“Damned if I Do”

Then scream at me for not giving you more time, more time

Damned if I do, damned if I don’t

Prince – “Damned if I Do”  – Emancipation


“Damned if I do”, I think that’s how many teachers feel about trying new things in their classroom. From September, below are a few changes I will “trial” in the hope they lead to better progress.

As an English teacher, our marking workload can be large; everything we mark is ‘extended writing’ and most of us spend hours of our life reading student work. I hope I am correct also in assuming no teacher minds marking, it’s one of the most important ways we can really assess student understanding. Only there’s a “but”, and it’s that “but” that’s had me thinking for a long time about the progress made by a student after I mark their work.

My current system requires me to mark a piece of extended writing and provide individual feedback which includes two comments; what the student did well (beyond the words good) and something they can do to improve their work. The issue I have with this is students don’t make the progress I hope for (rapid or not). How does a student get to year 11 and still not understand how to write an analytical paragraph? Every English teacher has had students using them since year7. Similar to capital letters and full stops, there isn’t a primary school that doesn’t teach students to use them – so why don’t they?

I feel our system, which is used in many schools, isn’t as effective as it could be, it only “appears” to work/show progress.

I spoke at length with Lyndsey Caldwell (@MsCaldwell1) and she recommended I read “Bringing Words To Life”. If you haven’t, I strongly advise you do, alongside “Reading Reconsidered”. I then went to my Head and asked if I could try something different with a group to see if tweaking our systems could lead to better progress. This is what I’ve come up with:

1) Knowledge Organisers

I’ve looked at the unit I’m teaching for the next 6 weeks and created a knowledge organiser (fancy word for a glossary) which has terms students will need to learn. Joe Kirby (

I’ve now created one for the unit my students are learning. It’s a combination of subject terminology, command words and vocabulary.  Students will have to memorise the words/spellings and definitions for homework.

2) Anthologies

Standing at a photocopier seems to be a permanent place for an English Teacher! We copy resources, guillotine and then get students to glue into their books which I don’t mind, what I do mind is when I mark a book and all I find on my perfectly cut extract one brightly highlighted word and often NO annotations as to why a student thinks it’s worthy of being in bright yellow!

I’ve put together a set of anthologies for each unit I teach containing all the extracts (or poems) etc that I intend to teach for the 6 weeks.


My fantastic resources dpt have made them up into A3 booklets for me. However, I don’t want students annotating in the anthologies (not at KS3).  The hope here is students will learn how to “select” relevant or better word/phrase/technique(s) and copy into their books and annotate in their book. I want to see students picking better words and analysing them using a dictionary or a thesaurus. Also, if I teach 3 year 7 classes I only have to photocopy a resource book once, as opposed to my perfectly cut resource three times, so hopefully save money/time there.

When students arrive to lesson I will hand them the anthology and they can all read the extract (in silence/quietly). I hope this works on several levels; calms students, gives me time to hand out books/take register and students can see the text in advance and familiarise themselves with the text we will use that lesson.

3) 5-a-Day

For students to answer their end of term assessment (say in literature) they need to be able to recall a large amount of information about a book eg themes, quotes, context etc. It’s a lot to ask students to do when they possibly read part of a text 20 lessons ago. To combat this I’ve created a set of five questions a day inspired by @Corbettmaths read hereYou can also read more on 5-a-day from the very talented Rebecca Foster (@TLPMsF) who’s blogged on it here specifically relating to English.

The only difference I’ve made is mine will appear on a ppt rather than a resource (to save on resources/time). I’ve created 1 for every lesson of the unit and covers all words/terms used in my knowledge organiser (1). This will hopefully help embed new vocabulary and terms.

4) PA/Self Assessment

If I’m honest, I’ve never had any real faith in peer or self-assessment. I must be rubbish at teaching it because my students are just not very good at it. I do lessons on it, I think I am teaching them how to do it, yet after a piece of writing if I ask “is it good?” I will be met with “no idea”. If they peer assess, students very rarely give a comment that would actually improve another student’s work. And yes I have made them watch Austin’s Butterfly video (if you’ve never seen it, check it out on youtube).

