practice phase of the lesson. In other words: SLOP – Shed Loads of Practice. Coined by Adam Boxer, we’ve adopted this name because the phrasing includes what is crucial in this phase: allowing students ample opportunity to apply what they have been taught. 

A high frequency error we make is spending too long teaching and running out of time to allow our students to practise and apply what they have learnt. We therefore must plan to allow this time in our lessons. If we don’t, we won’t be able to formatively assess their learning, we therefore won’t be able to live mark and our students won’t be able to ‘move learning forward’.

Therefore, we must make SLOP a routine part of our lessons. 

Target codes

At Forest Gate Community School (FGCS), we had originally been using target codes to reduce the time it took to mark summative assessments, a strategy picked up from Partners in Excellence (PiXL). When we introduced live marking, we simply moved the use of target codes into the classroom. 

For live marking, they should fulfil the following criteria:

Effective live marking is…Live marking is NOT…
…pegged to the curriculum: specific to the KO of that lesson…marking that is separate to the KO of that lesson/topic 
…action based: if it is a task, the student can ‘complete it’ to move them forward in their learning…vague commentary eg. great work. This is a grade 5.
…addresses common misconceptions or high frequency errors: this reduces their likelihood of making the error in the first place…marking that does not ‘intervene’ in their work to help ‘move learning forward’

Some examples of live marking and student responses, by subject

I would love to have a collection of subject examples from all of our schools in CST. If you have examples from your own subject which I haven’t featured, please send them to me! 

Benefit of hindsight

Initially introduced at FGCS, we have since expanded the practice of live marking across our schools in the trust and most recently, we are in the process of providing training to our newest additions to the trust.

As with all things well intentioned, we did suffer from some ‘lethal’ mutations along the way and worked hard to revisit the basics of what makes live marking effective.

Here are 4 lessons we’ve learnt along the way:

Benefit of hindsight #1

Live marking does not necessarily mean just ‘coded targets’. Coded targets are a means to live marking. Where a student will benefit from their teacher simply providing a coded target, they should do so. Where a student will benefit from a more personalised approach, teacher can supplement or replace the coded target with feedback that is more specific to their needs. You can see some examples of this in the above photos.

Benefit of hindsight #2

Ensure students actually respond to your live marking. The responsibility to ensure this lies with the teacher.

Principle number 3 of the EEF’s guidance report on marking says we should ‘plan for how pupils will receive and use feedback… to ensure that pupils will act on the feedback offered.’ Therefore, to ensure this happens, we must front load our instructions with the expectation that students respond to you whenever you provide live feedback. 

For example: Whenever I leave a comment or target, you must respond with your green pen immediately, before you continue with the work. I will be checking this is happening as I make my way around. I am looking forward to seeing your responses.

Benefit of hindsight #3

Live marking should ‘intervene’ on what the student is already doing. It should not be an additional task for them to complete. (They can of course complete an additional task if you assign this, but that is not live marking). Effective live marking means pointing out something they have missed or an error they have made – an intervention in their work – so that by addressing your feedback, they move forward in their learning.

Benefit of hindsight #4

Live marking does not mean you have to mark every book in one lesson. We defined it as ‘timely and specific’. What does that look like in your subject?

Crucially, live marking is a discipline. It takes time to perfect and improve. That means it requires a level of perseverance and effort on our part. We won’t do it well the first, second or third time we try it. In fact, it is a practice that is never really perfected, although – much like the flywheel effect – it gets much easier over time. When I first started live marking, I found the best way to approach it was to try to beat my ‘personal best’; for example, if last lesson I managed to get to 11 students, next lesson I aimed to get to 13 students.

I would do this whilst thinking about perfecting all of the conditions necessary to enable effective live marking:

  • Have I front loaded my expectations in my instructions clearly?
  • Have I planned in enough time for SLOP to enable my live marking?
  • Have I ensured my coded targets are specific to the lesson, action based and address misconceptions?
  • Have I got my DPR open, ready to update judgements during the SLOP phase?

Here’s a checklist I posted recently on some of the conditions required for effective live marking:

Let’s do some maths

If you teach a class once in a week and you target 10 students a lesson, by the end of one week, 10 students have responded to live feedback and moved forward in their learning. In 2 weeks, you have tackled 20 students. What is taking 10 books away compared to 30?

If you teach a class 3 times in a week and you target 5 students a lesson, by the end of one week, 15 students have responded to live feedback and moved forward in their learning. In 2 weeks, you have tackled 30 students.

If you teach a class 4 in a week and you target 5 students a lesson, by the end of one week, 20 students have responded to live feedback and moved forward in their learning. In 2 weeks, you have tackled all students.

You get the idea.

Plus you have your evenings and weekends free of marking!

Our final goal of the year

As a trust, our final T&L focus of the year will be perfecting our live marking. What specific thing will you do this week to make you better at live marking this term than you were last term? 

I always find it helpful to peg my goals against my common errors. For example, I sometimes lose track of time to allow for sufficient SLOP time. So I will be intellectually preparing my lessons to include strict timings leading up to SLOP and include an alarm on my phone to alert me of my upcoming SLOP time!

What specific thing will you do?

Have a great first week back.

Published by tbegumblogs

I've worked as a secondary school teacher and leader for the past 10 years. Best job ever. Here to reflect on things. Sharing in case it's useful!

3 thoughts on “Live marking

  1. Thahmina thanks for such an informative blog which really sells the benefits of live marking. Linking feedback to specific criteria listed in the DPR is far and away the best method of ensuring that students know what they re expected to achieve, and how close they are (or not) to achieving it. Giving students the opportunity immediately to demonstrate that they’ve made up a shortfall in knowledge via the “green pen” exercises is again a first class technique.

    I loved the examples that you give ; all the students respond appropriately and all their writing is neat, so they are obviously fully engaged with the programme. Ms. Sharmin’s feedback in the video is very specific (“I love the way you’ve used a 1-line structure” rather than “This is very good”), linked to an item in the DPR to which she points on screen, and she warns that she will be coming back to check on progress made. Always good to remind students that they can’t hide! The tone of voice that she uses is exactly right and makes students want to be in the class. So much better than the old confrontational and ridiculing methods which made my own school experience such a disaster.

    The front loading of expectations and the highlighting of common errors are also best practice techniques that must enable students to “get better faster.” Live marking surely necessitates absolutely rigorous time management but obviously it pays off in terms of the weekend time it gives you.

    Finally, sorry to nitpick, but Miss Noor’s video has no sound ; can this be rectified? I’d love to hear it ; I’ve been in her classes on our walk rounds when I’ve visited FGCS.


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