During the first phase of introducing our new approach to assessment we have focused on how we build in opportunities within the Learning Journey to directly assess students against our Age-Related Expectations. In doing so staff were encouraged to explore ways of providing students with feedback that was timely and helped move students forward throughout the topic.
Having now spent just over half a term exploring this it was interesting how our first review of Progress Books demonstrated a vast array of approaches to addressing the challenge of effective feedback. It demonstrated clearly the pros and cons of various methods. Below I explore some of these different ideas and link to a range of other research that evaluate these methods too.
Feedback or Marking?
The first thing I noted was how differently staff interpret the need to respond to student work; ultimately it comes down to whether staff are providing feedback or marking work. David Didau writes about this in his blog, Marking and Feedback are not the same. Ultimately, we want to move students forward in their learning and crucially it is feedback that achieves this, marking is merely the act of “checking, correcting and giving a mark to students’ work.” However, that is not to say that feedback will not include checking and correcting student work, it is the how the checking and correcting is delivered that is important.
Method 1: Individual Written Feedback
Pros: Personalised; allows basic SPAG to be addressed.
Cons: Time consuming; difficult to make comments useful and concise; challenging to support all students to simultaneously respond.
It is only worth writing individual feedback if it is well-structured, going to be acted upon and make a difference to the student in the long term. Daisy Christodoulou reflects on this when she contrasts written comments with whole class feedback in Whole-class feedback: saviour or fad? Ultimately the issue is how time consuming it is to write these comments and that students need to be trained how to interpret and respond to them; and even then, if the comments are not composed well, or require students to learn something they do not know, the written comment will have no impact at all.
Method 2: Feedback Slips
Pros: Faster and less repetitive than written comments; element of some personalisation; captures most common errors and misconceptions.
Cons: Rely on students being able to respond independently; may not address individual gaps if uncommon error/misconception; difficult to address SPAG.
These are a kind of mid-way point between individual written comments and whole-class feedback. They address the issue of workload by removing the written element and standout to students using highlighted sections. However, they still present challenges, such as how to support students to all respond to their comments independently and secure progress. This can, in part, be addressed by taking time to construct careful well-structured scaffolds to guide students to respond. Feedback slips like this may be effective in addressing errors that students have made and have the knowledge to correct, but they do not allow misconceptions or a lack of knowledge to be addressed; a misconception needs teaching to undo the wrong knowledge and rebuild with correct knowledge, a lack of knowledge needs teaching from the beginning.
Method 3: Whole-Class Feedback
Pros: Fast, efficient; does not require time-consuming comment writing; can directly address misconceptions through re-teaching; ensures students move forward in their learning as the teacher leads/scaffolds the feedback.
Cons: Requires careful design to ensure all students benefit.
When thinking about WCF, I actually struggled to think of many cons, and similarly there is very little negative research about it too! Really, WCF is something we do often, and responsively, in the classroom as we adapt the Learning Journey to the developing needs of the class within the lesson. It’s perhaps the more deliberate practice of doing so for a specific piece of work/concept in a subsequent lesson that teachers feel less proficient with – and I think this is because, as has often been the case, many schools have marking policies that insist on written comments in students books with a set regularity; and even if this has been changed to focus on feedback, old habits die hard.
Once a teacher embraces the idea of WCF the concern for the frequency specified in a school policy evaporates; the teacher does not need to check regularity of feedback because they embed a feedback and response routine into the Learning Journey for each of their classes to ensure the Learning Journey is constructed to meet the needs of the class. The skill is in how feedback and response is executed to secure progress.
A useful starting point for developing a feedback and response routine is a WCF framework, there are many examples of these already discussed in detail online, for example: Mark Enser, Making a Fuss of Feedback, and Nimish Lad, Thoughts on Feedback. The clear benefit of these is that it is a quick summary to complete as students’ work is checked and assessed, which can then inform planning for the next lesson and the feedback to be shared.
As proficiency in WCF develops, it is important to be clear that it is not ‘filling in a form’, this framework is just a scaffold to support developing proficiency in analysing students’ work to inform the Learning Journey; and that eventually the framework may not be needed as the teacher may move directly to building the lesson sequence to address the learning needs of the class as they assess students’ work.
Crucially, WCF allows the teacher to deliver feedback in a wide variety of ways that will enable them to be certain of a change or extension in students’ knowledge and understanding. It allows students to be guided through understanding feedback and responding to develop their understanding in a way that they know they improving.
Whole-class feedback clearly has the greatest potential as the most effective and efficient method for moving students learning forward, however there may be instances where carefully crafted written comments and other feedback will support the progress of students too.
It is clear that written comments are workload intensive and often have limited impact as students need to understand how to interpret and then act upon their comments accordingly. If the comment requires trying to address a misconception or knowledge gap the chances of a student successfully being able to undo and rebuild their schema independently is likely to be limited. The student requires support and modelling to deconstruct and rebuild their understanding, which can be provided by WCF.
A clear example of this would in using a hinge-point question or analysing responses to MCQs. If the MCQ has been constructed well then all of the answers will be plausible and the wrong answers will indicate the root of a misunderstanding or misconception that students hold. If the teacher is aware of this then they can either prepare to respond instantly with re-teaching, modelling and non-examples to build the correct knowledge; or if taking in the assessment at the end of a lesson, reflect on the incorrect responses and prepare how to address these in the following lesson, providing an opportunity for students to thoroughly consolidate the correct learning.
In contrast, WCF may be less effective in addressing SPAG, unless the error is common to the majority of the class or the grammatical error is proof of a misconception. Written marking for SPAG with an opportunity to correct the error would be effective in guiding a student to correct a spelling, e.g. photosynthesis, and instructing a student to independently use Look, Cover, Write, Check to learn the spelling. However if it is a grammatical error it may be exposing a misconception, for example, if a number of students write “Sodium Chloride is an ionic bond” there is clearly a wider issue of what an ionic bond is compared to the actual compound, and how to write about them with scientific accuracy. This second issue would be addressed far more effectively through WCF as the concept needs explaining clearly and modelling to change student understanding.
Overall the evidence of the benefits of whole-class feedback clearly outweigh the argument for individual written comments. WCF clearly has greater power in moving forward students understanding while also having the added bonus of being workload friendly – who wouldn’t want a system that is effective and efficient! The emphasis must be on feedback not marking!
References – The resources mentioned above, and more, which have helped shape my thinking.
The CRAFT of Assessment. Michael Chiles (book)