This year I am changing how I lead on PA.

  1. I’ve built PA/Self-Assessment into every 4th lesson on my SOW
  2. I’ve made up a “How to write an analytical paragraph” booklet (see below).  which is a differentiated step by step guide showing the process from the extract, to a finished example.
  3. DIRT (Dedicated improvement reflection time) has been built into the second half of the 4th lesson.
  4. Student feedback is being changed to Whole class feedback.



I want students to become better at understanding why or where they went wrong on a piece of writing. I hope a clear step by step process will help.

After a lovely twitter exchange with David Jones (@ewenfields), he pointed me in the direction of the two following blogs and the way his school, Meols Cop High School, have had led research projects in this area Learning and Teaching Blog and Marking and Feedback 1. I then came up with the following:



These will be printed back/back and I will keep these and hand out when needed. The front has basic checks for students to go through before they hand work back to me. If, for example, a student doesn’t use capital letters I will give them extra support (in the form of a worksheet). I hope this ensures a little more care with basic SPaG errors.

On the back I’ve split the different elements of what I look for in an analytical paragraph and come up with a simple tick for good/relevant and cross for needs improving and “code” eg

  • CF – clear focus – Make a point/express an opinion relevant to answering the question

The explicit definitions will help students understand/remember what I expect from “clear focus”.   I’ve grouped the marking codes into a simple hierarchy.

The final step is the whole class feedback. You may ask why am I changing this if it’s the whole school! A while back as part of CPD all staff were asked to take a book with (what we considered) outstanding marking to a room and all staff wandered around looking at them. I noticed one of my department’s and couldn’t resist reading. The teacher had given a clear WWW and clear EBI and the student (top set) had improved their work, but what I noticed was the teacher had said something (along the lines) go back and analyse one word in detail eg stabbed. What had the top set student done? Had they gone back and re-read the extract, selected a relevant word and analysed to a high standard? No, they analysed the word their teacher directed them to “stabbed”. It struck me then – where’s the learning?

I’ve adapted our school feedback sheet to remove individual comments and I will now give ONE whole class WWW and ONE EBI. Students have had their individual feedback in coded comments down the margin. The EBI will be a ‘develop and stretch’ question that they will need to incorporate into their improved response.


I want students to use the analytical paragraph A3 guide, and the DIRT sheet with the marking codes to improve their work. They will write the code they have chosen to improve on the feedback sheet.

To consolidate learning students will use the code they decided to improve their focus for their next piece of writing (say two weeks later).  They just need to flick back and write the code they chose to improve at the top of the new piece of extended writing and then highlight where they feel they have met this again on a new piece of work. I hope this will really help students master a skill. Also, if I or they flick through their writing it will be very clear which aspects they keep missing. If it’s several then we can sit and have a conversation about why they’re finding it difficult to remember.


What I am trying to achieve is making my students understand for themselves where they went wrong or where they could pick marks up without me explicitly directing them to it. I hope this will lead to better progress if they can begin to really understand what to improve and this independence will help them in exams when I’m not there!

This is all a trial/project. I will do a follow-up blog around Christmas.

Thank you for reading.

One thought on ““Damned if I Do”

  1. Hi. This is great and I look forward to the follow up.

    I have a couple of questions.
    1). When you say A3 do you mean A5, or are you giving students large sized guides?

    2). You mention that:
    “To consolidate learning students will use the code they decided to improve their focus for their next piece of writing (say two weeks later).”

    Can you clarify the timeline here? Do students ALSO do any immediate redrafting, correction or improvement of this current piece you have just marked? Or do they only read this feedback when it is given to them, and then only start to implement it two weeks later when they begin their next piece of writing?

    Hope this question is clear, and hope this trial is going well in the classroom.


    Phil Ross


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