Why is questioning missing from book marking?

Look up ‘Questioning and marking’ on a Google search. Strangely, there’s virtually nothing there.

Good questioning is surely key to any successful classroom: the closed questions that build up basic understanding, the open ones that extend thinking… but why is this often not replicated when teachers mark?

It’s something that has puzzled me for a while – maybe teachers are loathe to set a question within feedback rather than offer the solution, as the question may not produce the ‘required response’?  This year, within my Faculty, I have been trying to promote the wider use of questions that are posed to students when marking.

A usual set of books will take me 2 hours to mark easily, and it has become a growing source of frustration over the years of teaching to see students reflect on nothing other than any levels that might have been mentioned in the marking, or whether they get a reward or two in my summary comments.

Recently I trialled an experiment with my Year 9s: using questions far more frequently than before in my marking. The aim was to see whether I could develop each student’s understanding of the areas I wanted them to focus on, and get them to reflect more carefully on the marking I had provided them with.

One thing I want to address from the start is that I wouldn’t want teachers spending more time marking in this way. I would much rather see 4 questions posed than 8 throwaway comments like ‘good analysis’ or ‘develop your sentence variety here’

Therefore one of the first things that I believe is absolutely key is that we offer at least 15-20 minutes of the first lesson post-book marking to students responding,with a different coloured pen (so it’s easy to spot), to the teacher’s questions.

What type of marker are you currently? I’m guilty of all of these over time! The 3rd and 4th columns are ones I set as something to consider in a recent CPD session I led on the topic.

Classic Marking Comments

Type of Marker Typical Comment Likely Student reflection on seeing such a comment Question that you might pose instead?
The Praiser Good –nice use of vocabulary  


The ‘For my eyes only, to help me decide on a grade/summarising comment at the end’ marker Vocab.  




The Criticiser Poor Vocabulary here  




The ‘I’m tired / I can’t take any more!‘ marker Vocabulary?!?!  



Why can’t we change some of these comments into questions? The first two that celebrate the existence of ‘good vocabulary’  could be offered as a question like ‘Which words are showing a good vocabulary here?’

The other two more negative comments could be turned into something that will be less aggravating and more thought provoking:  ‘How could this choice of vocabulary be improved?’

We wouldn’t dream of saying these comments to students in class, so why do we in our marking?

Look at these examples.

In the first one, the student quickly gives my slightly patronising closed question the response it deserves! It doesn’t always work well!


Sometimes students get it wrong and I would need to address their misconception about something in response. Here again, the student incorrectly identifies the word type that they are using to vary their sentence starts.


However, if 2/4 questions I pose result in genuine reflective thinking and a positive response that gets roughly to where we want them to be (and often in a slightly different even better place!), then that is massive. The students below are thoughtfully engaging with feedback, and evidencing their learning in the process.

Isn’t this great to see too- a stronger balance of student response as opposed to teacher comment?

You might also choose to differentiate the questioning downwards by putting arrows or options for the student if you like, or what about differentiating upwards by removing the question altogether and simply putting a smiley or sad face? Here they need to ask themselves the question – exactly why is something good/needs improving?


Students have said about this way of marking that it is quite rare that it is delivered in this way and they thought:


I have partly achieved this with my team as we agreed to increase the weighting accorded to asking questions of students in book monitoring. See below. It is one of our 4 things worth double points to teachers!


And the team have responded brilliantly! Some have even completed the golden circle  of marking:  Question -Response -Comment.

Perhaps the next logical step is to offer students the chance, in their book, to ask their own questions of work they’ve completed in class to develop the dialogue further?

Questioning in marking certainly needs to be more commonplace in classrooms, in my view, and more importantly, in the views of the students.

Any feedback would be much appreciated.

DHG March 2016



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