Whole Class Marking (WCM)

On valuable feedback that supports teacher wellbeing

A really helpful outline of whole class marking – this was also a session @TLT_17 so please look at the tag #tlt17

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The conflation of marking and feedback has led to a pernicious culture in schools that equates lots of written marking in books with high quality feedback. The irony is, of course, that the evidence on written marking is thin (read the EEF’s review on the evidence of written marking: ‘A marked improvement’) and sometimes great feedback is nigh on impossible to evidence.

It’s difficult to pick the best metaphor to describe the profusion of marking and consequent impact on teacher wellbeing but I’m going to go with this (and excuse the hyperbole – I’m an English teacher): teachers are drowning in a sea of marking. At the start of term we dip our toes into the sea of marking (got to test the temperature) and before we know it our feet have been pulled out from under us by an undercurrent we didn’t see coming. Midway through the term we’ve lost sight of land and when the holidays hit we use that time to wade our way back to shore. It’s an exhausting and demoralising pattern as predictable as the ebb and flow of tides. We joke about teacher widows (pity those in relationships with teachers) but part of the problem is that our teachers have been lost at sea.

Whatever the metaphor, I can’t help but see a correlation between the fetishisation of marking (read this from David Didau) and a teacher recruitment and retention crisis. If middle and senior leaders want to keep hold of their teachers then they need to look again at what they are expecting of their staff in terms of marking and feedback. I’m not, however, expecting our senior leaders to stand, Cnut-like, on the shore and command the incoming tide to stop.

Silly Old Cnut.

Of course our students deserve good feedback to help them improve and we as teachers need to be able to identify what students know and what their misconceptions might be to inform where we go next with our teaching. However, we can do a lot better with how we navigate the sea of marking to ensure that fewer teachers are being washed-up, bedraggled and browbeaten, before their time.

I was lucky enough to attend the #LeadingLearningsHRS course at Huntington Research School yesterday and one of the documents I was given to read is a Research Summary of Marking and Feedback. In it, there is a helpful summary of ‘modest conclusions’ that can be drawn from the EEF ‘A marked improvement’ document about what makes for effective feedback:

  • Prompt questions rather than teacher corrections promote greater student ownership over the correction process
  • If students are given the lesson time needed to engage with marking, then coded marking is just as effective as written comments
  • Giving students adequate time and support to help them understand comments and, in particular, highly specific targets will yield the most positive results
  • A focus on the quality of feedback as opposed to quantity and frequency is likely to lead to greater progress for students
  • Feedback should be timely, so oral feedback is often appropriate in a way that written marking is not

I think marking crib sheets (the brainchild of @mrthorntonteach though I’d also recommend reading Jo Facer’s blog for how they do feedback at Michaela which is similar in approach to the idea of a crib sheet) meet a lot of these features of effective feedback with the added boon of being teacher friendly.

I have been using marking crib sheets since the Autumn term. The first time I used them I managed to mark a complete set of 30 books in under an hour – a record breaking time for me. I was able to get a feel for how my students were doing and also give personalised feedback but I didn’t have to lug all of the books home and spend the usual 3 hours diligently writing all over their books in a worthy attempt to provide quality feedback.

Since then I’ve encouraged my team to use marking crib sheets and have been explicit about not expecting to see so much written marking in students’ books (though it’s a hard habit to break – sometimes we can’t help ourselves and that’s fine). School policy dictates that once or twice a term students receive WWW/EBI feedback on a piece of work and then complete a ‘yellow box’ activity to act on this feedback – this ties in very nicely with the crib sheets. We can take in students’ books, knock up a crib sheet and give students numbered targets on an assessment piece. Sorted.

I think it’s really important that the valuable time teachers spend marking is not wasted. If we don’t give students time to read, reflect and act on our feedback we might as well not bother. What did we give last Sunday up for if students just flick their eyes over what we’ve written (which could be beautifully personal and even witty) before cracking on with something new? So I expect my team to use a lesson to go through their feedback with the class – perhaps flashing a few great examples under the visualiser –  before getting students to complete a task linked to their personal targets. Whilst students are getting on with their ‘DIRT Task’ (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time) teachers can circulate and give 1-2-1 support and specific verbal feedback.

As we review and refine this approach, I’m hopeful that it is enabling teachers to give good quality, valuable and timely feedback to their students in a way which recognises the importance of their wellbeing. It might even mean that teachers look through their books more often because they’re not put off by the expectation to scrawl on every page.

