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…


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!


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!”


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
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.

Making it stick!

Possibly the biggest lament of language teachers in my department and across the country is this: why do my students insist on writing “me prefiero”, “me gusta juego” and “mi gusta”?!  Is my teaching really that ineffective?  Are my students so inattentive?  What on earth is going on?!!!

Photo Credit: rnav18 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: rnav18 via Compfight cc

Making it Stick – 5 ideas for increasing the right kind of retention

Palabras importantes

At the end of the unit I talk my students through the key vocabulary that they need to take into the next one.  I go through on the board what the most important phrases are and put them into groups.  For year 7 Spanish it might look as follows:

Verb phrases Little words Question words Others
(no) Hay el/la/los/las Como y
(no) Tengo un/una/unos/unas Que también
es de Por que
necesito en Cuando

They are then set homework to learn these phrases and tested on them in the subsequent lesson.  I find it gives them value and increases the likelihood of remembering the key vocabulary rather then being able to say “lápiz” and “monedero” but not being able to do anything with them!

Palabras importantes part 2

2-3 weeks later I test them again on the same words.  It adds value and reinforces their importance.

Flowcharts and process

Students are used to these in other subjects.  They use them in technology, science, maths and even history when composing essays.  I have been teaching my year 9s the future tense and the conditional.  They have a sheet in their books that has the endings and the persons along with a table of irregulars.  Breaking it into steps is working even for the weakest ones.  Chris Fuller made a pertinent point in a webinar: the past and present take away from infinitives; whereas futures and conditionals add to them.  Most of them in a middle set can now take the majority of Spanish verbs and turn them into a “will” or a “would”.  On the whiteboard, I put a flowchart which simply says 1) “what is the English action?” 2) “what is the verb in Spansh?” 3) “go to table in book” 4) “who is doing it?” 5) “add that ending”.  The issue now is sorting out the past and present tenses!!

Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/52024700@N00/1241955288/">orangejack</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Photo Credit: orangejack via Compfight cc  Scarily I can see my students working their way through this process in their minds!

Practice, practice, practice.

I have increased the amount of grammatical practice in my lessons this year and it is gradually working.  There has been a lot of animosity in schools towards textbooks, however they often have some very good exercises and I have seen multiple powerpoints on the TES resources ,which replicate the book word for word.  Even Elodie, Patricia and Gert are still in the exercise on the PowerPoint!  So why not just give the kids the book?!  Again, with my year 9s, I have increased the practice they do using a combination of books, Languagesonline and the Language Gym websites.  It is taking effect with the dedicated ones.  The question is now what to do about the less-dedicated ones but that is another blog post!

Clarity of Explanation

In a survey of teaching by John Hattie, the following things were found to be most effective:

Daniel Willingham writes in his book “Why don’t students like school” (i’ve blogged on this book before) that “deep knowledge must be our goal”.  This is borne out by the effect sizes above of instructional quality and quantity.   Willingham explains the following two principles:

  1. We understand new things in the context of things we already know.
  2. We therefore need to ask “what do students already know that will be a toehold in understanding this new material?”

I teach German and one thing I have been trying to do is to link new learning to old learning at every opportunity.  For example, we tackled weil with a nice animated powerpoint showing the verbs moving to the end of the clause.  We then considered “wenn” and “obwohl” before tackling “ich denke, dass”.  Before I introduced ,weil we looked at what they knew of clauses in English and introduced the idea of a main clause and a sub clause.  This might sound very basic and something that you do all the time but I find that quite often textbook schemes of work do not have this link from one element to the next.  For example: Mira 2 introduces tener que, poder, querer and “le gusta” in the space of two pages.  The next chapter does not reinforce them at all.  Neither do the three after that!

New term – a great time to raise your game.

Happy New Year to you all.  I hope you had an excellent Christmas and a promising start to the new year.

I’ve decided this should be a simple post about things I will try this term, starting next week.  There are numerous aspects of teaching that I want to improve and various ideas that I want to try.  All of it is aimed at trying to make my lessons the very best they can be.  While inevitably some lessons will go better than others, I want the return in terms of learning to be high every lesson.

Here are 4 ideas I want to try in January:

1) Experiments with excellence

I’ve been reading a little about Ron Berger and his “ethic of excellence” and his insistence on feedback and how it can drive improvement. Whilst Berger teaches in a relatively unique setting I wonder if his ideas can be applied in an MFL classroom.  My year 8 Spanish class will produce a postcard from a holiday but rather than it being a week long homework at the end of the topic, we will draft it over 2 weeks before they do a final version at the end of the topic.


2) Speaking/Translation tandem

Inspired by a Bristol colleague.  Students have phrases on a sheet of A4 with alternating Spanish/English.  They have to say what they think is the phrase and their partner can nudge them towards a correct version.  It should have the effect of reinforcing grammar structures, raising translation as an activity (with the new GCSE in mind) and could work quite well.  Probably will try it with year 7s or year 10s.

3) Insistence on TL

All students have phrases in their books they can use but I’m really going to push it this term.  I want to see if we can get lessons where there is an 80/20% ratio of Spanish – English.  To this end I plan to have 3 things in place:

i) A TL monitor – a student I trust who can monitor my TL usage and that of the class.  They will have a traffic light card to indicate this.  In lower years this will probably be referred to as the Spanish Sy

ii) TL phrases on wall – students need to use these in responding after a listening exercises or wherever possible.

iii) Rewards for students who use most TL, this will be monitored by my TL monitor.

4) Live marking

That is “live” in the sense of “in the moment” not live as in “live, breathe, eat, sleep marking.”  I saw this suggested on another post.  A teacher picks 8 students and aims to mark their books whilst the students are on a task of some description.  The marking then finishes with a question relating to what he/she has seen and demands a response.  Our students have to respond to our marking, this might be a way of encouraging it.  They are more likely to respond if I am stood next to them marking their neighbours book.  It might also be a way to reduce the marking load.  We will see.