Everyday Feedback & Marking

Update: Government publish results of review into marking.  It’s worth a read and the three principles of “meaningful, manageable and motivating” are sound.  

Feedback and marking conjure up a variety of responses.  Some teachers secretly enjoy it. Some would like to drop their marking pile in a woodchipping machine.  If you are reading this because you want to improve your feedback then hopefully you find something new to try.  If you are snowed under then I would point you in this direction.

We know from research by people such as John Hattie that feedback can be incredibly important.  Two videos that demonstrate the importance of feedback and how it can be used well are below.   The first: Austin’s Butterfly, has done the rounds on Twitter, Facebook and in schools.  Watch for the kid at about the 45-50second mark with his encyclopaedic knowledge of butterflies…

The second video shows that over time with a diet of quality instruction and effective feedback people generally improve at whatever they are doing.  Pay attention to his control, his reactions and his speed.  It is one way I get the kids to “buy in” to my marking and then the subsequent reflection time.

 

Feedback or Feedforward?

I know, “feedforward” is not a word but this came from a discussion with some colleagues the other day.  Most students do not care about the work they have done once it is over.   They care about the next piece.  So whilst our feedback is reactionary and responds to what they have done, they are already looking at the next thing.  One colleague said that he gets students to copy the target from the previous piece of written work at the top of the next piece of written work they are set, so that it is in their mind while they are producing it.  If you are following Mira 2 then you maybe approaching a module on clothes.  Here is how you could apply this:

Homework 1: Produce a 75 words on things you wear at different times

Student completes piece of work with the following 2 targets

  1. Try to use a greater variety of vocabulary
  2. Add reasons to opinions given

Homework 2: write 75 words about a party you went to and what you wore

Student writes at top of work

  • TARGET: Use greater variety of vocabulary.
  • HOW: no repeated nouns or adjectives where possible.

Suddenly we have a situation where the feedback informs the next piece of work.  This means the next piece of work is not only a response to the marking but it is also driving the learning forward.

Do you use coloured pens?

Schools vary on this.  Here are some of the ones out there I have heard about:

  • The purple pen of progress.  This is for improvements to work or redrafting of work.
  • The pink pen of pride.  This is for work a teacher wishes to highlight as particularly good or because of how well the task has been met by what has been written
  • The green pen of growth.  This incorporates targets to improve.
  • The green pen of peer assessment.  It’s for peer assessment, the clue is in the name.  It is quite a good way of visually defining who did the marking (more for observer than the kid)
  • The red pen of teacher marking.
  • The turquoise pen of…you’re just making it up now!

I have seen coloured pens used really effectively in one of our feeder primary schools.  The presentation of their work is stunning too particularly given a very tough catchment area.  Something goes wrong between the Summer of year 6 and the Autumn of year 7, cynics might suggest it’s adolescence…

Highlighters

My new favourite.  This came originally from a colleague in Bristol and a colleague currently on maternity leave.  Underlining an entire piece of work in different highlighters.

  • Green = good leave it as it is
  • Yellow = something needs correcting

You could add some codes such as  (G) = grammar  (W.O) = word order  (S) = Spelling    to aid understanding where needed or just let the yellow stand for itself and force the burden of correction and thought back on to the pupil.  Some may disagree but I find this visually powerful for the kids.  Weaker ability kids who receive a piece of work that is largely green with one or two hints of yellow get a massive morale boost from this.  Even the ones that get more yellow than green benefit as they still appreciate knowing that at least some of it was right!

Stamps

Ross Mcgill who runs the Teacher Toolkit website has a post about verbal feedback stamps. I see no point in repeating him.  However many stamps can save time and I have benefited from the stamp stacks supplied by a website out there.  The stamps contain things such as:

  • “please give nouns a capital”
  • “please take more care over presentation”
  • “please watch your verb endings”
  • “great work, keep it up!”

DIRT

I mentioned DIRT mats in this post.  There are a number of things you can do to maximise DIRT time.  Firstly, make it really clear what you want students to do with the time and how you want them to do it.  Secondly, refuse to take any questions apart from ones concerning your handwriting for the first 5 minutes.  Lastly in that first 5 minutes, focus on the ones who need your attention most.

