How to make feedback more impactful for pupils and manageable for teachers at the same time.
Throughout my teaching career, I have always found marking to be the elephant in the room. Almost everyone at school was in agreement that the time spent on marking books was disproportionate to the amount of impact it had on pupil progress. Yet for several years, we have continued to spend hours and hours of our time providing written feedback for students. Was all this work really for the pupils benefit or was it for the powers that be? Did the students actually value this feedback at all? Are there other ways to provide feedback that are more effective for all involved?
Teacher workload has been a big issue for several years now and after the government’s teacher workload survey of 2016 and several pieces of research, especially the education endowment funds paper, our school has looked into our marking policy and spent time discussing how we can use other forms of feedback within our school. After speaking to both students and teachers it became clear that the marking-heavy feedback needed to change. Teachers’ responses to surveys outlined that they were feeling that the workload was too high and demanded more than they could give. The responses also demonstrated that many teachers often marked because they felt they had to rather than for the student’s benefits. When discussing feedback with students, many admitted to not really reading comments made in their books – something that became obvious when looking through books as many comments were repeated endlessly to students. It became clear to me that whilst my books were beautifully annotated with our growing green and tickled pink marking codes, the students had little ownership of their own learning journey and weren’t engaged in the feedback cycle.
Having conducted this initial research and looking at our school specific issues, a working party was set up in our school, involving teachers from across all key stages, set with the task of writing a feedback policy. The key here was that we were tasked with writing a feedback policy rather than a marking policy. This allowed us to think about the different types of feedback and when we may choose to use them. The ethos of the policy would be to provide teachers with more flexibility to make a professional decision on what feedback was necessary to move their children forwards more. If acknowledgement marking (commonly known as a tick and flick) was all that was needed and teacher time could be used to make the next lesson even better, then that would be the right decision. After all, we as the educators know our class best! Initially, members of the working party were asked to trial different things within their classroom and report back on their effectiveness. Having witnessed a fairly low engagement of pupils in the feedback cycle, I chose to focus on the impact self-assessment can have on children’s learning. I would focus on spending more time at the end of lessons really honing in on what it is they have been learning, recognising where they have been successful and thinking of ways they could have been more successful.
The results of this mini experiment have revolutionised the way I teach. My year 4 students have grown in maturity massively as a result of having a greater ownership of their learning and their ability to articulate exactly where they are in their learning journey has surpassed every one of my expectations. It took a while to teach my students how to self-assess their work and it is still work in progress for some of them but through reading the comments they write me at the end of a session, it is clear to see their learning journey move forwards. They can articulate what they’ve learnt and demonstrate how they have been successful. For many, just reading their self-assessment is enough to realise their next step is to be in my next lesson. This means there is no need to spend hours providing extensive written feedback – they have done that job for me. For those that have struggled they are able to articulate what they found difficult and I can then provide them with an intervention to overcome this specific problem. When they realise the help they are getting is the help they asked for, it becomes a powerful vehicle for progress. Children who potentially would be disengaged are actively asking for the help they themselves see as needing. Another impact of this improved self-assessment is that I am able to provide those who need help with more immediate help. At the end of a session, those who have self-assessed themselves as needing more help will put their work in a pile that I can look at immediately. In the afternoon, I can then run mini 5 – 10 minute “booster” sessions helping children overcome any problems they had in lessons from earlier in the day. This has had a great impact in my classroom as almost all students are now ready for the next lesson the following day. Previously, I was always finding myself catch up a group from yesterday’s work after my marking session after school. The children also love this immediate feedback and feel it has helped them move forwards at a quicker rate.
We are still at the stage where we are writing up the final policy but what has become clear is that through promoting reflection and articulation, we can involve the children more in their own learning journey and really put them in the middle of the feedback cycle. This has had a powerful impact on the learning in my classroom and I am sure it will also be a powerful tool if promoted across the school. I’m not sure it has reduced the amount of work I am doing on a daily basis, but I’m sure that my feedback is more effective for my pupils. I think all teachers wouldn’t mind spending the same amount of time as they do working but knowing that what they were doing was effective for their pupils.
In September, our working party is launching the feedback policy across the whole school and I will look into the impact this has had on both learning and teacher workload. For the first time in my career, I look at the feedback happening in my classroom and see everything I do as serving a purpose. I look forward to sharing this with the other teachers at my school and observing the impact it can have on the learning that happens on a daily basis.
R.A. Butler Academy