FRaDing: a case for not marking regularly

Assessment marking orthodoxy is that books should be looked at once every two weeks. There are obviously legitimate reasons for doing this: when students work hard on a piece of work we need to show we value that and offer our feedback. Additionally, on extended written pieces or larger projects, they will need to action the feedback whilst it is all still fresh in their minds. However, I would like to make the case that on other things it is better to comment on it after two weeks.

Just as one famous blogger (he shall remain nameless because he gets name checked in blogs far too much for his own ego) has stated, marking can be differentiation and planning. Done in a certain way, marking can also encourage retrieval practice. I struck upon this idea when I collected my Year 11 books in after having not reviewed them for at least 3 weeks. In that time they been been doing a lot of note taking with some practice at the types of questions they will face in the exams. In the unit they are currently studying,  USA, 1918-1929, they are presented with 3 questions: one asking them what they can learn from a source, another requiring them to compare two sources and a third requiring them to write an essay evaluating an interpretation. They are presented with a quote, such as ‘The main reason for the failure of prohibition was…’, and they must discuss the evidence in support of it and the evidence that challenges it. This means that the students must prepare for this type of question during each part of the unit we study, which can be a little monotonous. I would often have them writing detailed plans by dividing their page and writing detailed information that could be used to argue both cases.  In the past I would have just ‘ticked and flicked’ as I just checked they had been done.

However, this time I decided to do things differently. Having read about the insights of cognitive science regarding memory, such as the value of retrieval practice, the importance of allowing a little forgetting and the spacing effect, I decided I would more closely scrutinize the notes they had made and force them to revisit them. I looked for factual errors for them to correct, information for them to clarify or add extra detail to, and I then expected them that  to deepen their knowledge and understanding by adding to their notes with some extra reading I provided from an A Level book. The next lesson they now had to revisit information that they wouldn’t have looked at again until it came to revise – in other words I was forcing them to interrupt their forgetting. They actually responded to it well – or, at least the name I gave it, which was FRaDing (Fix, Review and Deepen – my variation on DIRT). FRaDing also had other benefits. It sent out a message that all work, whether it be note taking or essay planning, needs to be of a high quality – detailed, accurate and coherent. It was also a chance to drive home a message about presentation and subtly raise the bar on what my expectations are about each aspect of the work they do.

This might not sound appealing to everyone because in essence I am suggesting you should mark more. However, FRaDing sets your next lesson up, no extra planning needed. I am also certain that it will pay dividends in the long run because students will, through the act of reviewing ‘old’ work, strengthen their knowledge of it and make the connections to things they are covering in the present.

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