A lesson on marking from Lilly, aged 7

When my daughter, Lilly, was seven, she brought home from school a pencil drawing of the two-faced god, Janus. She didn’t show me or her mum, but put the picture on a table in the front-room where I found it later that night.

When I saw it, I asked her why she hadn’t shown it to us. She said she didn’t think much of it. This didn’t sound right, the picture was beautiful and she had clearly spent a lot of time and care on it. I looked at it again. In the bottom right hand corner was a tick and a stamp that said: “Good work”. I covered them up with my thumb.

“What do you think now?” I said.

“I like it, I think its the best picture I’ve ever drawn.” She replied.

I took my thumb away,

“And now?”

“Its OK… just, ‘good’.”

I started thinking about my own class.

“What do you think of your teachers writing on your work?” I asked.

“I don’t mind, if its not my best work, but this is my best work and it is better than ‘good’.” She answered.

“What about if your teacher had written her feedback on a post-it?” I asked.

“That would have been better.” She agreed.

“And what about if she didn’t tell you if she thought it was good or bad, but just gave you some advice on how to make it better?”

Lilly thought about this for a while, “I’d like that.” She said.

Later we covered up the unwanted marks with Tippex and Lilly put the picture up on the wall in her bedroom.



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  1. Nancy December 6, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    I have another interesting tale. I went with son2 to parent’s evening and we looked together at his science book (he loves science). At the front of such books there is a set of levelled I can statements, together with boxes for him to traffic light how he felt he stood against those statements. Every single one was orange.
    Me: Adam, do you really not know how to change the size of a shadow?
    Him: well, yes. You move the object closer or further away from the light.
    Me: why is it you think you don’t know?
    Him: defeated little shrug.

    I looked through his book. Not a single ‘well done’ or ‘good try’. Just a whole load of next steps.

    I think that sometimes a recognition of what they can do us what they need to see. We have so many tricks up our sleeves. We need, surely, to use our professional judgement on which ones to use when.

    I wouldn’t mark a drawing. Especially if a child was very proud of it. I would tell them this so that I didn’t spoil it by making marks on it myself.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Tim Taylor December 6, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

      Thank you for commenting Nancy and for sharing your son’s story.

      It is interesting how our children’s perceptions of marking can be so different to our own, even contradictory.
      I deliberately haven’t analysed my story about Lilly and feel a bit reluctant to do it now. However, think I do need to clarify one or two points.

      First, I’m not against marking children’s work at the drafting stage, in fact it is essential. And that includes art.
      Second, I’m not against encouraging remarks and genuine compliments. However, Lilly taught me this can be far more problematic than I once thought. My own rule of thumb is not to make ‘judgement’ comments without first checking with the student and never using platitudes.
      The teacher’s stamp, “Good work” contravened both of these points. It was a mistake to write on Lilly’s final drawing (a mistake I had done myself many times) and the ‘good work’ stamp was both unnecessary and damaging, since it was insincere and undermined Lilly’s own evaluation of her work.

      I will also say, Lilly’s teacher was lovely and I’m sure she would never have done anything to deliberately undermine one of her students learning. This happened a long time ago and is a lesson I have never forgot. I often wonder, how often do we do wrong things, but for all the right reasons? Your own son’s teacher could learn a lot from talking to your son and his classmates and asking them how useful his/her feedback is. This is the lesson I learnt from my conversation with Lilly.

  2. Mary December 6, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    Poor poor Lilly. I hate the use of stamps in marking children’s work. I know how challenging marking is, and how important it is that teachers find a way to manage this part of their work while still retaining some semblance of work-life balance, but I think some very important aspect of personal and interpersonal communication is lost when we resort to comment banks and/or stamps, I saw a little girl’s homework once stamped “Top Banana”. What exactly does that tell a child about their work? What does it tell them with your engagement with it? How does it make them feel valued both in terms of what they have done, and what they might aspire to do?
    Your post also raises the question of accountability. Telling a child how good their work is provide no lasting record of your engagement with it. “Stamping” it provides the evidence. Unfortunately, this type of accountability values the record of the assessment, rather than the quality of it.

  3. Nancy December 7, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    Yes. My children are a constant reminder to me of a different way of looking at school 🙂

  4. Geoffrey James December 13, 2013 at 2:35 am #

    Tim – great story. Thanks Lilly for taking the time to tell us. I can see your focus on the marking theme and I don’t want to detract in the slightest from what you’re doing here. I just might say what caught my attention. It’s about what an inquiry question might look like, to add to the range of assessment…… Lilly said ‘I like it … I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever drawn.’ I might ask her here ‘ so what tells you that Lilly…… What tells you this is the best thing you’ve ever drawn?’ Her answer would give her the chance to reflect on what makes it ‘the best thing….’ And opens up the space for a compliment based on the evidence she’s given about her work. And maybe about what she’s hoping for next in her drawings . Of course this takes more time and needs her and her drawing to be there, but it gives her the chance to be Lilly the Reflective Student, and emphasises the learning embedded in assessment through inquiry. What do you think?


  1. A lesson on marking from Lilly, aged 7 @imagineinquiry | Primary Blogging - December 6, 2013

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