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Marking vs Feedback: The Journey by Lauren Murphy and Sunita Vyas
The Development Process
“All parts of the education system have a role to play in reducing the unnecessary tasks that take teachers and school leaders away from their core task: improving outcomes for students.” Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking (March 2016)
Following on from the release of this publication from the DfE, leaders from the Inspire Partnership were eager to hear the views of staff. Responses from an end-of-year teacher survey showed that a contributing factor to teacher workload was time spent on marking. At the same time teachers were sceptical with regards to the impact the marking was having on the progress of the pupils.
“I spend hours marking every day and a lot of the time, the pupils spend less than 5 minutes responding.”
“Quite often the feedback I am providing doesn’t feel purposeful and doesn’t necessarily lead to children making rapid progress, which is mostly because the feedback is being given too late, after the lesson has already taken place.”
Pupil voice was consistent with the feedback from teachers.
Analysis of teacher voice, coupled with evidence from book monitoring, led to decisive action by partnership leaders. A change was needed. Teachers from across the schools were asked if they would be interested in participating in an action research group, dedicated to addressing the concerns identified. The feedback working party was formed.
During the party’s initial meeting, the team engaged in vibrant discussions around the core question: what is the purpose of feedback and marking? The dialogue quickly revealed that although the difference between feedback and marking was clear, the current policy meant that books were being marked, rather than pupils receiving feedback. We recognised that this was a mindset that needed to be addressed, thus created a rationale for feedback. Reference back to this rationale was frequent throughout the journey of the research group.
Having established our vision for feedback, our first step was to evaluate existing research. We collected a range of examples of feedback in action from different settings.
In his blog ‘Marking is a Hornet’, Joe Kirby, from Michaela Community School, described feedback as a butterfly.
“Feedback is effective when it is timely (not too late after the task), frequent (not too scarce) and acted on (not ignored). Written marking often militates against this: teachers burn out and it becomes less timely, less frequent and less acted on by pupils and teachers.”
Reviewing the research prompted us to ask the question: who are we marking for? According to the Education Endowment Fund’s report ‘A Marked Improvement’ (2016), it was found by researchers at the University of Oxford that there was a ‘significant disparity between the enormous amount of effort teachers invest in marking and the research available to tell them which marking approaches are the most effective’. We knew then that to ensure our policy was ‘meaningful, manageable and motivating’ we needed to provide clear, tangible and purposeful examples of feedback in action and the different ways of achieving it, specifically linked to the children from our communities and the contexts of our schools.
Five core principles were established from the researched conducted. It was decided that feedback must:
- Be timely
- Enable progress
- Occur at all levels (child-child, teacher-child, child-teacher)
- Be well-informed (subject knowledge and pupil assessment)
- Be proportionate (the input must match the output)
Having secured our understanding of what feedback should be, we identified a bank of strategies that could be trialled in classrooms. Following an initial six-week trial of a range of feedback approaches, the group reconvened to agree on the strategies that would best fit our core principles.
After agreeing our feedback toolkit, we dedicated the following term to gathering examples of this feedback in action within our classes. At the heart of this was the knowledge that we would be sharing the new feedback strategies with the whole partnership and therefore needed to provide high quality examples.
It was at this point that the working party recognised the need to share the progress across the partnership. This enabled us to extend the research further into more classrooms. Teachers were asked to select two strategies from the toolkit in their classrooms and provide feedback to the working party, including any examples that they collected. Underpinning the two strategies class teachers would implement, all teachers were asked to explicitly teach and embed growth mindset.
“Students who approach a task or subject with a growth mindset have been found to recognise feedback as a positive aspect of their learning” (Forsythe & Johnson, 2017)
Each teacher created a growth mindset display for their classroom, which was referenced throughout all teaching and dedicated circle times, to ensure that this mindset was instilled.
The language associated with growth mindset was embedded through ‘seeds’ or ‘statements’ that were woven into the teaching sequences. Based on Dweck’s research, praise of the process and effort (‘You are working hard to understand this. Great job.’) rather than the outcome (‘You’re so smart.’) was used.
Phrases were used that reinforced a growth mindset, such as:
- Mistakes help me to learn
- I’ll keep trying even when it is hard
- I can try another idea
- What am I missing?
These replaced phrases that reinforced a fixed mindset, such as:
- This is too hard
- I’m not good at this
- I give up
- I’ll never figure this out
- I can’t do it
Pupil voice showed a clear shift in learning dispositions. On a walk through the school, on any given day, children were revelling in ‘useful learning mistakes’ and were not afraid to be in the ‘learning pit’. Not only did this have a significant impact on the way in which children responded to feedback, but teachers also developed confidence in taking risks due to this shift in mindset.
Evidence and feedback from the trial were gathered and shared with the working party. It was using this feedback that the toolkit was refined and finalised. Exemplars that were collected from a range of different year groups were used to create exemplifications to illustrate the different aspects of the toolkit. These models of best practice were used to guide staff in the early implementation of the toolkit.
