In this episode of The Learning Network's Community & Family Studies Podcast, I chat with Bel Harotounian about her five top tips to become a Marking Ninja in Community and Family Studies. We chat about what you can do to improve the way you mark your Year 11 and Year 12 Community and Family Studies students, as well as give them feedback about their learning which will ultimately improve their knowledge, understanding and skills in preparation for the HSC.

Find out more about CAFS Marking Experience HERE

Show Notes 

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The Learning Network

Since 2004 I have been teaching PDHPE and Community & Family Studies. I love learning. It lights me up. I am so passionate about supporting you to be the best educator you can be.

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To grow a lively and connected community, where Community & Family Studies teachers can network, learn and share with each other.

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Show Transcription

 Podcast Intro - Kelly:

Hey, I'm Kelly Bell. Welcome to The Learning Network Podcast. I guide Community and Family Studies teachers, newbies and experienced, through best practice to improve knowledge, increase empowerment and alleviate stress, to help you and your students to make meaningful connections across the course. I will share strategic and purposeful applications from my 16 years experience in the classroom that I have adopted to increase student motivation, enjoyment, engagement and results. Together, we will grow and transform your CAFS crew to the next level without impacting your sleep and wellbeing process. To join my free how to improve writing and fast track results webinar, head to So tune in, get inspired and let's connect, learn and grow together. 

Episode Intro

Kell: Hey everyone and welcome back to episode number 23 of The Learning Network Podcast. In this podcast episode, I am joined by Bel Harotounian and Bel has over 20 years of experience as a Community and Family Studies, TAS and PDHPE teacher with Community and Family Studies being her superpower and something that she is absolutely passionate about. Bel and I talk about her five tips to becoming a marking ninja. This is a highly practical episode where you will take so many tips and tricks away from it to really streamline the process of marking your student work in both Year 11 and 12 Community and Family Studies. But also I'm pretty sure you'll pick up some tips for your juniors as well.

As I said Bel has over 20 years experience. She has been a Community and Family Studies mentor for many years to a lot of Community and Family Studies teachers across New South Wales. She has been a writer for Community and Family Studies examinations. Presenter of Community and Family Studies marking simulation workshops. Presented for Community and Family Studies revision days, and also a mentor to other teachers in our space.

A huge welcome to Bel. I know that you guys are gonna get so much out of this episode. So let's dive in.

Hey, I'm Kelly Bell. Welcome to The Learning Network Podcast. I'm dedicated to helping Community and Family Studies teachers like you, both newbies and experienced through best practice to improve knowledge, increase empowerment and alleviate stress. To help you and your students to make meaningful connections across the course. I will share strategic and purposeful application for my 16 years experience in the classroom that I adopted to increase student motivation, enjoyment, engagement and results. early on. It was just me, the syllabus and a textbook. I had no idea what I was doing, trust me. Fast forward to now I support 1000s of Community and Family Studies teachers and students inside the Learning Network. Through my membership coaching and mentoring online courses and masterclasses my dream to help Community and Family Studies teachers full time has become a reality. Together will grow and transform your cash flow to the next level without impacting your time and wellbeing in the process.

If you are ready to take your Community and Family Studies crew to the next level, you're in the right place to join my free how to improve writing and fast track results webinar head to the low forward slash riding. Ready to get started? The Learning Network Podcast is your shortcut to simplify strategies to set your Community and Family Studies students up for success. So tune in, get inspired and let's connect, learn and grow together.

Kell: Hey everyone and welcome back to The Learning Network Podcast. Today I'm joined by a very special guest and I've had the pleasure of knowing Bel for quite some time now and worked with Bel in lots of different capacities over the last 15 or so years. You've heard her official bio. Welcome to the podcast Bel Haroutonian.

Bel: Hi, thanks Kell. I work in a comprehensive public high school in Western Sydney. In our classes, especially Community and Family Studies classes, we have a range of abilities. And I tend to get that top end too often, but we're really working towards trying to get a few more of them in our classes. And so we've got, you know, your typical kind of kid and have been teaching Community and Family Studies at the school for almost 20 years now. I love it. Community and Family Studies is my passion. It's my favourite subject to teach.

Kell: Fantastic. Well, thanks for joining us Bel. I think there are many Community and Family Studies teachers out there who do have that full spectrum of Community and Family Studies students, kids that really struggle. Kids that could possibly be on a Life Skills programme all the way up to some of our high achieving kids who possibly might have Community and Family Studies as their very favourite subject or their very first or best subject. I think that that wide spectrum is really something that I love. I do miss being in the classroom to not have and to see my kids blossom, you know, sometimes struggling, struggling to put pen to paper, all the way up to really, following me around the playground trying to pick my brain about how they can improve. I think today's podcast episode is all about us as teachers becoming marking ninjas. I know that I've said this out loud for you know, quite a few times that I love marking, it is my sweet spot. I know Bel loves giving her students feedback. I think today we're going to get a great insight into what it's really like to, you know, be in the classroom and give our students valuable feedback about where they are, where they might need to be, and how we can really help them get there. So grab a pen and paper because you're going to want to write some ideas down about how you can become a marking ninja. As I mentioned before, Bel’s marking experience is going to shed some light on some tips for us to really become marking ninjas. So let's unpack your top five tips on how to become a marking ninja.