See below a few examples of crib sheets in action in my classroom  which I hope shows the many ways it can be used. If you’ve made it that far, at the very bottom of this post you’ll find a link to a google drive with some templates you can download to use/adapt.

Having a completed a 2b style question, my middle set year 8s received an A5 copy of a marking crib sheet in their books. Here’s an example of the written feedback my students receive (in line with school policy) including a personal WWW comment and numbered EBI targets (which refer to the numbers on the crib sheet) followed by a personalised DIRT task which the student has completed in a yellow box and annotated with how her writing has been improved:

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Here’s another yellow box improvement and self-assessment (in blue pen) of a DIRT task focused on what she thinks I would now say about her work:

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I think this is evidence of students really engaging with the feedback they received on the crib sheets and there’s evidence of real improvement. All of this with only an hour of my time spent going through their books! What’s even more encouraging is that the class have responded really well to this form of feedback.

Here’s my first ever crib sheet. This wasn’t following an assessment, I was giving the crib sheet a go for a general book look and trialled including an image of a praise-worthy bit of writing. NB: I have used initials for the purposes of sharing here but would ordinarily write students’ names.

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An example of a crib sheet for giving feedback on a year 8 Animal Farm formative assessment:

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An example of KS3 Paper 2 Section A Q1-3 feedback that doubled as cover lesson instructions:

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Here’s a couple of examples of it in use for year 11 Lit essay feedback:

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Like the look of them? Find a few templates here.

Interested in how you can be wellbeing friendly whilst still giving great feedback on PPEs? Read this.

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‘Four Quarters Marking – a workload solution?

September 2, 2017 by Carl Hendrick

In our new book ‘What Does This Look Like in the Classroom?’ we interviewed Dylan Wiliam on how to implement research on assessment in the classroom.  

 

A central problem in the area of assessment in the classroom has been in the way we often confuse marking and feedback. As Dylan Wiliam points out in our discussion, there is an extraordinary amount of energy expended by teachers on marking and often very little to show for it in the way of student benefit. Although feedback is one of the most effective drivers of learning, one of the more surprising findings is that a lot of it actually has a negative effect on student achievement.

A set of marked books is traditionally seen as an effective proxy for good teaching but there is a lot of evidence to say that this might not always be the case. This problem is on a scale that might surprise a lot of people:

Dylan: I once estimated that, if you price teacher’s time appropriately, in England we spend about two and a half billion pounds a year on feedback and it has almost no effect on student achievement.

Certainly students need to know where they make misconceptions or spelling errors and correcting those is important. Doing so also provides a useful diagnostic for teachers to inform what they will teach next, but the written comments at the end of a piece of work are often both the most time-consuming and also the most ineffective. For example, taking the following typical comments on a GCSE English essay:

  •        Try to phrase your analysis of language using more sophisticated vocabulary and phrasing.
  •        Try to expand on your points with more complex analysis of Macbeth’s character.

This is a good example of certain assessment practices where the feedback mainly focuses on what was deficient about it, which as Douglas Reeve’s notes, is “more like a post-mortem than a medical.” The other thing is that it doesn’t really tell the student what they need to do to improve. What is more useful to the student here? receiving vague comments like these or actually seeing sophisticated vocabulary, phrasing and analysis in action? It’s very difficult to be excellent if you don’t know what excellent looks like.

Often, teachers give both a grade and comments like those above to students, hoping that they somehow improve by the time their next piece of writing comes around a week later and then berate the student when, lo and behold, they make the same mistakes again. Perhaps part of the problem here is that we have very low expectations of what students are willing to do in response to a piece of work and do not afford them the opportunity to engage in the kind of tasks that might really improve their learning.

To address this problem, Dylan advocates a much more streamlined model of marking that is not only more manageable for teachers, but also allows students to have more ownership over the process:

Dylan: I recommend what I call ‘four quarters marking.’ I think that teachers should mark in detail, 25% of what students do, should skim another 25%, students should then self-assess about 25% with teachers monitoring the quality of that and finally, peer assessment should be the other 25%. It’s a sort of balanced diet of different kinds of marking and assessment.

4 corner marking

After producing a piece of work, instead of using abstract skills based success criteria, it is probably more powerful for students to have access to a bank of exemplar essays or worked solutions to see concrete examples of success against which to self-assess their own work. Marking everything in sight and leaving detailed comments is an established cultural norm now but this practice doesn’t appear to be based on good evidence. We know for example that many students will look at a grade and not engage with the feedback but is that feedback always useful anyway?

