Recently, I blogged about my favourite assessment stamper. Many people on Twitter commented that they liked the idea and could see the benefit, some even purchased their own and have kept me up-to-date with their use of it. There are teachers, however, who look down on the humble stamper and, while pursing their lips, exclaim "I don't believe in stampers". Claims like "the children don't read them", "they ruin work" and "they show laziness" flow from the mouths of these educators who I like to call the "Stamper Snobs". One of the most frustrating things about these teachers is that sometimes they thrust their snobby attitude to stampers on their colleagues. I would find it very difficult to work with a Stamper Snob and they would cry looking through my books.
I ♥ Stampers!
Anyone who's read "The Lazy Teacher's Handbook" will know that laziness can lead to effective learning, independence, meta-cognition and, the holy grail of all teachers, a better work-life balance. For me, assessment stampers help me in my quest to become the ultimate "Lazy Teacher".
During my NQT year I found myself working late into the night, every night, and almost all weekend, yet I was still behind on my marking. When I was assessing children's learning, they weren't reading it, let alone responding to it and so its effectiveness was very low, probably zero. That was, until I discovered the humble stamper.
The first stampers in my collection were "You've achieved your learning objective" and "You're working towards your learning objective." Nowadays, these are among my least-used and least-effective stampers, however at the time they saved me many minutes a night writing the same thing on many children's work. It allowed me to look in more detail at work where children hadn't achieved the learning objective. I felt it was important not to have a "You've not yet achieved your learning objective" stamper because that wouldn't save me time or encourage or help the child.
Not long after making my first purchase, I realised I was writing the same phrases over and over again on children's work. Having found that the first two stampers had saved me so much time, I invested in a few staple stampers. They cost around £5 each and often I would buy them when there were % off deals but I knew I would reap the benefits as they would last a long time and save me so much time. Why bother repetitively writing long phrases when you can stamp them?
As I learned more about effective assessment, brilliantly guided by an amazing mentor, I began to understand the value of pushing children on in their learning. The next few stampers said "Great learning today! Now try this: " and after the stamper I would write a short activity for them to complete which moved them forward in their learning. There was also a "Well Done! Your next step is: " stamper. This one not only saved me time during the marking process but it also meant that in the next session, I didn't have to tell each child what they were working on; they already knew.
The inspiration for my favourite stamper came from my Headteacher at the time who used "Let's chat" in books to give detailed verbal feedback. I really liked this as it was less aggressive as "See me" or "Please discuss". Thus I created a "Let's chat about __________ on M Tu W Th F" stamper for me to fill in so I had a record of any discussions and children had a place to respond to their new learning next to the stamper. So lazy and yet so, so effective in moving children forward.
By the end of my time at my first school, I was two years into my teaching career and I was spending much less time assessing children's work. There was still a lot of improvement needed in the effectiveness of all my comments and most of what was needed was down to the children. I was putting in a lot of work and money to make these assessment stampers effective, but many children were still not responding to or even reading what I had put.
Enter the Gel Pen!
Armed with a class set of gel pens, and probably a few more stampers, I started in a new school. This is the year I promised myself I would be a lazy teacher. I vowed to make the children work harder than me and, for effective assessment to reign, I created an important learning habit from day one.
The school policy states that children should write a title and the date at the top of their work for the session but, to achieve my goal, I added a twist to this. Before my class do the title and date they need to use a gel pen to do 3 things.
1) Do any corrections from last lesson.
2) Read and initial comments (which often included stampers).
3) Respond to any comments or stampers.
This has transformed the learning ethos of my class. The children now have clarity in their learning; they know where they have come from, where they are at and where they are going to. They have become more independent and in control of what they are doing and this has meant they request my help when they have any misconceptions.
The children love having the stampers in their books and know what they all mean. Comments like "Thank you", "Ok Mrs P" and "I'll try" show me that they've read and understood them and occasionally they use a gel pen to tell me if they think they should have had a stamper (normally if I've forgotten). The effect that the stampers is having on the children's learning has also been noted by colleagues and SLT.
The stampers I have help to guide me to give formative feedback. They allow me to focus on giving the most effective comments. They help my children to understand how they are doing and where they have room for improvement. They stop me from writing the same thing over and over again and save me the frustration of this. They help me to alter the next lesson most appropriately. They mean my comments are neater and more concise. But most of all, they have given me time.
And, as any teacher knows, time is a rare and precious gift.
See photos of how I use the stampers I have and links to buy them on the next post.