Prove to me beyond all reasonable doubt

My Head of Department posed a difficult question last week: “early on in year 7 when you have an able kid getting everything right, what feedback do you give that drives their learning forward?” I happen to have just such a year 7 so here is what I tried.  When we have done grammatical exercises, her DIRT task has been to “prove beyond all reasonable doubt that you can apply the grammar points from the previous lesson using pages … of Mira 1,2,3”.  She then gets on with exercises that challenge, extend, consolidate and deepen her learning.  Sometimes the grammar book used is not the regular one (e.g: listos rather than Mira or the GCSE foundation book if I was feeling really mean).  She has responded really well.

Patricia’s problems page.

Patricia is a student I teach who struggled with a new language: German.  We decided that at the back of her book we should have a problems page.  Initially, I did not mark much of her work to keep her confidence levels high but we had an ongoing dialogue on the problem page.  It was not triple impact marking or deep marking or excessive dialogue.  It was just an honest conversation where she could ask the questions she did not want to ask in class.

  • “I get that the verb goes second, what if you have two or three verbs?”
  • “How do you form questions?”
  • “Why can’t German be easier?”
  • “What is the difference between denn and weil?

Feedback sheets

TES is full of these.  Rather than writing the comments then they can be on a sheet.  This can be very effective but again the sheet has to be meaningful and linked to your assessment criteria.  I remember marking an oral exam with another teacher and they suggested I listen to the amount of subjunctives and connectives the student was using.  The problem is that the Edexcel Speaking mark scheme does not really mention either.  If you are going to produce a sheet like these then make it a good one.  The question the sheet needs to answer is not only “what do I need to work on?” but also “how am I going to go about it?”

Formative Comments

For a while we ran with comment only marking and to an extent we still do in that pieces of work are not graded.  It can be very easy to get into a rut of formative comments.  The following are based on the new GCSE Writing mark scheme (AQA is the only accredited one I am aware of).

Content Quality of Language Accuracy Language Specific
Stick more closely to the
question
Include greater variety of tenses Check genders Spanish accents only go one direction: /
What else could you say about? Use a greater variety of opinion phrases Check spelling Please give nouns a capital
How could you make … clearer? Find more interesting adjectives than “aburrido”
and “interesante”
Check verb/adjective endings Check direction of accents
Aim for longer, more detailed sentences Include more complex clauses and structures Check accents Check use of avoir/etre

If making comments then they should be demanding a response.  Mary Myatt has some points to make on this here.

Subtle comments.

The exercise book is a way of communicating with your students.  Do not underestimate the power of a well-placed positive comment.  Matt Walsh’s blog has a brilliant post worth reading called “to the quiet boring girl in the class“.  Sometimes they just need a little encouragement.  One of the most talented students I have ever worked with once said to me “why must it always be “to improve”, why can’t I just be good for a few seconds?” Here’s the challenge: pick the quiet kid that doesn’t contribute much in lessons.  Look through their book, find a piece of work, single out the positives and finish with a comment about how much you valued the effort and thought that went into it.  If you need convincing of the effect you can have then read this.

“I thrived on the quiet praise I was given” – Emma Thomas

Everydaymfl’s Marking & Feedback

I’ve outlined a lot of different stuff here.  I’m sure you have lots of other idea.  If you saw Everydaymfl’s books, what would he hope you would see?

  1. Underlined date, title and label as to class or homework
  2. Legible work.
  3. Pieces of work marked with highlighters.
  4. Codes where absolutely necessary but very few to force the student to examine their work.
  5. 2-3 targets at the end of work with how to improve.
  6. DIRT task for the student to work on (using purple pen).
  7. Some elaborate positive comments – not just “well done” but “this is great because.”
  8. Challenging and redrafting of poor quality or poorly presented work.
  9. Regular marking (half-termly)
  10. A comment somewhere to make the quiet kid feel ten feet tall.

5 Things to try tomorrow

Happy New Year to you all.  With the term imminent I thought I would offer the following 5 things to try tomorrow.

Shake up the seating

Photo Credit: Flowers For Clarence via Compfight cc

College classroom — Image by © H. Armstrong Roberts/CORBIS

Most teachers change the seating plan when the class is not working how they would like.  It happens when they realise that little Brendan and little Alex are a positively toxic combination, or when you realise that little Chardonnay has fallen out with little Sinead.  However, maybe there is a sound pedagogical reason for changing the seating.  This post by David Didau has really caused me to think and I might well experiment with my classes.  I have 8 tables of 4.  What if I rotate them half-termly?  It means the pairings stay the same but the location changes.

