the Dragonfly journal

Base camp marking – The pros and cons of self marking and peer marking

By Steve Chapman

In my last blog I told you about the wonders of the ‘Four-coloured Pen marking’ that I have been using for quite some time now with great success. As I said then, and will not apologise for repeating here, self/peer marking is not easy and unless managed carefully can lead to blood being spilt in your classroom…and it may not all be yours!

The Four-coloured Pen method leaves room for negotiation and for pupils to make their own decisions on suggested editing, much like real life in many respects. Granted, some marking really is to spot and correct genuine mistakes…I mean, only this week I discovered just how many places a child can put an apostrophe in ‘don’t’ – all in the same piece of work!

But what do you do if you really aren’t confident enough to take the Four-coloured Pen Challenge just yet?

Here’s how you can break your class in gently….

Now, as I mentioned a while ago, I’m working with author Cathy Farr, and we’re using her action packed novel, Moon Chase (Bridge Reader edition), for a lot of our exercises this year – a few of which are about self and peer marking.

We take a couple of paragraphs from a chapter in Cathy’s book (it does help having a local author in situ) and alter it to add in several deliberate mistakes in spelling, tense and grammar.  Here’s a paragraph taken from a slightly longer piece.  This paragraph has 10 mistakes in it (and ‘Wil’ is not one of them, Cathy insists it’s spelt like that for a reason):

Wil yawned an stretched.  He walk out of the little cottage into the bright, sunny morning.  No, he really could here an animal howling, and by the look of it so could the hole village!  wil ran to the water barrel outside the front dor and kwickly splashed a handful of water over his face.  the water was freezing.  Now he really was awacke, how many did you get? (The missing full stop at the end always catches them out!)

The first time you do this, go through the piece as a group, or in pairs, don’t just let them loose on their own.  You can use any text you like, or even make it up on the board as you go.  But, speaking from experience, make sure you are armed with your own corrected and highlighted sheet; its all very well being cunning and trying to catch the kids out but the first time I did this, I confidently told them to look for 34 mistakes and they, quite rightly, found 37!  It’s also a good idea to use double line spacing, so they can write the corrections on the sheet – they can stick it in their workbooks after (I have done this asking them to copy the text as they go, but actually this simply serves to muddy the water with weaker pupils, so sticking and pasting is best).

It is important to tell the children how many mistakes they are looking for at the outset to build confidence; this work can be done in pairs and then individually later.

Once they’ve gone through the text get them to swap sheets for marking (otherwise the cheating is horrendous, believe me!).  This approach really is a great way to get the class into the idea of marking, and is also a great way of modeling as you work towards the Four-coloured Pen exercise.  When you think they are ready unleash them on each other’s work.

An extension of this is to pair up the children and then get each partner to set the other certain targets, say, checking tense…or those dreaded apostrophes – rather than marking everything in the piece.

The next way of doing it is that older students create the texts or tests for the younger ones. This puts them in the role of teacher which I believe helps their understanding more than any other activity.

Another really good variation is to have a lengthier piece of text but only have two mistakes. Again, we use Cathy's book for this as it so good to use the book of the author who is in the class with us! Having only two mistakes makes them read and re-read the text over and over again. We often follow up this activity with our own special technique called 'Quappying' (I have touched on this in a previous blog and will do so again in the coming weeks).

If nothing else this is an excellent way for the children to model each other’s work. It really does give them confidence and takes away their fear of making mistakes with their own work.  You can also take it a step further and get the class to do this half way through a writing exercise; they swap work, mark and have the opportunity to make suggestions as to how the piece might develop.  Some will gratefully take on board peer suggestions, others will reject them out-of-hand – both is fine.  Give them ten minutes to do this and then get them to go back to their own work.

So, there it is…Base Camp Marking.  Go on, give it a go and then try the Four-coloured Pen marking, after all, what’s the worst that could happen?Base camp marking - The pros and cons of self marking and peer marking