With a change to ‘no levels’ it is fundamental for schools to go back to basics and think about how the marking and feedback policy ties into the overall philosophy of assessment in the school.
During our discussions about marking we have continued to contemplate the theme of ‘purpose’. (A theme that continues to recur since the Commission Report was released.)
As mentioned in a few previous posts, schools have fallen into a habit of doing certain ‘things’ purely for the benefit of Ofsted or for senior leaders. Our school does not do things for Ofsted……we do things for our children…..things that actually fit the ethos of our school and serve a real ‘purpose’.
Marking and feedback has become one of those things. In fact, so much so, that many headteachers expect to see such intricate marking, that I am surprised anything else gets done! Teachers can spend hours every evening on just one set of 30 books. You multiply that by another two sets and you can see why teachers get so burned out that they end up leaving the profession…..and that is only the marking……
I keep talking about ‘work-life’ balance and some of the systems that I have observed in other schools ensure that a ‘balance’ can never be a reality. Many of us have fallen into the trap of marking work not just for helping children to move on, but to ‘prove’ that we have looked at their work. Why? For what reason?
You can already answer that question…..
In our school we are completely redesigning our policy. We are now asking our teachers to give every child in their class verbal feedback at least one time a week in both maths and English.
Because verbal feedback is by far the most effective and powerful form of feedback that can be given.
When we were doing our first book trawl back in September, the deputy and I were talking about one of the children in his class whose book we were looking at. He had written a similar comment for a few pieces of this child’s work and they still hadn’t applied the concept that he had referred to. This was even after the child had been given opportunities in lessons to respond to the marking and to improve their work. So, we decided a case study was in order. He decided to go back to the child and give them verbal feedback.
From the conversation that he had with this child, he quickly realised that even though the child understood the ‘principle’ of what he was asking for, they didn’t know how to specifically apply it in their own writing. The child was then able to ask further questions to clarify exactly how to use the feature he was asking for and had time to practice it in front of the teacher. A five minute focused, specific and detailed dialogue allowed this pupil to fully understand what was being asked of them and then to apply it in their own work. The progress seen in this one session of verbal feedback may have taken quite a few lessons of written feedback for similar progress to have taken place. Therefore, if verbal feedback can address this in just one session, surely it should be carefully considered.
Similar case studies were undertaken in the same class to see just how much impact verbal feedback would have.
Recently, I went into this class to talk to the children about their experiences of marking and feedback. When the whole class was surveyed, 100% of the children agreed that a combination of verbal and written feedback was most useful, but that verbal feedback really helped them to understand exactly how they could improve and make progress. The children explained that having the verbal feedback ‘conversation’ allowed them to ask questions to the teacher during their lesson time to immediately help improve their work or to fully understand what targets they were being asked to apply. They also said that having the time ‘face to face’ with the teacher put more pressure on them to focus on their improvements.
Marking and feedback has now changed in response to the research we have been carrying out in class. When children are telling us that having ‘learning conversations’ help them to really understand how to improve their work, how can we not adapt our practice to allow for this?
From this, we have asked teachers to begin giving feedback to all of their children in maths and English at least one time a week. Ideally, if time allows, they should get through even more. So, not only will children be given timely and specific feedback, but teachers will have considerably less marking to do.
Now, before sharing this with your senior leadership team, it is imperative that everyone follows a consistent format. The ‘learning conversation’ must focus on what needs improving. It should be a dialogue between teacher and pupil – they need to fully understand what they are doing well (their successes) and what things they need to work on (their challenges). During this, children should be given the opportunity to apply what you have told them so that you can give feedback on this as well. It is about ensuring that children fully understand what it will take to improve their work and how they can continue to make progress. As a school, I would suggest coming up with a format that everyone will work towards so that there is consistency of ‘impact’ and it doesn’t just become a ‘discussion’. For feedback to be most effective it must be timely, specific, clear, purposeful and focused.
In our school, we will have teachers give verbal feedback and where possible, have the children write notes regarding what the teacher is saying.
You may now be asking, but how are you able to make time for this?
When you know something works and really has ‘impact’, you make the time.
Look through your school books. What is the purpose of all the comments, the colours, the symbols? Does it move children’s learning on? Does it help the teacher? Does it inform assessment or planning?
If not, why are you doing it?
And you want to know how you monitor it?
Not through excessive marking and stamping but by going and actually talking to the children…..they tell you the ‘whole’ honest story.