As we discuss in the book, a common issue we see again and again in using research in the classroom is the ‘Chinese whisper effect’ where by the time evidence works its way down to the level of the classroom, it’s a pale imitation of its original form. This is especially prevalent in the area of marking where convoluted policies such as triple marking are enacted as a means of raising pupil achievement whereas all they are doing is often increasing teacher workload. As Dylan Wiliam reminds us, “feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor,” but how do you change a culture that has traditionally been the opposite?

Dylan: In terms of what we do about this, I would say first of all, headteachers should lay down clear expectation to parents and say things like, “We are not going to give detailed feedback on more than 25% of what your child does. The reason for that is not because we’re lazy. It’s because there are better uses we could make of that time. We could mark everything your child does, but that would lead to lower quality teaching and then your child will learn less.”  Heads have to establish those cultural norms. If a teacher is marking everything your child does, it’s bad teaching. It is using time in a way that does not have the greatest benefit for students.

As a profession, we are too some extent, we are our own worst enemy. Using marking policies that have little impact on student achievement and a negative impact on teacher workload and morale makes little sense. By adopting an approach like four quarters marking, we might go some way to address this issue and at the same time, give students more ownership over their own learning.

‘What Does This Look Like in the Classroom?’ is out later this month. 

 

 

 

 

Marking – something needs to change!

A great blog post from Tom Bennett – thoughts to me please. Tim.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

It’s your time you’re wasting; why schools should stop drowning teachers in marking

Of course, it’s optional
One does not simply walk into Mordor, and one does not simply pop into IKEA for a packet of napkins and an Ottoman. The Scandinavian elves play a voodoo on your flimsy aspirations of frugality, and by the time you’re supping on a hot dog in the car park of Valhalla you’re dragging a caravan of Billy bookcases, tea candles, picture frames and a rug that doubles as a shoe tidy. And you forgot the Ottoman.

We’ve all done it; started out with one plan and ended up with another. That’s fine when Plan B is also something you want (cf: Professor Mickey Flanagan’s seminal  ‘Out/ OUT-out theory of organic incremental decision decay’ for details). But not if you put your hand in your pocket for a Swiss knife and pull out a Swiss roll. And not if you planned on teaching kids, but ended up doing something else that looked a bit like teaching, but wasn’t really.

I was reminded of this recently when I heard of a colleague’s experience in a struggling school in the Midlands. The school was staring down the barrel of Special Measures; its previous visit from MiniLearn saw their pockets picked of their previous Good rating, downgraded to RI. Alarms bells they no longer knew they possessed blew like Louis and the walls came tumbling down. Action Stations. Dust blew off the Burgundy book. Steam Engine Time. Something must be done was the whole of the law.

But what? Sadly, the answer was ‘triple marking’, because as we know, nothing animates and activates deep, deep learning like spending all day on one piece of work, endlessly batted between the teacher and the taught in a show trial of pedagogy, with as much measurable impact on progress as a fruit fly trying to push the Moon out its orbit. And homework; reams and reams of it, marked to a metronome in a fool’s rubric. Never mind that this simple edict suddenly took up around a third of the teacher’s total- not free- time. That’ s gross, not net. Imagine if I said to you that a third of your career would now be spent, not teaching, or having meaningful conversations with students, or reading up on your subject, but flicking, ticking and wondering when Morpheus was going to show up so you could scarf both pills.

At a previous school I taught humanities to 10 or 11 classes of approximately 25 kids apiece. So let’s say 250 pupils. Then they announced the expectation was weekly homework set, with marking. Even a speedy romp with a red pen would easily see that converted into 250 minutes per week- if all I did was turn the pages and make a mark to say ‘I was here.’ Anything more than that meant 5 minutes a book, or 1250 minutes. A sixth form essay with comments? Christ, you need a Tardis and a magic lamp to get that polished off

Not waving, but marking

250 pupils flick and tick- 250 minutes, or 4 hours 10 minutes
250 pupils flick and an end comment- 500 minutes, or 8 hours, 20 minutes
250 pupils with substantive comments- 1250 minutes, or 20 hours and 50 minutes
250 pupils with substantive comments and spelling/ grammar correction- haha you’re kidding mate who do you think I am, Ali Bongo?

And I’ve seen teachers try to match this, because schools ask them to. Bye-bye weekend and every evening and your marbles.

