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April 2018 Blog

When teaching and learning are “visible” – that is, when it is clear what teachers are teaching and what students are learning, student achievement increases. This is the key point in an article I read recently from the excellent John Hattie. John Hattie’s idea is something that as leaders we have become very aware of over the last few years and something that was very evident when I heard him speak at the ASCL conference in March. As you know we have started to embed in various areas of the curriculum, what we believe are really essential practices all aimed at making learning explicitly ‘visible’ to teachers and students. For example the use of live marking; creating a culture of error; medium-term planning; the focus of question level analysis after an assessment and the necessity of re-teaching areas after checking a student’s understanding are all techniques based on high-level research and they are undoubtedly the key as we work towards the ‘Excellence as Standard’ in our teaching and learning.

John Hattie’s work on the factors that make the biggest impact on student achievement is an interesting read. One of the high impact factors is the feedback students receive in the classroom (Read an article by Hattie on feedback here). In the article, he describes that the more specific the feedback, whether it is from the teacher, from fellow students or even feedback that they are giving themselves, the more impact it has on the student’s development academically. Although feedback is among the most powerful of influences on learning, it can also be amongst the most variable. Hattie goes on to describe 6 key things;

1.      Giving is not receiving: Teachers may claim they give much feedback, but the more appropriate measure is the nature of feedback received (and this is often quite little).

2.      The culture of the student can influence the feedback effects: Feedback is not only differentially given but also differentially received.

3.      Disconfirmation is more powerful than confirmation: When feedback is provided that disconfirms then there can be greater change, provided it is accepted.

4.      Errors need to be welcomed: The exposure to errors in a safe environment can lead to higher performance

5.      The power of peers: Interventions that aim to foster correct peer feedback is needed.

6.      Feedback from the assessment: Assessment (…) could and should also provide feedback to teachers about their methods.

Hattie describes the art of effective teaching is to provide the right form of feedback at, or just above, the level at which the student is working. Feedback should lead the student to move from the task towards the processes or understandings necessary to learn the task.  From there the aim is to take the student to extend beyond the task to more challenging goals. I think this can be summed up by asking the following questions to your students to consider when you give feedback;

“What do I know and what can I do” (Level 1)

 “What do I not know and what can’t I do and what can I do about this” (Level 2)

“What can I teach others (and myself) about what I know and can do” (Level 3)

The article describes the benefit of regular, smaller chunks of feedback where students then change/amend their work. When compared to strategies such as longer school days, smaller class sizes and more money spent per student, research shows that rapid formative assessment is considered to be the most cost-effective. We must all consider this in our approach to live feedback, which my fellow coaches and I are trying to develop in teachers daily practice. Get that green pen in your hand, and give short sharp pieces of feedback to students and get them to redraft, improve or consider the feedback on the next piece of work and how they will change their practice as a result of it and we will see more progress!

To finish, I just want to highlight some excellent practice I have seen recently in maths and how this is having an impact, not only on student progress but also on teacher workload- two key issues for all of our teachers. Jo Poulter has a very clear and easy way of giving her students feedback, she has found this has reduced the time she is spending marking, the students find it useful for them and they have improved their knowledge and skills because of it, so a winner all around. The theory is very simple, the students do a task or an assessment, which Jo marks, and gives a score to. She then completes a feedback sheet, which gives the students guidance on how to answer the questions they got wrong, and the students go back and attempt the questions again on the original paper, in red. She then gives them some similar questions to show that the students have learnt, which can be peer marked or by Jo when she is walking around during response time. If you don’t believe me in that this saves time, please go and speak to her and look at her books, which are excellent. Below are some pictures to give you an example.                               

  First mark   Feedback/hints  Reteach-extension/Progress check

As usual, please discuss these ideas with your coach and any feedback is gratefully received. The research shows that this makes a huge difference to the students we teach so definitely worth a go!