Marking and Metacognition – (an empathetic update)

Feedback… who cares?

Feedback, as we are so often told in our profession, is the key. The evidence says so. The Educational Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit puts it at the top of their most effective and cost efficient school interventions, promising progress in pupils.


But how do we do it? I have been guilty in the past of associating copious amounts of green pen with effective feedback and progress. Surely, the more I write on work, the more feedback I provide, the more progress will be made next time? The students shall be impressed by the quantity of my marking, and absorb my words of wisdom like a sponge, deploying them next time and making leaps and bounds of progress.

And how frustrated I got, when students received their work and were only interested in the number – not the feedback I had spent so long carefully constructing. Targets were dutifully copied into work record cards, and were barely acknowledged again in the next assessment. I ended up carefully constructing the same targets again and again. Work load was heavy as a result.

Encouraging metacognition and self-reliance

Last year I trialled methods of encouraging metacognition and self-reliance (also shown to be highly effective by the EEF), after we’d discussed this at Journal Club. I hoped this migh  cut back on the amount of green ink on the page (I mark in green), and encourage students to think for themselves. It has been successful with my current Year 11s, who have become much more independent as a result and know what to do to improve.

As Carl Hendrick summarises in this post:

“assessment for learning has in many cases, merely become assessment of learning. This summative approach has focussed on things like students simply knowing what grade they are working at and being able to reference abstract exam board criteria without any real practical sense of how to move forward. Valerie Shute defines effective feedback as not just a diagnostic tool but rather as an ongoing conversation primarily focussed on improvement”

This year I have been helping my Year 9s to develop their metacognition. Previously, I was wary of using the idea of ‘thinking about thinking’ with lower school. I wasn’t sure they would “get it”. Could I trust them to develop meaningful and relevant targets for themselves? I bit the bullet, and tried it with feedback on the first Year 9 assessment of the year – ‘Explain the causes of WW1.’ A difficult question the historians will agree, and one that needed a lot of thought and detail to do well. The students gave it their best effort, and a week after setting it, in came the waves of marking.

Marking- meaningful and manageable

The DfE recently recommended that marking should be meaningful, manageable and motivating. My personal target this year has been to use my green (marking) pen less. To make my marking more meaningful. Looking back at my marking from the previous year, I had fallen into bad habits, writing “explain” and “detail needed” more than I care to remember.

This year in History, our Head of Department has created ‘T’ targets – a list of 10 common errors students make on their written work, and as policy we now deploy these. Student work has a variety of T targets and brief comments on them.


During the lesson, when work is handed back, students address their T targets immediately, identifying themselves what the error is and amending it.

But sometimes, I write ‘META’ on their work – and this signals that students are to design their own targets. Looking back over their work, their T targets and the mark scheme, each individual creates a personal target on how to improve.

But how do you make sure it is ‘meaningful and relevant?’ I hear you cry – the answer is Lemov. His technique of ‘Show Me’ means students draft their targets on mini whiteboards. During the lesson, whilst students are acting on feedback, I have conversations with each pupil. I ask them about their target ,and why they have chosen it, check if they know where they went wrong and why, and then (and only then) they are allowed to write it into books.

Marking…. manageable! (and meaningful)

My marking of the Year 9 assessments (2 classes of approx. 26 students) took so much less time than the same time last year. Feedback is something students understand and participate in, rather than being subjected to. And, I have discovered Year 9 can successfully use metacognition. Their targets were very reflective and all could explain to me why they had chosen them. The true impact of this will of course be when the next assessment is set, and I can examine how much of their ‘thinking’ has sunk in and been applied. Blog post to follow.


The reason for this blog post then? – Of course to champion good practice and to show others what we do in the History department. But it actually stemmed from a discussion in our reading group today. The focus was on ‘Engagement and Empathy’ and was driven by The Difference Between Empathy and Engagement and Why We Should Care.

It was an interesting article, looking at the difficulties of identifying the often elusive “engagement” and what that actually means, and perhaps instead as teachers we should be looking at engagement through empathy. It is well worth a read. The final section resonated with me through the afternoon after we’d met to discuss it, and it was this final section that inspired this post.

The author of the article suggests that the way to encourage student engagement is through empathy. If we have empathy with our students, we can plan engaging lessons they will be interested in. Empathy will result in a better understanding of their needs, their interests and in turn more interest in your subject. But I couldn’t help but feel we need to work on being empathetic with feedback, too.

Feedback: too much of a good thing?

I met with one of my Year 11s the other day to talk about mock preparation and how to improve. Whilst we were talking, she alluded to the amount of feedback she had been given recently in preparation for her controlled assessment and mocks – she almost seemed a bit broken by it.

I wonder if teachers have become so fixated on the ‘super cure’ of feedback that we have bombarded our students with it. Work is covered in comments and feedback, mark schemes are scrutinised and annotated, targets are set and reset, and we are constantly critiquing their work and suggesting how they can do better next time. This is also something that our marking focus group highlighted earlier this year.

I think as empathetic teachers, we need to understand that the new focus on feedback can sometimes be daunting to students and, where appropriate, we should involve them in the process to try and help avoid this. And to genuinely help them improve. As humans, we get better at a skill or a task, when we ourselves have identified the problem.

In turn, it is good that we are being more empathetic to our profession. Marking has become a real issue in the world of wellbeing and striving for the sometimes unobtainable work life balance. We have summarised just some of the articles about marking and feedback, and how to improve it in a sustainable way here.

Trialling methods such as the one outlined here, which cut back on the amount of often unnecessary green pen, whilst still being emphatic to students and their needs, should result in a win-win scenario for all parties.

This post was written by VBA





3 thoughts on “Marking and Metacognition – (an empathetic update)

  1. Pingback: New year’s resolutions that last (and really help!) | NDHS Blog Spot

  2. Pingback: Hurdles and Bottlenecks (in ionic bonding) | NDHS Blog Spot

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