Marking Work and Giving Feedback

Marking work and giving feedback is a really interesting topic. Everyone has childhood memories of red pen used liberally across work, the rows of ticks that made us happy and possible rows of crosses that made our hearts sink and a comment by the teacher, “very good” or the dreaded, “See me!”. 

Marking and feedback is something that deserves a great deal of careful consideration about how it is done. 

First of all I would like to consider who the marking and feedback is for.  Once this is clearly established then more effective marking and feedback can take place.   The answer should be, that it is for the children to enable them to have better learning outcomes.  However, much of the marking that is done, is done because teachers have been, for decades, drilled into writing lengthy comments which the pupils rarely read.  In the past, I have written comments on an epic scale and yet the children never seemed to really learn from them – why? Because they were never fully read / or understood. I believed I was being a good teacher because I was spending many hours at the end of the day, or at the weekend, marking and commenting on work.   In hindsight, this was never going to be useful to the pupils, the written comments came too late, they were after the event and also looked intimidating. I, however, was very proud of that marking and felt that the parents, and the senior leadership team at my school, would have confidence in me as a teacher because of what I had written.  It was engaging wasn’t it?  But as the children did not benefit, the marking was therefore done for me, and it was for the parents and the school leaders.  It was for everyone except for the intended audience – the children.   

Now, let us consider the difference between marking, as described above  –  row of ticks and crosses and a “good work” comment show that the work has been looked at but does not take learning forward.  And the comment, “good work.” –   what was good? Children need specifics not a blanket statement; and feedback where there is a conversation about the learning that has taken place.    There is a place for this type of bald marking – tests!  

Feedback is, in short, a conversation.  A dialogue between teacher and child where the learning is discussed and the child is encouraged to think, they are not allowed to devolve responsibility of learning to the teacher – they know it already – the child must take ownership, must actively engage and work with the teacher to move their learning forward. They are required to draw on prior knowledge and to go through the stages of their learning.  It is harder, yes for both the teacher and the pupil but the results are so much better.  Research from the Education Endowment fund revealed that ‘the use of metacognitive strategies – which get pupils to think about their own learning – can be worth the equivalent of an additional +7 months.’  The teacher-talk through this process models good thinking processes and is key to demonstrating and encouraging pupils to develop their own learning strategies, without placing excessive demands on their working memory.  

Having the ability and time to reflect on the learning process ensures that pupils have the appropriate tools to reflect upon their successes and to formulate their next steps. 

For feedback to be effective it must 

  • Be timely – during the lesson, given at the point of learning 
  • Enable reflection and progress 
  • Occur at all levels (child-child, teacher-child, child-teacher) 
  • Be appropriately time proportionate (the input must match the output) 

As this feedback is verbal there is nothing written in the books, as the aim of the feedback is for it to be immediately acted upon, it would not serve any effective purpose to write it down – remember who the audience is?  A lack of written marking does not indicate that no assessment has taken place but it is difficult to ascertain at a glance that this is the case.   To this end we will be introducing a green stamp that just says “verbal feedback” which should reassure parents that a learning conversation has taken place and act as an aide memoire for the pupils that they did have a conversation at that point.  

We have been using verbal feedback as a school for a couple of years now and the results are becoming more evident, slowed I think due to lockdowns and individual learning from home, but still going in the right direction. The learning conversations are developing the language associated with growth mindset, staff are using phrases based on Carole Dweck’s research, remembering to praise the process and the effort “I can see you have really thought about how to do this.” or ‘You are working hard to understand this. Great job!’ rather than being solely focused on the outcome – “Good work” or ‘You’re so clever’  

In lessons, PSHE and assemblies we are actively using phrases and reminders that will reinforce a growth mindset, such as: 

  • Mistakes help me to learn 
  • I’ll keep trying even when it is hard 
  • It is normal for me to find learning a bit tricky at times – cognitive wobble 
  • If its too easy, I am not learning 
  • What else can I try? 
  • What am I missing? 

We are moving away from the closed and fixed mindset way of thinking and phrases such as  

 

  • This is too hard 
  • I’m not good at this 
  • I give up 
  • I’ll never figure this out 
  • I can’t do it 
  • I don’t get it 

 

We encourage the girls to peer assess and explain as this develops mastery skills and so there may be times when pupils, overseen by teachers, will mark each other’s work and make suggestions, there will be other times when a concept is not fully understood by a number of children and the teacher instead of making notes in a book will address the question or type of question as a whole class activity and go thought it on the board.   We aim that all forms of marking and feedback is relevant and timely and that it will move the children on from where they are.  It is a powerful tool for teachers to formatively assess where their pupils are and to guide the next learning.  

I can confidently say that the children at Cumnor approach their learning in a more positive manner, taking ownership, being proactive, thinking more creatively and become reflective and more confident learners.    Your daughters are now engaged pupils who are now taking an active role in their learning rather than being passive recipients of knowledge.  These are the life skills that they will need not just in school but in their workplace so I believe that if we can instil these qualities within them now, they will grow to be formidable adults – the adult that we would want to employ.  We really are ensuring that our girls are future ready.  

 

“Give a kid a grade & the learning stops. Give feedback & extending questions and the learning goes deeper.” 

Dr. Justin Tarte  

 

020 8660 3445