Up to the mark?

Lots of marking... and that's not really my crochet in the top left... honest!

Lots of marking… and that’s not really my crochet in the top left… honest!

My least favourite thing about teaching is… marking. I’m supposed to be doing some now, but I keep finding other things to occupy me. In fact, I’m only managing to do any by rewarding myself with some other activities after every two of three scripts. I love interacting with learners on courses, but the impersonal act of judging their written work is quite unappealing to me.

Unfortunately, public funding for the sort of courses for adults that I teach generally relies on written assessment, as this is considered to provide proof of learning. When setting assessments, I always choose “formative” rather than “summative” ones, i.e, activities during which my learners will learn more as a result of doing them, rather than ones where they just regurgitate facts or demonstrate skills already acquired. Even so, I still end up with piles of marking… and it all has to be looked at.

I do teach a few courses that are not publicly funded, and in these there is no assessment… just the opportunity for learners to explore the subject as we go along and for them to find out whether they understand. In my teaching, there is no ban on asking questions, so once we’ve explored any given subject, everyone will have had the chance to find out everything they want to know about it… even me!

A soon as the marking was out of the tray, Max was in there... this may be a sign of things to come.

A soon as the marking was out of the tray, Max was in there… this may be a sign of things to come.

My days of marking, however, may be numbered. Not because our government has had decided it’s no longer necessary (quite the reverse is, in fact, the case), but because I am considering my future as a teacher within the university system. An unsatisfactory re-grading and a change to the calculation of travelling expenses has resulted in me not signing a new contract… yet. And on a sunny day like today, I’m thinking that working in the garden might provide me a with a better return; editing certainly would… and with much less stress.

I still love teaching… indeed, that’s what I will be doing for the next three days… but a cost-benefit analysis seems to be revealing more negatives than positives… we’ll see.

Anything but…

And the finished job... not too bad and it should last a while longer

One of the jobs I really don’t like

There are a few things in life that I really don’t like doing… phoning call centres, ironing shirts, darning, mending ripped clothes, replacing zips and pressure washing the greenhouse. It is amazing how much vacuuming I can find to do when there is a shirt to be ironed or a problem with a credit card to be sorted out.

Today, however, I had another job to do that I don’t like. In fact, it’s been looming over me for months (since July), but because the deadline wasn’t until next January, I didn’t actually have to get it sorted out. However, I build up a reserve of guilt that eventually forces me into action. So, today was the day – I had no editing to do (well, none arrived until lunch time) and I was starting to feel stressed that this particular job still needed doing. So, bribing myself with chocolate covered coffee beans (thank you Mr Snail) and the promise of a glass or two of wine this evening, I embarked on my marking.

I love teaching adults, but much of my work is for the local university and this means that I have to set my learners assignments which subsequently need marking. The courses are funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and they insist on seeing evidence of learning… which means written assessed work. For me, evidence of learning is the look on my students’ faces when they realise that they understand a particular concept, or hearing them applying principles we have discussed to a situation that’s relevant to their life, or listening whilst they explain a concept to another learner, or seeing information applied in a new context. But that’s not quantifiable, so is not good enough for HEFCW.

A different sort of worksheet

A different sort of worksheet

And so, today I marked. Some of the work took the form of essays, but that was in the minority… I try to be a bit more creative about the assignments that I set and so my marking included looking at graphs, diagrams, worksheets and mindmaps. I have been particularly pleased with a mindmapping exercise which comprises a colourful basic mindmap that learners add their ideas to in any format they want. I know that this sort of assessment is a long way from traditional approaches, but I also know that it suits many learners much better than asking them to construct a linear discussion. Apart from anything else, I like formative assessments – activities that add to the learning process rather than summative assessments – which are just memory tests, asking learners to regurgitate what they have been told.

Unfortunately, however creative I am with the assignments that I set, they still have to be marked and I still don’t enjoy they process. Ah well, it’s done for the time being and so I can now reward myself with a glass of Chardonnay and some Bavarian crochet.

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