Bel: I guess the first thing that I would say today is I always am this and wide reading. So I like to have a look through the kids' responses before I try to put any marks on paper. So I think it's really important that we get an idea of how the students have answered that question before we really try and give them that specific feedback and give them an allocated mark like, it's really important that we see what they've given us to begin with. So that would be my number one would be,

Kell: What would it actually look like? What would that look like on the ground as a teacher? So would you grab high, middle and low papers? Or would you section it out and then do some wide reading?

Bel: I guess it depends on how big your cohort is. So if you've got one class, I actually do look through the whole lot, just to get an idea. I don't go in with preconceived ideas of you know, which are my top students, you've got that at the back of your mind. But you never know, you know, how that kid has answered that particular question at that point in time, especially if it's like an in class assessment task, or you've given them you know, here's an exam question, we're gonna answer it today and go through, because you just don't know, you know, really what you're going to get. So it's a really good idea to have a look through and see what you do have before you start marking it.

Kell: Some good tips. Right? What about number two?

Bel: Number two is once you've done that, start putting them into piles. So look at your higher responses, the middle of the range responses, and then your lower responses as well. That way you have somewhere to go. I like to start with marking the bottom ones first. I build up a picture from that way, like build it up that way. When you put them into those three piles, you can kind of have a look at what a benchmark is. So you can pick a paper that goes Okay, so this one, this one's definitely that four out of eight. So why is it a four out of eight? You can go through the marking criteria. And really, why not, you know, this is what the, this is what these kids have done. These are the points in the marking criteria that they've met. And that's why it sits here. So anything better than that is always going to be bumped up into that next mark range. And you do that as you go for the three different whales.

Kell: So would that be? Like if you're, if you're at home, then could you spread them all out and kind of create those physical piles? Or would you post it note them? Or would you kind of flag them in some sort of way, in those paper piles, but I personally actually physically put them into three piles.

Bel: Sometimes as you start reading through some of the main there might be one in the wrong pile, and that's okay. Because you're just getting idea, getting an idea to begin with, so that you have a starting point so that you're not overwhelmed with your marking can so putting it off like, Ah, that marking pile, it's a lot easier I find to chunk it, and it's a lot easier to get your head around, and what's in front of you as well.

Kell: Cool. So would you actually allocate time, I've done it before I put my marking off, had it sitting in my study space, I put that marking to that massive pile. When I worked at Nagle College, we had up to four classes at one stage, we had a very big cohort, and it would sometimes be very overwhelming. So would you allocate yourself a day or set times to kind of smash it out? Or would you kind of do it in like little bits at a time? What do you think, is the best kind of way to get stuck into that marking?

Bel: If I've been avoiding it, I'll probably do it in sections. I do best when I just knock it all out at once. But then you know, it depends on what's going on at home too. Like I struggle, I've got four little kids. So trying to knock out a whole day for it is very challenging. I can't work like that. I've had to adapt and adjust. I'm at the moment I do. I do chunks. So I couldn't get through a whole lot in one sitting. Yeah, just whatever works.

Kell: I think definitely it’s been changing because of our experience. As you become more confident of yourself, stage of life, you know, things change. You know, probably back in the day in your 20s, you'd probably be able to smash out a whole lot and mark over a weekend. But that doesn't happen anymore.

Kell: What would you say to teachers who are struggling with kind of sticking to that deadline of marking? If they're starting to feel under the pump? Would you suggest they talk to the Head Teacher or the Deputy?

Bel: To help? Yeah, 100%. There's always someone there to support you. You're not alone in this. So ask for direction, ask for help, especially if you're like a newbie, who doesn't have that experience? It's okay to ask for help. And even if you're an experienced teacher, and you're just struggling to smash it out, it's okay to ask for help.

Kell: Yeah, I think I think I've said this recently. We often feel that, you know, a failure, if we haven't met that deadline or it's looming. If I don't get this done, you know, and then we kind of get stressed about it, but what's it what's, you know, what's the worst case scenario HSC results aren't due. Yeah, we have a bit of a deadline then to get HSC marks in. But if you can ask your Deputy or your Head Teacher, Hey, I just need three extra dates, I need some extra time or give me some release time at school to get this marking done. You know, if you have a big cohorts, certainly I know that was the case when I was working in a senior school, we had five classes. There was no way that I could finish my marking in the allocated time we had to, you know, possibly negotiate, can we just, you know, make it do an extra day. Like, you know, typically we had a two week turnaround. Is that something that you have at your school? A two week turnaround?