The Feedback Toolkit
One of the best ways of reducing teacher workload with regards to marking outside of lessons is to ensure that they are proficient at identifying errors, misconceptions and providing in-the-moment feedback within a lesson. With this in mind, live marking, with the use of editing codes and verbal feedback, was embedded across the partnership. In order to ensure that live marking or verbal feedback is efficient and effective, the working party created simple to use codes for teacher and children.
The partnership recognised the importance of eliciting depth of learning through the use of feedback. It was clear that verbal feedback and live marking were ‘instant’ ways of providing opportunities for children to reflect and grapple with their learning.
A particularly effective method of feedback employed for written outcomes was the colloquially termed ‘green box’. Green boxes can be used to address misconceptions, identify next steps, support redrafting or elicit a reflection that deepens the learning. Teachers can use this both within the lesson or post-learning. Many teachers also explained that this strategy was useful for groups of children who had similar misconceptions that could be addressed during a focus group or intervention.
Year 5 example of green box to encourage a child to vary their sentence structure and enhance their use of figurative devices.
Green box being used in EYFS to encourage a child to add more detail.
After much discussion, it was decided that written feedback still very much had a place within our feedback toolkit. The group felt that written feedback was an opportunity for teachers to deepen the learning of individual pupils through the use of a prompt or question.
Peer and Self-assessment
Creating a culture where feedback is valued and sought created a safe space for pupils to be create their own framework around peer and self-assessment. In his book Towards Dialogic Teaching (2004), Robin Alexander refers to dialogic teaching as collective: teachers and pupils learn in an environment where learning is addressed together and rich opportunities for purposeful talk are carefully crafted by the practitioner. In order to give constructive feedback to each other and themselves, pupils needed to be taught what good feedback looked like. The process had to be explicitly modelled, in order to enhance the quality of pupil talk.
It was found that coaching stems were a fantastic tool for children to use when supporting a peer through the learning, in order to still maintain a level of independence on both parts.
Pupils who had been coaching expressed that they were able to strengthen their own learning and understanding of a concept by coaching their peers.
Research from the Education Endowment fund revealed that ‘the use of metacognitive strategies – which get pupils to think about their own learning – can be worth the equivalent of an additional +7 months.’ Scaffolding and modelling the thinking process is vital in allowing pupils to develop these strategies, without placing too many demands on their working memory. Having the ability to reflect on the learning process using these strategies ensures pupils have the appropriate tools to evaluate their successes and next steps.
The use of reflection postcards and prompts supported the teachers in creating incidental opportunities, scattered throughout lessons and woven into learning journeys, for pupils to assess and evaluate their learning.
At times, it was appropriate to dedicate whole lessons to self-assessment and reflection strategies to elicit depth of thinking from the children.
Immediate feedback, through the use of ‘honesty sheets’ allowed pupils to assess their own work and identify useful learning mistakes, as well as next steps.
Once the culture of peer and self-feedback had been embedded, teachers were then able to differentiate this feedback to address technical errors in a piece of learning or to extract a deeper layer of thinking.
Whole Class Marking
Having already planned opportunities to use various elements of the feedback toolkit during a sequence of lessons, there wasn’t a need for teachers to ‘mark’ books at the end of each day. The working party found that instead, the use of a whole class crib sheet was a quick and informative way of checking pupil understanding, celebrating successes and adapting planning for the next phase of learning.
Eliminating the need to write unnecessary ticks and comments created more time for practitioners to focus on the learning, in order to tweak planning to address common misconceptions, identify focus groups to support, and deepen and celebrate ‘snapshot moments’ of success.
Impact on children and teachers
As part of the working party's monitoring and assessment of the new feedback policy, all schools within the partnership spoke to children and teachers about the impact it had had on their learning (children) and workload (teachers).
“Since we started using more feedback strategies in class, I have developed much more independence. Now, I spend more time reflecting and self-assessing my learning. This has made me think about how I can expand and deepen my explanation. I think this will help me succeed in the future!” Year 6 child
“When I think back to the amount of time I used to spend on writing out feedback in thirty children’s books, I am shocked that I ever had the time. With the feedback toolkit, I can use a range of strategies across a week, during and after a lesson. I am able to spend more time thinking about what I can plan to address gaps or challenge my children. As a result, the progress in my class has been fantastic, both in confidence and outcomes.” Year 4 class teacher
Regular monitoring of the feedback and marking toolkit is used to ensure that triangulated evidence in books, lessons and pupil voice continues to have a positive impact on the children’s learning, dispositions and interactions.
Like with any piece of work, the impact was reviewed and once again, teacher voice was collected. Responses revealed that teachers were leaning more towards certain elements of the toolkit that they felt more comfortable with.
In order to provide more guidance and clarity, the working party collated a range of samples from various practitioners across the schools to share with teachers in order for them to see the feedback in action. These were shared through weekly phase meetings, identified professional development sessions and celebrated via twitter.
‘Feedback surgeries’ were also held throughout the year, where teachers could bring along planning and books for support with identifying opportunities for feedback and also share successes.