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February 2018 Blog

For the February blog, I wanted to concentrate on one of the biggest areas and challenges of College life which is the quality and frequency of our feedback and marking. Over the last couple of months, the SLT has been looking at many of the student books and considering how we evaluate the feedback and marking we provide at Crookhorn. If I am being honest, it is still very varied and inconsistent across the curriculum, and this is an area we do need to make sure is a strength for our students.

It reminded me of the research that the Sutton Trust carried out many years ago now that highlights why feedback is so important. If delivered well, "effective feedback" can boost learning by an extra nine months in an academic year. By effective feedback it means shifting fundamentally how teachers approach their work in the classroom - understanding where their students are in relation to learning goals, adapting their teaching in response, and planning how to plug the learning gaps. This is especially important to our disadvantaged students, which has to remain one of the key foci at Crookhorn. 

Over the years, teachers have spent surprisingly little time discussing what happens behind their own classroom door. Hopefully, the development of CPT on a Tuesday is helping to reduce this. It is vital we spend time when we met together looking at the feedback given across our subject, what works well and what can be improved. Too often feedback from teachers is unfocused - simply urging students to do more of the same. I am still baffled and annoyed when I look in our Crookhorn books and the feedback from some of our staff is “add more detail” or “try harder”. This is not feedback!

This is doubly frustrating as the teacher is often spending their valuable time marking the books and then writing these comments, all I would suggest being a complete waste of valuable time. It’s not what you do, it's the way that you do it that counts. John Hattie outlined in his book ‘Visible Learning for Teachers’ about the importance of high-quality feedback and shared the benefits of a rigorous approach to marking and feedback, including the fact that assessing students helps teachers to learn about their own impact. He states that feedback and marking have 3 purposes- Students act on feedback to make progress over time, they inform future planning and teaching, and students learn to value hard work and the quality of work they produce. He also argues that some of the key elements of marking that have the greatest impact on learning are:

  • Sharing the key marking points (the success criteria)- students more likely to be successful if they know where they are going and how to get there
  • Clear feedback, comments only or verbal feedback which they then respond to by correcting their work or redoing it using your comments
  • Students should know the objectives and how they are going to prove they have learnt it but why make them write it down- have them visible if needed (on a whiteboard or as a banner on PPT) but do not get them to copy it down, it is not necessary!

I have been reading ‘Mark, Plan, Teach’ which is a book that looks at maximizing the impact of teaching and, in doing so, save time, reduce workload and teachers taking control of their classroom. The intention of the book is to encourage teachers to view their teaching process as a continuous cycle:

 

As a starting point, both summative and formative marking should be diagnostic, we should allow us to make it clear to a student how to improve their piece of work and learning, rather than simply giving them a grade. When they respond to this specific feedback, it is then we will see the progress. There are many strategies that are being used by our teachers to help them with giving effective feedback and many of the ones are detailed in this link so please take a look and discuss with your coach and HOS. https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2016/02/05/markingsketchnote/

We know many of our teachers are working incredibly long hours and finding any free time to mark outside of the classroom during our working week is tough and sometimes near impossible job. I believe that hard work should be in the classroom and not away from it. It is important that before you set an assessment and then sit down to mark it, you should first consider where you are in the curriculum and the purpose of setting and marking this specific piece of work. Think about the starting point, progress and context of each student. This ‘overview’ will inform how you spend time marking to improve teaching, learning and assessment. I know many of you will point out to me about the fact that there is a frequency marking cycle that we must stick to, but as an SLT, if we can see that actually over a MTP, you have carefully considered where you are going to mark for impact and it might not be in week 3, 6 and 9 but actually 5, 6 and 9 which suits the students far better we will not hold that against you!

Finally, I have recently read an article titled ‘Is Your Feedback Carefully Used, or Barely Perused?’ which is very thought-provoking. It is all about getting students to engage with your feedback and looking making sure that students don’t just receive the feedback but actually leads to them developing skills. It highlights that if we are not seeing much progress, the solution is not to give more and more feedback, but to help students to become better users of feedback. Students should be able to appraise their own work, set targets for themselves to develop their work and be motivated to do this intrinsically. If we consider what happens to us when we receive critical feedback as teachers, we often as adults get defensive and put barriers up, and this is nearly always the way with children so we need to consider how we structure feedback so our children are positive about making changes. Here is a copy of the link so you can have a read http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/9/27-1

As an SLT, we will be doing learning walks every week to look at the quality of feedback our students are receiving and we will expect all teachers to firstly be up to date with their frequency of feedback and secondly by providing a high quality of feedback to aid progress. If you want any guidance or support with making sure you are giving our students the best possible feedback, then please ask.