Friday, 28 January 2011

Planning and Marking

There is a lot about teaching that is to do with preparing lessons and marking. Preparation looks forward and you anticipate glowing lessons where students will be enthusiastic and learn a lot very quickly. Marking looks backwards and permits you to see how near you have come to what the teaching set out to do.
I used to be a secondary teacher and now I’m a university lecturer. There are many parallels but some striking differences that are mainly to do with emphasis.
Lesson planning in both sectors can be very creative. In both cases also, one plans, delivers the lesson, evaluates, adjusts and plans again. In the university, one’s new research also feeds into the lesson plan. At school, you’re dealing with your own interpretation of a fixed curriculum and what you do depends very much on the students you have in front of you. If they don’t like, they’ll play up. University students might just not bother coming to class again and to some extent anyway are more forgiving if you don’t quite get it right: they know they’ve got to learn the material and the skills anyway. But a word of caution here: fees are high, debt mounts and students and whoever supports them deserve value for money.
Marking, in both cases can be divided into what one ought to do and what one absolutely has to do. In secondary teaching it is virtually impossible to keep on top of what one ought to do and I devised strategies to cope with this: set work that students could mark themselves, marked their work in class whilst they were writing and set work that we discussed in class. The compulsory marking was somewhat easier. It came in manageable lumps.
At university it is the other way round. The work that ought to be looked at only comes from a few final year and MA students and is looked at again in the Creative Writing Workshop. All of our seminars, anyway, contain an element of the workshop and this is the equivalent of setting work that can be discussed at secondary level. The work that must be marked is another matter.
I hate it when people say, in December and early June, “I bet you can ease up a bit now that the students have gone home, can’t you?” No, I can’t. I took off Christmas day, my birthday on 22 December, one day when our children visited and one day when we visited the in-laws at the end of last year. Otherwise I’ve been working solidly since the end of November on marking, moderating and conducting the post-marking admin. And I mean evenings and weekends as well as during the day. I’ve marked 165 scripts, and moderated another 35. That is between 200 and 100 hours’ work. So far, I’ve spent twelve hours on post-marking admin and have another five or so to do. This would be fine, except the other work does not go away. The semester begins next week. Fortunately most of the preparation was done in the summer. I’ll still be processing marks as the teaching begins.
There is an up-side to university-level marking, though. Except in a very few cases – and they’re usually the same students who have hardly come to class - you could probably give every single one top marks for effort. We get a full range of marks, with most falling between 50 and 80, and with a significant majority getting 60-69, and most people who fail do so for technical reasons, like not giving in all the bits and pieces that are required or handing work in late. At degree level, even undergraduate, that range of marks is pleasing. The students’ work is interesting and varied, though after a while one’s words on the cover forms begin to sound like clich├ęs.
I can’t really complain, though. There is little about my job that I don’t like and much that I love. Perhaps some of the admin bugs me a little – especially when I rip my fingernails on the post-marking admin – don’t ask! And yes, I do have time to write a blog. It’s writing and therefore part of my research.

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