The Great Marking Debate: why marking with colours works.

There seems to have been an awful lot of cyber-palaver over the last few weeks between educationalists debating about marking and the use of different coloured pens. Howls of derision at being given multi-coloured pens by naïve and idiotic HoDs who want to please Ofsted and the SLT without a single thought for real education and real marking have been emitted across cyberspace, drowning out a lot of the other noise.

I remember being at a CPD event a few years ago where I was forced to bite my tongue when somebody began expounding the virtues of the “purple pen of progress”, turning me into a cringing, shaking mess in the corner. Honestly, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the idiocy of this idea.

But, I’m afraid I have to confess, I am a convert. I am that moronic head of department who unthinkingly forces pens of different colours onto my staff. I ask them, nay, force them, to mark in red. I cajole them into making students peer assess in purple. Even worse, I coerce my long-suffering faculty into providing green pens for students when they are responding or improving their work. And, to top it all off (this really does take the biscuit), I make them use blue and yellow highlighters in their marking to highlight effective work and that which needs to be improved.  Why do I do this? Mwaaaaahhahahahhahaha!. Because I can! The buzz I get from asserting my power and the tinge of pleasure I receive from showing our books to LA visitors, Ofsted types and the public in general makes me bristle with self-importance! Or maybe not.

Why do I do it? Because it works, stupid! Since I began adopting this approach four years ago, my students have learnt more and faster. If they can glance back in their books and instantly see what they’ve done well (blue) or what they didn’t do very well (yellow), then this aids their revision. If they want to find my comments quickly, they look for red. If they want to see how they’ve improved something, they look for green. Why do we colour-code anything (hands up if you colour code classes when you get a new timetable)? Because it makes it more efficient, better organised and easier to use. If the students use nothing but one colour and the teacher uses nothing but one other colour, there is no quick way to differentiate between what’s what.

As we gradually embed the new GCSEs, I think this will become even more important. Our students are given a different exercise book for each topic to help with revision,  and those studying the new GCSEs are going to have to become much better at revising than those students who sat previous exams. The use of different coloured pens in their books is, to my mind, going to be a vital aid in helping them to revise more smartly, more efficiently and more thoroughly. They will be able to pick out much more easily what’s going to be more or less useful. So, for us, the coloured pens are here to stay.

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About Andrew Warner

Mostly English teacher, AHT (T&L/literacy/CPD) & bibliophile. Irregular examiner, MTBer, armchair anthropologist & bassist. Fascinated by language & behaviour.

2 responses to “The Great Marking Debate: why marking with colours works.”

  1. Michael Tidd says :

    I’m afraid I’m not persuaded.
    “If they can glance back in their books and instantly see what they’ve done well (blue) or what they didn’t do very well (yellow), then this aids their revision.”
    How? Surely the point of marking is to impact teaching/learning. Just because if was yellow at one point doesn’t mean it still needs attention; and just because it was blue doesn’t imply that it no longer goes.

    “If they want to find my comments quickly, they look for red.”
    Uh huh – good point. Wasn’t that always the case, though?

    “If they want to see how they’ve improved something, they look for green.”
    In what way does this accelerate learning?

    I think you’ve persuaded yourself. I’m not convinced.

    • andywarner78 says :

      I think the main point is that, at GCSE level, all the content we cover will be examined. So therefore the more accessible students’ work is for them the better (for revision purposes). If they see something blue they know it will serve them well in the future; if it’s yellow and they’ve rectified it then great. There’s no harm in looking back over how they did that. In the end, it’s all about encouraging them to think reflectively and breaking the writing up into meaningful chunks. I can see that at primary level it may be irrelevant.

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