Do you find that assessing writing is a continuous thorn in your side?


By Ben Jackson

I always found it hard to write stories as a child and at the start of my teaching career I was able to sympathise with those children who sat there with a blank page in front of them not knowing where to start. However, I have to say, I grew to love teaching English to my Year 6 class as I found that the children were incredible at coming up with all those imaginative, creative ideas that I had often lacked as a child. As their teacher, it was a pleasure to be in a position to offer them guidance and structure to turn those great ideas into exciting pieces of writing.

As much as I grew to love teaching English as a Year 6 teacher, I used to dread marking and assessing those 32 English books every evening, particularly when the children had done an extended piece of writing. This had nothing to do with what the children were writing — far from it! I had the privilege of teaching some amazingly talented children who created a whole range of funny, emotional and often very original pieces of writing. However, I was so concerned about following the school’s rigorous feedback policy and leaving profound comments that I hoped would impress my SLT during a book scrutiny, I was unable to appreciate the children’s work for what it was.

At one point it was taking me nearly 10 minutes to mark a piece of writing. With 32 children in my class, that was 320 minutes I was spending marking one set of books — that works out at over 5 hours!! I feel silly looking back now that I even tried to maintain this and it is no wonder I felt that I needed to take a break from teaching. My feedback was often so extensive that not only was it unmanageable for me to maintain, but it must also have been extremely overwhelming for the children. But at the time, I didn’t know what else to do and so I got my head down and pressed on.

When Balance was created, it was intended to support teachers to go back to basics with their feedback and assessment. By choosing just 2 or 3 explicit objectives from the Writing Curriculum to focus on during a unit of work, teachers are able to be much more focussed and clear on what they expect the children to know by the end of the unit. When assessing a piece of work, they can narrow their feedback down to focus on just those chosen objectives. The understanding can be recorded in Balance at the end of each week and this will then build up a picture of the progress the children are making to secure a particular objective. As a result, the children will have a much better understanding of what is expected of them to move their learning forward. Children are also encouraged to self-assess themselves against those objectives and in doing so, help teachers to inform their next steps.

By prioritising verbal feedback, and using Balance to record a child’s depth of understanding, teachers don’t need to spend hours of theirs lives marking and assessing children’s writing. Instead, teachers can get back to doing what they do best. They can afford to be more present in the classroom and they can give more effective, timely feedback at the point of learning. An exhausted teacher is not an effective teacher.

If you would like to learn more about how Balance can help your teachers to keep their feedback and assessment for writing manageable, please complete this form or drop us an email on