In June, a group of us met to discuss marking and feedback at NDHS. Our remit was to think about what was working well, areas that we felt weren’t working quite as well, and to suggest how we could move on next year. The group was voluntary, and was represented by teachers in a variety of roles from a wide range of departments.
A brief summary of our discussion:
- Feedback is valuable, and it should be given with the pupils themselves in mind
- Marking is only one form of feedback
- Marking (or monitoring) is also valuable for informing planning
- Before writing in green, we should think ‘why am I writing this?’
- Marking should be based on some common principles, with a focus on overall workload
This is not a formal write-up. We are not responsible for the school marking policy, nor do we claim to represent the views of every individual teacher within the school. This is simply a summary of what we discussed at the meeting. I have compared what we said during the meeting to some recent research and reports on marking and feedback, and it’s interesting (and encouraging) to note that the our group raised similar concerns, and had similar ideas about the way marking and feedback can (and should) be used.
- In March this year, a report from the DfE on reducing teacher workload concluded that:
marking should be meaningful, manageable and motivating
marking should be seen as one type of feedback, alongside other practices that inform teachers
Our main concern was that marking should be beneficial for students, but also manageable for teachers within the context of planning and teaching a full timetable (and maintaining a sensible work-life balance). We all agreed that we should continue to mark and give feedback. We agreed that we enjoy seeing how students are doing, and helping them to progress. We understand how valuable it is, and we don’t want to stop doing it. But we want to ensure that whatever we do, we place the needs of the students firmly at the centre, rather than any need for “evidence”.
- Toby French talks here about what we do because it’s actually useful, and what we do because we feel someone expects us to (“It’s the evidencing of new ways to do more of something we’re doing too much of anyway to please someone else which annoys me”).
We all said that we completely understood the rationale behind last year’s “Marking 4” policy, and agreed that the blue pen editing was working well with students. We think that there has been a real shift in the “culture” of our school in this respect. Students are now used to peer- and self-marking; they understand that their classwork is often a “work in progress”, and even if it’s not “incorrect”, they might still be able to improve it.
Marking is just one form of feedback
We were keen to point out that there is a difference between marking and feedback. Feedback comes in a variety of forms and does not always produce written evidence, as marking does (which is just one form of feedback). Verbal feedback, for example, is really valuable, but there won’t necessarily be any easily demonstrable evidence of this.
- Feedback was highlighted by the EEF as a low-cost, highly effective intervention strategy, and Hattie summarises effective feedback as “clear, purposeful, meaningful and compatible with students’ prior knowledge”, but a report from the ASCL reminds us that, just because comments have been written on pupils’ work, it doesn’t mean they will have received feedback.
We felt that it had been helpful to underline within the policy that there is no expectation that every piece of work be marked, and that we should avoid a “tick and flick” approach. We also talked about how important it is to have a good department-specific policy. The needs of departments can vary quite widely. For example, Maths concentrate on giving feedback on assessed work in folders, Science carries out much of its feedback via tests and assessments, and English are moving towards marking specific (non-book) work at KS3. We wondered if we should talk about ‘monitoring’ books, rather than ‘marking’. This would recognise that, within the range of classes we teach, and within a particular class, certain students would need more attention than others at various points, and this would probably change throughout the year. We also discussed how, sometimes we need to look through books as part of an overall strategy to promote and encourage high expectations and “behaviour for learning”.
Exemplars, visualisers, and planning
We discussed the importance of giving timely feedback, but also that we should avoid unnecessary comments just for the sake of adding a positive green pen comment e.g. “Well done for handing in on time”. We said we felt that feedback is particularly effective when it’s immediate, and we discussed how teachers have used visualizers as a way of giving immediate feedback to a whole class using pupils’ work. A similar approach, when visualizers aren’t available, would be to use exemplar work.
We also talked about how action on targets can actually be taken before, as well as after, an assessment (eg. in planning answers, as explained in this post).
- There is actually evidence that feedback can make performance worse, rather than improving it! Dylan William states here that, although this seems counterintuitive, “The only thing that matters is what students do with [feedback].” and that “Feedback should be more work for the student than it is for the teacher.” Bjork argues that we weigh up the costs as well of the benefits in using learning time for feedback, and if we want to promote longterm learning, then we should think about delaying, reducing or summarizing feedback, rather than giving it immediately (and often) (eg. here and here).
Double… triple… marking…
Double (and triple) marking was raised as an issue. There appeared to be an expectation that after we had marked work, and students had followed up on our marking, we were then expected to mark it again. We believe that there is value in our students acting on feedback (and hope that this will help us to “close the gap”), but we asked if more emphasis should be placed on the students. We would expect to monitor students’ work, to make ensure that they are acting on our feedback in a meaningful way, but we suggested that the value to the students is in the thought-processes as they respond to feedback, rather than checking and marking by the teacher afterwards.
We agreed that blue pen editing is excellent for making it explicit to students that there is an expectation to improve work and respond to feedback, but there is a worry that teachers might feel they still have to “mark the marking”. Feedback is for the students to act on, and we believe that as much work as possible should be passed back to the student, especially with marking for QWC.
However, as stated earlier, our main concern was that feedback is for the child, and that it should be tailored to meet the needs of the class or individual student. Sometimes, it will be sensible and/or necessary to go back and re-mark work.
- This is a very interesting response to the DfE’s review on marking by David Didau, and it really forces you to question what you’re doing and how valuable it is (based on the evidence we have).
Marking to inform planning
There was a general feeling within the group that some people are still spending too much time marking, despite efforts by the school to promote wellbeing, work-life balance, and sensible department-based marking policies. We talked about the value to teachers of marking in informing planning, and there was a worry that if the bulk of our time was spent on unnecessary (or superfluous) marking, it would impact on either teacher wellbeing or planning time.
We also talked about how we felt that time for feedback should be planned into schemes of work. Some departments have done this, and even if it’s not “officially” written into a work scheme, teachers are allowing time for feedback in their planning. We all inevitably feel time pressure from a packed curriculum, so we talked about how important it is that responding to feedback is explicitly highlighted as an aspect of teaching and planning that needs time specifically devoted to it.
Balance between high expectations and recognising achievements
We talked about how we understood the idea behind the marking 4. We recognise how important it is to tell pupils something positive (what went well), and how they can improve (ebi/ next steps). But we also thought it would be nice to sometimes write ‘more of the same- you have done it!’ After all, we want to hear that ourselves sometimes, too!
(written by LLO and NKA)