I have been thinking a lot about the issue of written feedback, partly as I’ve been running inset on this topic to a few different audiences. As schools tighten up on assessment, there are inevitable concerns about the sustainability of their strategies and policies. This is a hot topic at the moment, and is identified as part of the Government’s teacher workload challenge. If you’re interested, you can find the policy review group’s full report (March ’16) here: Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking. If you’re interested, but not in a 13 pages kind of way, then let me summarise in a sentence: if it doesn’t lead to learning, stop doing it.
Around the same time that this report was released, the EEF also produced a document reviewing the evidence into the impact of different strategies. If you’re 35 pages of interested then you can read the full document here, but to save you time I’ll summarise: if it doesn’t lead to learning, stop doing it.
This means that we need to exercise some will power when it comes to marking notes and writing general comments/praise in pupils’ books (e.g. An excellent piece of homework!). These practices do not lead to learning and need to be eliminated. Please don’t think I’m suggesting we don’t praise pupils, but when we do, it should be for something specific (See codebreaker exercise later. On this worksheet I also list the reasons for ticking pupils’ work and they have to work out what each tick is for).
There are other points raised in both of these documents, but the message for teachers is clear. My take on it is this: written feedback from the teacher is a powerful tool in our assessment arsenal, but there are many others which will often (not always) do just as good a job. To be most effective we need to pick just the right tool for each situation and task; this will inevitably mean using a full variety. It also means planning ahead in terms of the assessment we are going to use and thinking about the pattern of assessment across a series of lessons or a unit.
There are some more thoughts on this at the end of the blog, but here are some of the ideas that a colleague and I presented in a recent inset. Some of these ideas are our own and others have been ‘magpied’ from elsewhere:
- Feedback Stickers – this is an idea used by members of the Maths department where stickers are printed with an outline of each topic covered. These can be stuck into books and RAG rated to save time on marking. These can also contain DIRT tasks relating to the topic being covered.
- A strategy from an article in The Guardian (full article here) is the “5 Minute Flick” – flick through books and pick examples to illustrate common misconceptions. Go through these as a class and then allow pupils to correct their own work.
- Dot round – walk around the classroom as pupils are working. Instead of correcting misconceptions, just place a dot on the page when pupils have got an answer wrong – it’s up to them to find and correct the mistake. This type of approach is supported by some of the research in the EEF document (“a number of studies from higher education and EFL recommend that it should be marked as incorrect, but that the correct answer should not be provided. One study of undergraduates even found that providing the correct answer to mistakes was no more effective than not marking the work at all.”).
- Codebreaker marking – symbol or coded marking is not a new idea, but recently I’ve been trialling this approach, but without telling the pupils what the symbols mean. The DIRT exercise is that they need to move around the room looking at each other’s work and trying to crack the code. This works well for two reasons: it is very challenging and it gets pupils peer assessing in a meaningful way. It is fantastic to hear pupils debating the difference between each of the symbols and relating this to their own work, even if they don’t end up solving the puzzle. Give them the answers after this activity so that they can label up their work and carry out DIRT tasks. An example of a worksheet I’ve used for this is here –>feedback-codebreaker
- Padlet marking – I have also been using a form of group marking where pupil answers are collated on a website: www.padlet.com. If you’ve not used this website before, it’s really easy to access and takes no time at all to set up tasks. I get the pupils to write collaboratively in groups. Their responses can then be printed (Share > Share/Export/Embed tab > Save as PDF) and feedback given. This is helpful to me because I mark 10 paragraphs instead of 32, but it also gives pupils a chance to work together and discuss ideas. I ask them to copy the group feedback into their own exercise books (which will be in the form of questions) and carry out the DIRT activities.
These are just some ideas and they won’t entirely replace a more traditional marking of books. However they are means of providing quicker feedback to pupils that results in learning. Some of the strategies, e.g. the dot round and five minute flick, work best as an interim strategy so that pupils receive feedback whilst the work is being completed and can improve on this before the books are handeed in for marking or used for peer assessment.
So how does this all fit together?
I would begin by thinking across a series of lessons and what you hope to achieve. For example, I’m currently teaching Jekyll and Hyde to Year 11 and want them to be able to write about character development in the first 5 chapters. So the skill I’m focusing on is predominantly language analysis. I started by sharing the assessment criteria early on. Then I got them to complete a short piece of writing – one paragraph was all that was required to give feedback on the skill I’m teaching, so that’s all I asked for. At this point I knew I’d end up correcting silly mistakes and common errors, so I used the codebreaker exercise first. This also works well early on because it helps pupils to familiarise themselves with the marking criteria. Following this, I did some shared writing to give them a clearer sense of what was expected. They finished off this piece of writing themselves and peer-assessed against the shared criteria. Finally they are going to write their own, more extended, answer which I will assess more formally because I’m confident that I’ll be getting the best they can do by this point and so I’m getting better value from my feedback. I will mark this with questions and they will redraft as a DIRT exercise.
The outline above follows a pattern of two lower stakes assessments followed by something more formal. As the year progresses, I will use a similar pattern of formative-formative-summative so that pupils know the grade they’re working at as well as how to improve.
What is important here is that the skill I’m teaching is driving my choice of assessment and I’m planning the learning around this. All too often I see teachers planning tasks without considering how they will be assessed.
I am interested to hear about any other ideas you might have to help make marking as effective as possible in terms of time and impact. I certainly intend to do my part and, when I conduct work scrutiny, I will be looking for marking that leads to learning and asking teachers to cut back on that which doesn’t.
The PowerPoint Presentation from the training referenced in this blog is here: feedback-with-impact
Tharby, A (2014) ‘How to make marking more efficient: three new techniques for teachers’, The Guardian
Elliott, V., Baird, J. , Hopfenbeck, T., Ingram, J. , Thompson, I., Usher, N. and Zantout, M. (2016) ‘A marked improvement? A review of the evidence on written marking’, Education Endowment Foundation