Didau writes…

“A few years ago I became aware of a very strange and as far as I know, unresearched phenomena. If I taught a lesson where students knew something in that chair, they would not necessarily know it in this chair. Simply asking students to move seats in the middle of a lesson was enough to disrupt their ability to recall and transfer.”

So give it a go.  Didau himself goes on to say:

“So I started experimenting with moving students about and giving them a greater variety of sight lines and thus a greater and more unstable range of visual cues….And guess what? Their ability to transfer what they’d learned within the classroom improved. Now, I would, of course, hesitate to make a mountain out of this molehill, but it does seem worthy of further investigation.”

As they say on BBC News, more on that story later…

Tarsia

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Photo Credit: mickeyono2005 via Compfight cc

This is one of my favourite plenary activities.  It works particularly well if you are the kind of person who has objectives in the “know”, “understand” and “be able to” format.  You need to download their generator here.  You can then create puzzles like a triangle of triangles.  The aim is to get the English and Spanish words to match up with no text around the outside edge.  Other shapes are possible.  You could equally do sentence halves etc.  Make sure that the format is set to “text” otherwise it will squish (yes that is a word) all your words together.  Allow 5 mins for an able group and 10mins for a less able group.  I might suggest also printing the “solution” tab, or copying it into word to be printed as it will save you massively on photocopying!

Word Association

Simple but great for seeing what vocabulary students can recall over time.  Give them a starting word and see how long they can go for.

Gallery Critique

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Photo Credit: Hairlover via Compfight cc

I wrote a post on peer-assessment ages ago.  I have always thought that for language teaching peer-assessment is extremely hard to do effectively.  The statistic mentioned by Shaun Allison rings in my head every time someone mentions it.  Even if pupils are trained well, I feel it is risky and potentially detrimental to weaker learners.  One student once wrote “excellent use of connectives”, which was not a bad comment but there were none! MFL is not like English where one can suggest additions to their argument.  And it is not like history or geography where you can examine how closely someone has answered the question.  With gallery critique it is my understanding that Student 1 produces work.  Students 2,3 & 4 comment on it and then student 1 reviews the feedback using it to develop their work.  The same process will be happening with students 2,3 &4.  Hopefully there will be some kind of triangulation that leads to more accurate peer-assessment.  After all, 8 out of 10 cats did prefer Whiskas…

Starters to make them think more.

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Photo Credit: sebastianmarcel via Compfight cc

I’m a big fan of gap-fills, anagrams, matchups, odd ones out etc but they do get stale after a while.  My new favourite is giving pupils sentences that they have to alter in some way to make their own.

Dans ma ville il y a une gare.  – transform this into a sentence with 10 words.  

No me gusta el inglés porque es aburrido – say something nice

En mi familia hay cinco personas – say it in a different way

No hay una piscina en mi casa – Change this while keeping the sentence on the same topic.   You may not use any words from the original apart from “casa” and “piscina”.

 

Peer-assessment.

Been trying to get more of this into my lessons recently.  Although that was before I read an article on http://classteaching.wordpress.com (check it out, lots of good ideas and reflections).

80% of feedback a student receives about his or her work in primary school is from other students.  But 80% of this student provided feedback is incorrect!”

So how can we do it well?  I’m not great at it but these are things that I have been learning.

1) Give students a simple set of criteria and a simple scoring system. 

You may need to ditch the levels for a while.  If for example you are assessing speaking could you assess various aspects of it, e.g: confidence, pronunciation, intontation etc.  Score each one out of 5 to keep life easy or 4 if your school is not facing OFSTED.

2) Teach them how to identify levels

If using levels then make sure they know that the need multiple examples of tenses to get higher levels.  Ditch the sub-levels for a while.  Make sure that they know what the verbs are.  I find this is the most difficult bit.

3) Don’t let them get away with minimalist contributions or comments. 

Last year, I remember one student wrote “good use of connectives”, the only issue was that they had no idea what else to write.  There was also not a single connecting word in the piece of work!  Students need a checklist of things to work through.

4) 2 stars and a wish is not always practical.

Make sure that if peers are asked to give positive and negative comments (or areas of improvement) then they do as many as they can.  I find sometimes that 2 stars is a bit of a stretch.

5) Don’t give it to the person next to them.

Shake things up a little.  Get them to hand their books to someone completely different.  Even insist they do not look at the name on the front.  They’re more likely to write honest feedback if they don’t know who they are writing for.  Also helps to avoid numerous hearts, flowers, declarations of affection and all sorts of teenage artwork gracing your exercise books.