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November 2018 Blog

Many of our students are about to receive their mock results. For some, this will be a time for them to feel relieved that their efforts so far have paid off. For others, they won’t be happy with their result. Ultimately, the result itself doesn’t really matter. It’s how the students respond to their result that counts. The hope is that our students will find the balance between fear of failure and over-confidence in order to best prepare them for their final exams. In this post, I explain the methods I and others have used to ensure that students respond positively so that they will achieve their desired result in the future. The importance of giving effective feedback has never been more pertinent in this pressing time of their school careers.

Effective feedback from you will include the specific achievable steps (targets) to improve their performance. For example, the use of technical vocab, the identification of knowledge gaps, fluency, evaluation skills and ineptness of planning might all be included in your feedback. If a student is missing most of these, you have to give them a place to start.

Students’ lack of engagement with these steps/targets you give them also seems to be caused by their own perceptions of themselves as learners. They often see themselves as a “grade 4” student, for example. This makes it harder for them to come to terms with any grade that doesn’t fit with that label. Following a positive result, they can then become idle in their success. A negative result can leave students thinking it can’t be done. It’s vital that we spend time before giving feedback to help students understand what they should be looking to achieve, both in terms of short and long-term practices. They need to know and be constantly reminded that ‘progress‘ is not linear and that their path to success will not be a straight one.

Students need to see the bigger picture. One exam result can seem like the entire picture to some of the students. In order for these steps of feedback to be meaningful to your students, they need to understand their own learning situation. By this, I mean that your students need to be able to see what their current level of achievement looks like compared to their past achievements. Have they dipped? Plateaued? Accelerated? Where are they going? And how is this related to their end goal?

They should also be made aware of how far a student like them should be expected to achieve by the end of the course. Think about some of your students from previous years who have achieved similar mock results, but have then gone on to have even greater success when they have followed a specific plan. Share that plan with your current students, breaking it down into practical steps, which when followed, led to your previous student achieving the desired result.

By making the steps simple, your current students are able to see further progress as realistic. This provides them with the motivation required to increase performance in preparation for the exam. Because the feedback conversation is focused on future achievement, rather than past failure, your student’s mindset is far more receptive and they should react more positively.

Additionally, students need to feel supported. Many students’ will know that a poor result is their ‘fault’, but guilt and remorse will only make them dwell on negatives. This distracts from the positives and creates a barrier to forming a solution-focused mindset. Instead, ensure you are giving effective feedback by using as many comments as possible about what your students have achieved. By beginning the feedback conversation in this way (and feedback must be a conversation, not just one-way) your students will be encouraged to feel as though they have a platform to build upon for future success. They will also see you as being on their side, rather than just being there to find faults.

What actions can we take to prepare our students to receive feedback? I think it is important for students to consider some questions before they receive their mock papers back. Here are some questions I would consider asking:

  1. What do you stand to gain from success in this subject?
  2. What is your end-of-course target?
  3. What was your target for the mock exam?
  4. If your two targets are different, then explain why
  5. What practical steps did you take to move towards your mock exam target?
  6. Which of those practical steps paid off?
  7. Which practical steps would you change or not use again? Explain your reasons.
  8. If you could go back in time and give advice to yourself three months ago, what advice would you give?

Many of these I have got from Sander when he has been working with the students in his MADE sessions. You may change the wording of the questions, or even add/remove some of them. However, it is fundamental that we as a teaching team create a dialogue with each student about their own journey. The questions are really just conversation starters.

After giving feedback on the mock exams, it’s crucial that you put a plan in place to ensure that every single student can be monitored and so that their performance on exam day is not left to chance. The plan should be specific, realistic and time-bound if it is to work. But most importantly, the onus should be on the students to solve the problem. You will need to use the mocks to see where the gap in learning is specific to one or two students or where it has a broader base, which requires a rethink of future planning. What material are they struggling to commit to long-term memory? How will you help facilitate this?

Steps you can put in place:

  • Students should respond to feedback as early as possible – create improved answers or redo the mock exam from scratch.
  • Set aside specific times for one-to-one conversations with each student (if logistically possible). This should happen as soon as possible.
  • Share results with colleagues in other departments and the Head of House to see if there is an issue beyond your subject.
  • Students should create an action plan for the final exams. This can contain exam dates, when they will begin revising, successful revision methods, any future assessment dates.
  • Book another one-to-one for 6 weeks time to see how students have got on individually. Did they bother to stick to the plan? Where’s the evidence? Did it work? How do they know? What do they now need to focus on? Is parental involvement necessary at this point?