One of the many lovely things about being involved in the Pedagogy Innovation team at our school is that it gives you not only permission but also an obligation to pry in to other people’s classrooms. This term I have been looking at research on feedback and at examples of excellent feedback from around the school. One thing both recent research and our practice has in common is a move away from relying on written marking and towards other forms of feedback.
I think it is unlikely that written feedback is going to be harmful in itself (although David Didau has presented research on the possibility that it could be) and I have seen examples from my own teaching where it seems to have moved kids on in their work. The problem is the opportunity cost of providing this marking. If I spend two hours a day marking books then that is two hours I am not spending creating excellent lessons, or resources, or spending with groups of pupils, or for that matter reading a book and sipping a cup of coffee. Michael Tidd has recently written about this problem for TES.
In order to work out how we can move away from this kind of marking I think it helps to have a success criteria for feedback. What is it that we want feedback to achieve? I’d suggest it can be summed up with this:
For the first purpose written marking works, at best, OK. You can look at a pupil’s work and see if anything is missing and tell them what it is – this doesn’t though tell you whether these are things that they have learnt. Work in books is a poor proxy for learning (as David Didau and Professor Robert Coe probably said). Increasingly I am preferring a combination of knowledge checklists given to pupils can see what they need to learn along with quick low stake knowledge tests so they can see if they have indeed learnt it. These take minutes to write and pupils can quickly mark their own.
The most time consuming part of written marking is to fulfill the second part of the criteria. It is to let pupils know how their work can be improved – this is where we end up with lots of EBIs and WWWs as well as scribbled annotation all over their work that they may or may not read and may or may not work on.
Luckily there are other ways- and these have been a revelation to me over the last couple of years. Jo Facer has written passionately about the benefits of whole class marking. Of looking through pupils’ books and making a note of common errors that need correcting and then sharing these with the class so that they can correct them. I like this in combination with the occasional marking code in the margin or a simple dot to direct their attention to a particular area.
Another way of making sure that pupils know how to improve their work is to model excellent work extensively and to use these models for pupils to improve their work before they submit it. This has been a huge time saver and led to much higher quality work. This probably shouldn’t have been a surprise and speaks volumes about my (and possibly our) habit of just doing things the same way because it is “how it is done”.
It is hard to resist the pull of the red pen. I always feel a little guilty if I hand back homework that isn’t lovingly covered in annotation and smiley faces but increasingly our students are appreciating the different types of feedback they receive and the benefits it brings. Viva la revolution.