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One size fits all…

While one size clothing may well be worn by people of varying sizes, I would argue that it does not actually fit a wide range of sizes effectively. A particular method of feedback can be used with wide range of pupils – but how effectively does it actually work for them? What do they prefer? How do you differentiate your feedback methods for an entire class of pupils with different preferences?

My research has been focussed on how best to support the low ability pupils in a class with a large proportion of top ability pupils. In my experience within Computing this wide range of abilities has often led to a lack of confidence and low motivation in the lower ability pupils. During my research I have looked into using different methods of feedback, and confidence and resilience building techniques; such as growth mind-set training, to see if this can improve the learning experience for these pupils.

Too much red pen? One method of feedback I have trialled was giving close the gap (CTG) feedback and praise, sometimes just focussing on one small section of work rather than over the entire piece, but not sharing the grades with pupils on tests, the idea behind this was that it would help to boost confidence levels of lower ability pupils within a competitive class, removing the comparison of results between peers. This method has worked well for some students. However, many others do not like this approach and are happy to share their results. When the entire class received feedback in this way many pupils were uneasy and asked to know their actual grade for the work. The lower ability pupils were interviewed, resulting in mixed feelings on the lack of grade given. Overall it would appear pupils feel that they benefit from knowing the grade they have achieved and are happy to share the grade with their peers regardless of the level of achievement.

This led me to think about how different pupils had responded to different feedback types. Students were interviewed on feedback for their mock exams and all of them declared that they benefitted the most from one-to-one feedback with the teacher spending time with them going through the paper. It is essential that we create time for this valuable experience when possible, however it is essential to provide pupils with a range of feedback methods dependent on the task and the pupil.

Whilst the research for this project has been inconclusive, it has proven that taking the time to speak to the pupils and ensuring that you have a good working relationship with them enables you to increase their motivation. When the student feels more comfortable within the class they are able to become more confident about taking risks. The success of these pupils depends on building an environment where they feel safe and valued.

With regards to the high target grades, I had discussions with a range of pupils which again led to a variety of responses. The higher ability pupils generally found them motivating and are eager to rise to the challenge, wanting to achieve as high as they possibly can, and are further motivated by the belief from the teacher that they can achieve the target. The lower ability pupils are more varied in their responses, and often their attitude depends on how far away they are achieving from the grade. If there is a big discrepancy they find the grade demotivating and unachievable and there is sometimes a reluctance to try, this attitude is displayed more so in pupils with a fixed mind set. These pupils will be the biggest challenge where motivation is concerned as they do not believe they are capable of achieving so much higher than their current level.

The conclusion of my research is that every pupil is different. They need time and an individualised approach which allows them to receive feedback when possible in their preferred style. The pupils starting with a more fixed mind-set have benefitted from some Growth mind-set training which helps them to build resilience and aids them with their motivation levels. Without resilience it is incredibly difficult for a pupil to succeed in Computing. The subject centres on failing and learning from the failed attempts – not many, indeed if any, programmers can write a perfect piece of code without trying different approaches, and lots of debugging. Many pupils today seek perfection and struggle to deal with failure. It is essential that they learn to have a high level of resilience to succeed.

Everyone is slightly different, which is why tailor made clothing will always work best, just as each pupil is different and has different needs to succeed, so feedback tailored to the pupil will give them the most benefit.

Janet Symonds

Computing Department

Saffron Walden County High School

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