Marking and Feedback

Photo by Annushka Ahuja on

Marking work and giving feedback is a really interesting topic. I am sure that everyone has childhood memories of red pen used liberally across work, the rows of ticks that made us happy and possible rows of crosses that made our hearts sink and a cursory comment by the teacher, “Very good! ” or the dreaded, “See me!”, or maybe no comment at all.

Marking and feedback is something that deserves a great deal of careful consideration about how and why it is done.

First of all I would like to consider who the marking and feedback is for.  Once this is clearly established then more effective marking and feedback can take place.   The answer should be, that it is for the children to enable them to have better learning outcomes.  However, much of the marking that is done, is done because teachers have been, for decades, drilled into writing lengthy comments which the pupils rarely read.  In the past, I have written comments on an epic scale and yet the children never seemed to really learn from them – why? Because they were never fully read / or understood. I believed I was being a good teacher because I was spending many hours at the end of the day, or at the weekend, marking and commenting on work.   In hindsight, this was never going to be useful to the pupils, the written comments came too late, they were after the event and also looked intimidating. I, however, was very proud of that marking and felt that the parents, and the senior leadership team at my school, would have confidence in me as a teacher because of what I had written.  It was engaging wasn’t it?  But as the children did not benefit, the marking was therefore done for me, and it was for the parents and the school leaders.  It was for everyone except for the intended audience – the children. 

Now, let us consider the difference between marking and feedback. Marking  –  row of ticks and crosses, the “good work” comment showing that the work has been looked at but does not take learning forward.  And the actual comment, “good work.” –   what does this even mean? What was good? Children need specifics not a blanket statement; they need that hook so that they know how to build. Feedback is about engagement and involvement, it is about coaching and guiding; and when it is done well it is very impactful.   

Feedback is, in short, a conversation.  A dialogue between teacher and child where the learning is discussed and the child is encouraged to think, they are not allowed to devolve responsibility of learning to the teacher – they know it already – the child must take ownership, must actively engage and work with the teacher to move their learning forward. They are required to draw on prior knowledge and to go through the stages of their learning; they are encouraged to explain their understanding thus demonstrating mastery and pushed to take their thinking further. It is harder, yes for both the teacher and the pupil but the results are so much better.  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.’  The teacher-talk through this practice models good thinking processes, it is key to demonstrating and encouraging pupils to develop their own learning strategies, without placing excessive demands on their working memory.

Having the ability and time to consider the learning process ensures that pupils have the appropriate tools to reflect upon their successes and to formulate their next steps.

For feedback to be effective it must:

  • Be timely – during the lesson, given at the point of learning
  • Enable reflection and progress
  • Occur at all levels (child-child, teacher-child, child-teacher)
  • Be appropriately time proportionate (the input must match the output)

As this feedback is verbal, there is nothing written in the books as the aim of the feedback is for it to be immediately acted upon, it would not serve any effective purpose to write it down – remember who the audience is?  A lack of written marking does not indicate that no assessment has taken place.

We have been using verbal feedback as a school for a couple of years now and the results are becoming more evident, slowed I think due to lockdowns and individual learning from home, but still going in the right direction. The learning conversations are developing the language associated with growth mindset, staff are using phrases based on Carole Dweck’s research, remembering to praise specifics as well as the process and the effort “I can see you have really thought about how to do this.” or ‘You are working hard to understand this. Great job!’ rather than being solely focused on the broad outcomes – “Good work” or ‘You’re so clever’

In lessons, PSHE and assemblies we are actively using phrases and reminders that will reinforce a growth mindset, such as:

  • Mistakes help me to learn
  • I’ll keep trying even when it is hard
  • It is normal for me to find learning a bit tricky at times – cognitive wobble
  • If it’s too easy, I am not learning
  • What else can I try?
  • What am I missing?
  • Where/how can I find out for myself?

We are moving away from the closed and fixed mindset way of thinking and phrases 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
  • I don’t get it

In all classes we encourage our pupils to peer assess and explain, this develops mastery skills and so there may be times when pupils, overseen by teachers, will mark each other’s work and make suggestions; there will be other occasions when a concept is not fully understood by a number of children and the teacher, instead of making notes in a book, will address the question or type of question as a whole class activity and go though it on the board, ecouraging discussion in the class about why things are done that way, working through examples together.  We aim that all forms of marking and feedback are relevant, timely and impactful – that it will move the children on from where they are.  It is a powerful tool for teachers to formatively assess where their pupils are and to guide the next learning.

I can confidently say that the children at school approach their learning in a more positive manner, taking ownership, being proactive, thinking more creatively and as a result have become reflective and more confident learners.    Our students are now engaged pupils who are now taking an active role in their learning rather than being passive recipients of knowledge.  These are the life skills that they will need, not just in school but in their workplace, so I believe that if we can instil these qualities within them now, they will grow to be formidable adults – the adult that we would want to employ.  We really are ensuring that our children are future ready.

“Give a kid a grade & the learning stops. Give feedback & extending questions and the learning goes deeper.”

Dr. Justin Tarte

Published by headshipjourney

A teacher of thirty years, and mother of twenty seven years, I think I've learned a great deal - about children, about teaching and learning and about myself. We never stop learning and we should never be afraid to ponder new ideas, to roll thoughts around in our minds, to voice our opinions and have healthy debate. We should never have the arrogance to believe that we know it all but we should remain open minded ready to receive inspiration from those around us. And for me that inspiration comes from my own children, the children in my schools, parents and my wonderful team. I firmly believe that I am a privileged soul to be in the role that I am and I embrace every day and the challenge and joy that it will bring.

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