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Verbal marking: the answer to the classroom teacher’s problems?

In all honesty, I have always found marking the most tedious bit of the job. A typical marking experience, at least for me, tends to go something like this: student hands book in; teacher spends a long time rifling through book to find relevant bit of work; teacher spends significant portion of time deciding on WWW, EBI and follow-up task; teacher hands book back in the desperate hope that student will get ‘that lightbulb moment’ when they read their target; student shrugs, sighs, gets task completed in as short a time as possible, and then promptly forgets the teacher ever wrote anything.

I therefore came into this year with the question of whether verbal marking could be more efficient for teachers and more effective for students.

Fortunately, a Maths teacher in my school was also interested in the same thing so we teamed up, learnt how to use Seesaw (an online platform which allows you to record videos or simply audio for feedback) and decided which classes would be our pilot groups. My (un)lucky year 11s were my victims.

I aimed to trial two different types of verbal feedback:

1) A ‘talk-through’ of their essay. Essentially, I gave my verbal comments on their essay as I read through it myself and decided what mark should be rewarded. Students were then expected to listen to my feedback, annotate their work with my comments and respond to the various mini tasks I set them.

2) Using written feedback to give positive comments and then directing them to specific videos I had made of class targets. Students then responded to these videos with a set task.

Once this process was completed, students filled out a survey and the following was found:

  • Half the class preferred verbal feedback; the other half written (a small proportion didn't know);

  • 55% students preferred type (b) of verbal feedback.

The lack of enthusiasm for verbal feedback rather surprised me as it seemed of far higher quality to me. However, when I looked at students’ justifications, they generally cited problems with IT as their reasoning or the lack of comfort in having to take responsibility for interpreting the teacher’s feedback (potentially highlighting a problem in our development of independent learners).

I am about to begin trialling verbal feedback more formally and rigorously with 3 classes of year 10 for at least six months. Nevertheless, my tentative findings so far are:

  • Form (a) of verbal feedback is slower than providing written feedback. Form (b) is approximately the same. However, this could change over time as departments create banks of video resources;

  • Students did not express particular preference for verbal feedback over written feedback. However, problems with verbal feedback cited are either easily fixable or suggest a lack of willingness to take responsibility for one’s own learning;

  • Form (b) was most popular but it isn't yet clear why.

With three enthusiastic teachers on board, three trial year 10 classes and a hope that I might have hit upon the marking pot of gold, I begin my research with great expectations!

Rebecca Lefroy

English KS3 Co-ordinator

Comberton Village College

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