Bel: Yeah, just depends on what it is.

Kell: Nice. Alright, so what's your tip number three for becoming a marking ninja.

Bel: Yep, if they have addressed the verb, it's so important. You can learn all the content. And you can know, you know, you're still this inside out, and you can rattle off everything from the textbook. But if you can't apply that knowledge, and if you can't address that verb, then you're not actually answering the question properly. So as a teacher who's marking that you really need to make sure that your student has addressed that key verb, because that is going to be the difference between your Band 4, 5s and 6s. So students really need guidance and feedback around that. So what does it describe look like? You know, are they identifying characteristics and features? Or are they just, you know, kind of rattling off your definition? With an analysis question, are they identifying the components and the relationships between them? Or are they just really describing it and going through all the stuff, you do really need to make sure that the students are hitting those verbs, especially the higher order verbs to make sure that, you know, they are showing that they have that extensive knowledge, they are showing that they have that skills of applying that knowledge.

Kell: Yeah, that's really important. I think many of our listeners and teachers inside The Learning Network would know that I've spoken about this a lot. But I still feel obliged that we need to really push it. I'm really glad that you said that that was your third tip, because gone are the days that we can teach our kids the content, and then expect them to know and then to be able to just regurgitate it on a piece of paper. And they need to be able to apply these Glossary of Key Words in lots of different circumstances. You know, and as you mentioned, each of the Glossary of Key Words have a different function, the verbs are a doing word, like they have a different function for each of the words. I think a lot of our teachers might still be stuck on some of them, like they might find our kids still like explaining a lot. They're doing lots of explaining, but they're not actually addressing, like I said, there's higher order verbs, which will essentially kind of get them those higher marks. Eight marks is our top mark in our short answer, 15 marks, our top in our Option. And those higher verbs tend to be more difficult, obviously, but our kids are sometimes not nailing them. That's why our results, maybe not how they are because they're not nailing that verb. You know, you could have the best dancer in the world. But if you don't do what the actual verb told you to do, you're not going to get no, there's been four fives and sixes that we want to see. And I'm pretty sure that all of us one want to get our kids past that open like object talk about a four out of eight. So it's kind of just content, it's about a four, they start feeling a bit more like you know, the start, again to the 6, 7 and 8, that they've got all those little bits together, they really make a good response. And I think, look, there's lots of things that we can do to help build on those words. What are some of the things that you might have done in your classroom at the moment?

Bel: If you’re not across ALARM already, definitely get onto that because it really breaks down each of the key verbs. And it shows it really explains and shows the kids clearly what they need to do to get up to that next step. So if you're not implementing that in your classroom, that'd be my biggest tip is make sure that in nailing ALARM in your classroom and the kids have it. So I'm just in the process. I actually probably should have done this already. But I'm just printing them out and I'm actually laminating them so the kids can bring them around to all the classes that we put out when they need to. And you know, it's not that the keyboards are just for Community and Family Studies, they are suitable for every subject. So if I'm so yes, I'm just getting the one and at the moment, they can just get it out of any of the classes and have a look and go okay, so um, analyse, describe, explain what is it that I need to do for each one of those steps and they can build on that in order to make sure that they they're nailing that key verb and the answering the question correctly.

Kell: Yeah, that's great. You're cool. Awesome. Thank you. All right. Number four, tip number four.

Bel: I think it's really important that they know what they have done correctly. So you can identify what you've done wrong. But if you don't know how to fix it, what's the point? Right, so if you know, like, in Maths, if you tell them that, you know, two plus two is three, but don't explain how you actually get to the four then what's the point of putting across? I never like red pen either. I can't ever bring myself to mark in that. I actually mark in purple. So a lot of people mark in green but yeah, I like the purple. And so when I identify what they've done, right, I tell them like this is good. And then what could you do to improve it here? So I'll say, you know, perhaps you could have explained to me, give it a better example, or explain the example better, or also the way they've written is important as well. So are they using that pure paragraph structure that shows that it's clear and cohesive? And what's missing from your pure paragraph structure? Have they provided enough evidence so that they're making a statement? So they're claiming something? But do they have the evidence to support what they're actually saying? And I find that that's usually what I'm providing the most feedback on, is where is your evidence? And where's your example to back off that?

Kell: So those examples, really, before we started recording marks, we spoke about the exam to being a way that the kids kind of prove that they actually know this stuff, they are demonstrating that I know my stuff, because I'm able to give you an example, that let's be shy, and let's kind of explore what I've learned, rather than just here's my content he's regurgitating from the syllabus or from the textbook, they can then draw an example from whatever they've learned, you know, hopefully, you example or something that's quite different. It's explicit, unique, and then bring that example and brings that to life through that, that evidence will be that example.

