The Shape of Feedback & Assessment

This week I returned to some scribbles that I produced some time ago with the aim of illustrating some different approaches to feedback and how these apply to different subjects. Time-effective feedback is a topic we’ve been blogging about for a few years now, but it seems increasingly relevant in the context of the debate around tackling teacher workload.

The main focus of this post is the feedback we give in the classroom. If you want to read about the whole-school approach to assessment then the best place to start would be with our ‘Why are we testing?” infographic which you can find here.

For me, the central aim of feedback is to correct pupil misconceptions and to guide student practice. There are, of course, non-written ways to do this and part of this blog is about challenging the idea that traditional written teacher feedback is the most time effective method.

There are some key principles at play here as follows:

  • Written teacher feedback is an effective way to provide feedback but not always a time-efficient one.
  • Written feedback is probably the most thorough way to provide feedback on pupils’ writing, but is not a sustainable strategy to use for every piece of work pupils produce!
  • We will be able to provide better feedback if we consider it as part of planning.
  • In relation to the above, it is more effective to think in terms of learning over groups of lessons as opposed to individual lessons.
  • To get the greatest impact from feedback, we need to match the strategies with the tasks and the progress through the learning journey.

To balance the above priorities we need to maintain awareness of the range of feedback strategies available to us and their strengths and weaknesses.  You can find links to blogs with more ideas from our school here. Peer assessment for example allows for quicker feedback, but is less accurate and needs careful structuring. At the opposite end of the spectrum, traditional teacher marking is most accurate, but also most time consuming. Strategies like whole class feedback and ‘Think Pink; Go Green’ are often used because they help to achieve a middle ground.

So, onto my scribbles and how I think they relate to the shape of feedback in different subjects:

Sifting for Errors

A common analogy that I often use when thinking about feedback is that of a sieve or filter. Each feedback strategy varies in terms of its accuracy in correcting misconceptions, but also the speed at which material passes through the filter. Ideally, teachers align these filters so that the errors which are easiest to detect are caught first by less time-intensive methods, and detailed teacher feedback is brought in at the stage where pupils’ responses need greater refinement i.e. the point at which the teacher is uniquely positioned to add value through personalised feedback. This might be represented as follows:


Planning for feedback

Thinking about the importance of planning feedback over time, the same model plots onto the development of skills or the teaching of concepts. There is an interesting question here about how assessment is used and what it targets: do we build each assessment cycle around the development of a skill or the teaching of a block of knowledge. When I refer to an assessment cycle I’m thinking of something like the diagram above where errors are sifted through increasingly detailed scrutiny. See the two diagrams below. Worth noting that ‘test’ refers to any task that requires the pupil to demonstrate their learning. In the first diagram, each assessment cycle is repeated over the course of a concept whilst skills are developed over time:

By concept

In this model, the teacher is far more likely to focus their assessment, modelling and testing on the development of concepts. For example, this might be used in English Literature where pupils are studying Macbeth: the skills of analytical writing are developed across the course as a whole whereas the feedback focuses primarily on the way pupils understand and write about Macbeth.

Here’s the second:

By Skill

This model would be better matched to a subject where lots of individual topics are taught in quick succession, but also the feedback is far more likely to focus on a particular skill. For example, in KS3 RS the curriculum might move quickly between different sub-topics when studying aspects of Hinduism, but over the course of each feedback cycle we will be assessing pupils ability to formulate the particular types of written response required in RS.

After any form of feedback I would advocate the incorporation of DIRT into the following lesson. These models are not assuming a particular time frame and can be adapted to need.

Why is this important?

So often, I speak to teachers who are struggling under a huge marking burden and don’t feel like they have time to think strategically about the shape of their assessment across a unit or series of lessons. I would argue that they don’t have the time not to do this! By mapping out how we intend to assess in this way we can reduce the burden of marking whilst still making sure that pupils receive regular and constructive feedback.

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