Assessment Key Stage 3 Staff Room Chat

A Focus on Feedback Action

Marking and feedback principles that aim to support pupil progress and teacher well being.

“A mantra might be that schools should mark less in terms of the number of pieces of work marked, but mark better.”

(EEF Marking Review, 2016)

I’ve outlined the approach that my department takes to marking and feedback. Like most teaching and learning strategies, it won’t work for everyone, but may spark some ideas.

There are few studies on what makes effective marking and feedback and how teachers may go about carrying this out. There seems to be a huge disparity between the enormous efforts that teachers invest in marking and the research that demonstrates what actually works. I recently read John Tomsett’s Making Marking Intelligent and having embarked on a study of marking and feedback for my MSc, I have started moving further towards these principles outlined in the Education Endowment Foundation’s review of the evidence on written marking (2016), which can become more powerful if a whole school is able to adopt them.

Creating effective and sustainable processes:

  • Careless mistakes should be marked differently to errors resulting from misunderstanding. The latter may be best addressed by providing hints or questions which lead pupils to underlying principles; the former by simply marking the mistake as incorrect, without giving the right answer
  • Awarding grades for every piece of work may reduce the impact of marking, particularly if pupils become preoccupied with grades at the expense of a consideration of teachers’ formative comments
  • The use of targets to make marking as specific and actionable as possible is likely to increase pupil progress
  • Pupils are unlikely to benefit from marking unless some time is set aside to enable pupils to consider and respond to marking
  • Some forms of marking, including acknowledgement marking, are unlikely to enhance pupil progress. A mantra might be that schools should mark less in terms of the number of pieces of work marked, but mark better.

Looking at how to best spend time in class to respond to feedback is a priority for me at the moment. A dialogic approach is particularly effective, but consideration of how this can work practically for teachers of large classes needs to be investigated.

Here is the EEF’s diagram of different types of feedback which showcases the broad range of forms that feedback can take, making its efficacy more difficult to measure.

hhh.jpg It’s also interesting to think about the kind of normalised language surrounding feedback. Words and phrases like ‘assessment’, ‘below/above’ and ‘target’ can be overused to become meaningless to students. This can also apply to colours: why is it we use red to symbolise ‘below’ or ‘requires improvement’ when it has connotations of stopping or negativity when what we want is the student to keep trying and to improve positively?

Our approach

Our students complete two assessed responses per half term. The first is a short piece (1-2 paragraphs). They are given feedback questions and no grade. During their reflective lessons, the teacher guides students through this process:

  1. Take note of your progress point out of 1, 2 or 3
  2. Check your skills targets and re-read your work
  3. Swap your work with a partner and make a positive comment at the end (very important step!) Think about how it reflects and challenges your ideas.
  4. Answer your target questions at the bottom of your study task and think about how you will need to develop these for your next response
  5. Copy out incorrect spellings accurately
  6. Discuss the successes of the learning as a class

Whilst students are reading and considering how to improve their writing, the teacher moves around the room making suggestions and clarifications; this dialogue is a really important part of the process.

To grade or not to grade?

Providing feedback comments before a grade on a piece of work can often encourage students to bypass the feedback comments and go straight to the grade. If students see the grade first and then the feedback afterwards, this highlights the pathway to improvement and places the emphasis on the feedback rather than the grade. This is providing that time is delivered in the lesson to apply and discuss the feedback.

The issue here is still the ‘grade’. Rather than stamping a grade on work at Key Stage 3 (when we know that all grades at GCSE are dependent on norm-referencing) seems rather pointless. Possibly, an indication as to how well that student is progressing towards their potential has more value (as outlined below in the images).

Research suggests that many teachers overestimate how well students understand the targets they are given. Pinpointing key skills required in the subject (in a straight forward and accessible way, not on a huge grid) and using these as the marking criteria from Year 7-11 allows for clarity and consistency; it also gives a robust springboard for concise targets for improvement. If students are exposed to these regularly, and along with model answers and class worked examples, they are able to conceptualise what they are aiming for, which is imperative for progress. Here is an example of a ‘Feedback Action Card’ that incorporates what I have discussed:

Here is the feedback card in closer detail:

aaaI am hopeful that this approach will encourage students to become ever more reflective and develop a clearer understanding of the skills that underpin their ability to deal with a range of challenging texts.


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