At HGS we’ve been thinking hard about how to make sure teacher feedback has maximum impact and, recently, I’ve been revisiting some blog posts that continue to inform my thoughts on this important area:
‘Close the Gap’ Marking: a whole-school approach used at Saffron Walden High School, focusing all feedback on student response.
Marking in Perspective: my suggestion that marking should only be done at the rate and level at which students can respond to it.
Feedback the Michaela Way: Jo Facer’s description of this radical and rather brilliant approach.
This term, with a new Head of Department at the helm in Maths, we’ve introduced what I think is an excellent model for marking and feedback. Essentially, instead of writing comments – or in fact writing anything – we assess students in class and then give them questions to do that help them practise in the areas that they need. Regular independent learning tasks are given after every 3-4 lessons for students to show what they can do by themselves; these are marked – usually in class – allowing teachers to simply scan the marked assessments to see where students needs to improve. All the teachers’ efforts go into producing response tasks or DIRT activities – either on sheets to be stuck in books or via the whiteboard. There are no comments for students to interpret; there’s no labour intensive book by book marking. Teachers highlight a few key areas to improve, re-explain the concepts in class and then verbally direct students to try certain questions in response. We’re doing these on pink paper in books so that feedback responses are highlighted amongst all the other formative work.
The impact is significant to me. It’s a total mind shift. Here are some benefits:
- Instead of focusing on what I do, I focus on what my students do. I’m not writing comments or finding errors scattered across the pages hoping students will see my comments and make corrections. They just do the questions I give them: fresh and current.
- The feedback is immediate. They know immediately what they’ve done correctly and get an immediate chance to improve. They don’t have to wait for me to get my act together to collect the books in, take them home, schlep through them on a Sunday night and then give them back a week or so after they did the work.
- I don’t have to wade through the books slavishly checking everything; it saves hours because I can mass-produce response questions from existing resources and simply select who does what, focusing just on one specific set of questions designed to cover the most recent concepts.
- It reinforces a culture of sharing within the department: the Independent Leaning Tasks and DIRT activities are being collated and shared as we go through the term; this is another enormous workload saving factor.
- It helps to focus on why students are stuck; not simply identifying if they’re stuck. Skimming a set of peer-marked ILTs gives you a quick sense of how many students are getting things right, what the common errors are and whether some individuals are struggling more than the others. Planning the response to this is what I’m thinking about instead of spending time putting red pen on anything in the hope it will make any kind of sense.
Of course, this approach is supported by more formal assessments that I will mark every few weeks – every half-term, I think. However, the organic day-to-day, week-to-week process of giving feedback is all about the response; not the marking. It’s liberating.
I wonder if this is the maths equivalent to what Jo Facer describes for English at Michaela? I think this is the way forward. Better outcomes and less work – what’s not to like? It’s not a ton of marking and then a token amount of DIRT. It’s global feedback, given promptly and verbally, then straight to the DIRT. It’s all about the response.