Bel: Varied examples are important too, because varied examples show that they really do have that understanding of, of the dot point of what the questions are asking. So and that then goes into you know, the difference between thorough or is it extensive?

Kell: Our Performance Band Descriptors are guiding us in terms of our bands, and the description that would and the characteristics of each of those bands, and this is exactly a fit for Community and Family Studies, especially that they can apply their understanding in a number of different contexts. So I think that's a common misconception, you know, across all HSC courses, that they really know their stuff, but they need to know their staff in a number of different ways. Like for the options for Parenting and Caring, for Groups in Context, for Research, not just, you know, one or two areas, they actually need to sustain that understanding all the way through. And it has to be through that application. That's the best way and I think I love that the course has gone away from that. You know that regurgitation of information or if is linked to the HSC question. It's really gone away from that and but he's really the bigger picture to think about. Because essentially, we don't want to just assess the syllabus on what's in the textbook. We want to assess the kids on their skills. So, anything we also need to say to wrap up about becoming a marketing ninja for our listeners?

Bel: The more guidance you can get in your marking, the more beneficial it is for you. And Kelly's course is super helpful. So it really is a good simulation of what it is like to do marking, you get a really good understanding of what are the key things that you're looking for. So I've gone through like five of them, but there's so many more. So to build that knowledge, and you know, to us, so, you know, don't just feel like you're marking in isolation either. So it's okay to have a buddy. So if you're the only Community and Family Studies teacher in your school, it's okay to have a buddy at another school that you can bounce ideas off of. And I guess, you know, your, your course really builds on that network, as well as giving all the skills that you need to be able to really successfully give the right feedback and mark your students in the right ways in order to you know, bump up those three to fours and there's four to five so that you know exactly what it is that you're looking for to move them up to that neck band or that next mark range in that particular question.

Kell: Yeah, and Bel has just introduced our Marking Experience in Community and Family Studies course. So last year, we ran it twice. I'd like to emcee. I'm the facilitator of the day and we have three highly experienced Community and Family Studies teachers presenting on those days and Bill is one of them. I feel very privileged to have her and her expertise with you know, everything that she's covered in class, but it is a whole day of marking and you get to feel and experience what it's like to actually do HSC marking so we know that HSC marking for many centres now it is on the screen. So our Marking Experience in Community and Family Studies course is actually on screen rather than pen to paper like we would in class. It is on screen. So it simulates the the actual thing of what it actually looks like for HSC marking I think, you know if if there was something like this for me, you know, when I first started teaching Community and Family Studies, I know I think it would have made a huge difference to my Community and Family Studies journey, you know, early days,

Bel: I would have been a much better teacher earlier on. Had there been something like this, then?

Kell: Yeah, I think, you know. Last year, it was amazing to have 30 teachers from all parts of NSW doesn't matter where you are. You know your experience. If you're a newbie, I think the newer you are, we want to kind of have you coming because you don't create some bad habits in your marking, you kind of know straight away. This is the standard. This is the expectation of what it really looks like to mark in Community and Family Studies. Because there are lots of myths and misconceptions about our cause. It's really easy. And we know that it's not easy to get really good results. So Marking Experience in Community and Family Studies will happen on Term Two, Week Two and Term Three, Week Two on the first day, and we have five hours together. And I think it's not just about that experience of marking but also as Bill said, you know, the power of sharing ideas, the power of listening to other people. And I think from last you did you get that vibe build that the teachers will also just pumped up they can actually like to ask each other questions.

Bel: Oh, it was great. So yeah, no, just the camaraderie between everybody and just, you know, the support that people provided each other was just so valuable. And it's just nice to know that, you know, there are other people out there that are feeling overwhelmed with the marking as well. It's not just you and that there are people out there to support you.

Kell: Yeah, good point. All right. Well, on that note, thank you so much for joining us on our podcast episode and if Thank you. If people want to join Marking Experience in Community and Family Studies , you can head over to and read all about it. But like we said, not just about the actual experience of what it's like to do HSC marking but also join other Community and Family Studies teachers who are literally in your shoes. Been there done that but also for us to be able to connect and learn together. So thanks heaps Bel.

Kell: Thanks for joining the Learning Network. I'd love to hear what connected with you most about today's episode, take a screenshot and tag me on instagram and facebook at the low net. If you'd like to know more about my courses, masterclasses coaching and mentoring and membership. You can DM me over on Facebook or Instagram or head to the Learn Don't forget to stay connected by subscribing to Apple podcasts or Spotify. And if you love today's episode, I will be so honoured if you could please leave me a review. See you again next week. Let's continue to connect, grow and learn together to make a huge impact on the students we teach.

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