Sunday, 11 November 2012

Marginal Marking Gains

This is a follow up to a previous blog on Marginal Gains, so if you haven't read that one, you can find it here.
After looking at the marking criteria for the King Lear essay, and adding a few other things I find useful like SOLO and 'golden quotations', we created this:

The natural successor to this lesson was inspired by my love of felt-tips. Banking on all of Y13 actually doing their homework for the first time in over a year, it was a bit of a gamble, but one that miraculously paid off. However, my shock at every one of them completing their assignment was short lived. Predictably, despite their initial enthusiasm and contributions to the idea of marginal gains in the first place, when I asked if anyone had actually used the wheel to plan/check/improve their essay, the answer was a resounding...

So, the task was to peer assess using the wheels. Sometimes peer assessment can lack focus, here it really did not. Not only did they enjoy this (few students can resist the lure of multicoloured ink) but the responses were really perceptive. The idea is dead simple: using the colours of the wheel for your feedback, highlight strengths and write marginal gains targets on a partner's work.

After swapping essays a couple of times, students then had to act on the feedback in green pen. This is a whole-school policy designed to show students responding to feedback and showing progress. It too is a really simple tweak and works very well at every level, creating a clear learning dialogue between students and teacher (or student and student in this case).

Of course, one of the advantages of well directed peer assessment is that as a teacher you don't have to mark it yourself, and yet the students are still making progress. In this case, it was very clear to students where their strengths lay and where improvements were needed.

So much marking is very time consuming and then not acted upon. Frequently you find yourself writing the same thing on essay after essay (year after year). Well, another slight adjustment you can make to ensure students are acting on your feedback is not marking the actual essays themselves. If you jot down the comments, questions and targets on a separate piece of paper then you don't have to repeat anything. When you have finished marking, you give the essays back along with the feedback and the students have to work out which bits of feedback belong to each essay.

Gains all round. Teacher does less work, students do more. Students engage with the feedback and also get far more feedback than you would write on one essay because they are reading everyone's feedback, not just their own.


  1. Funnily enough after using a marginal gains wheel with my yr 11 after hwk of past paper q's (science)and them neglecting to pay attention to their wheel with the set of q's, I did a similar piece of peer assessment. I indicated where something was wrong or missing but didn't say what- pupils had to collaborate to work it out and indicate which marginal gain would've helped. Pupils ask if they can do this each time as they " learn more than if you do it for us" Success me thinks. All very 'lazy teacher' and a win win situation. So yes your blog has inspired me to improve my teaching- thank you.
    Oh and agree 100% re: coloured pens

    1. So important to get students to engage with feedback rather than just looking at the grade. Thank you for the variation on a theme :) Will try that one too.

  2. When I heard about marginal gains in Olympics cycling I could see its potential in education, so I was really interested to read your post. I teach Geography and am considering ways of using this approach to help my pupils identify the "marginal gain" needed to add that little bit more detail to an explanation or a more specific label to a sketch. I think it's all about breaking everything down into absolute core units of knowledge or skill, and then incrementally building back up, bit , by bit.

  3. Thanks for your comment. I think one of the great things about this idea is the flexibility of it. It allows you (or students) to identify very specific targets for improvement. They start to see all the little pieces that make up a good answer, rather than broader targets from mark schemes etc.

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