All that time has to come from either you, or the students. Now the standard response from anyone foolish enough to demand this in the first place, is ‘Set homework that doesn’t need much marking; or can be marked by peers.’ And I would agree, which is why we now see rainbows of pen colours indicating ‘marked by a peer/ marked by myself/ marked by a unicorn with a lisp’ etc. Problem solved? No, problem shifted, because that kind of marking doesn’t really show progress, or the Holy Grail of book marking: progress as a result of teacher intervention. So, you have no option but to triple, quadruple, octuple mark, or devise tortuous exercises where children fill out sheets designed to capture comments like ‘I now understand this activity because…..and I have achieved this by….’ Ghastly.

I have a simple attitude towards time management in an enclosed system: the investment has to be worth the dividend. If I’m asked to spend a third of my time on activity x then I expect that activity x should account for an equivalent third of their learning. In a school, opportunity cost is all; if we’re doing one thing, we’re prevented from doing another. And time, like land, is the one thing they aren’t making any more of. Triple marking simply doesn’t produce anything like a result that can match its cost. In fact, I’ll argue that most homework has the same problem, especially if it entails marking.

‘Just a couple more sets to mark lads!’

Three are many other displacement activities we could do without: poem tasks when the subject isn’t poetry; art and design tasks when we’re studying religious food laws; colouring in; making volcanos.; puppet shows and role plays. I know many teachers are prepared to fight to their last breath defending these things, and they may at times have merit as pace-regulators or pauses between content. But too often they represent a disproportionate investment of time in a system where time is a treasure chest. And when workload is the lash, the goad and the rack of possibility, spending each second wisely is no longer a luxury.

These damnable chronophages are designed to make teachers  prance on command for fear of a real or imagined Grendel. I once wrote that the best thing to do on the day of an Ofsted inspection was to get your Free School Meal kids to perform ‘Consider Yourself’ from Oliver! With their target grades painted on flat caps. I didn’t know that in a few years reality would render my satire useless.

Mungo just pawn in great game of life

Just as teachers wind up- if their nerve isn’t strong or their hearts true and pure- teaching to the test rather than teaching brilliantly and letting the test discover it, schools can easily fall into a pit where the appearance of progress becomes more important than the progress itself. I see many, many schools where the directed activity of the teacher has nothing to do with actual learning, and everything to do with showboating. There’s a wonderful scene in Mel Brooks’s genre opus Blazing Saddles where the Sheriff and the Waco Kid animate a moribund citizenry of beleaguered settlers to stand up to a pack of desperadoes by building a fake town for them to plunder instead. I think this is how many schools approach an inspection; see our beautiful data and our books of interventions and can we interest you in a jelly baby? Look how we’ve grown since last we spoke!

Enough. Enough. Ofsted have been quite clear that they don’t require any particular scheme of marking, any preferred assessment regime, any particular liturgy of when, how often and how books are marked. There is no activity or strategy or teaching style beloved or scorned to which teachers should aspire. Wilshaw, the present Prospero of Ofsted, is quite clear on this. And yes, I understand why schools do this. In desperation, a rat will chew through it’s leg to escape a trap, and dogs will bark at cars. But that shouldn’t be policy. The inspection regime is partly responsible for this of course. But if we ever want to be seen as a profession and not an army of complainants, it’s time we took action at a level we can affect.

We’ve found so many lovely ways to fill our time that we’ve forgotten what we came to do. The tragedy is that sometimes we can forget there ever was anything else we did, and the tragedy squared is when kids start to think like that too.

Doug Lemov -Michaela files part one.

Doug spent some time at the ‘famous’ Michaela school – they do some wonderful things that we can learn from… 10.14.16Reducing Teacher Workload By Re-Thinking Marking–The Michaela Files, Part 1

Image result for marking student papersLast week i visited London’s faintly notorious Michaela School. A few days ago I wrote an overview framing the visit in the ‘big picture’ sense.  Now I propose to begin sharing a series of posts–the Michaela Files–describing some of the useful things I learned there.

As I walked through London’s Michaela School I was struck suddenly by a strong intuition—call it fear maybe–that recalled my days as a teacher in a high performing urban school. I was in my late twenties then, and my colleagues and I were seeking, like Michaela, to engineer every moment for maximum student benefit.  God, we loved those kids.  And they needed every ounce of what they had and what we had to have a fighting chance. So we pushed them hard and worked long hours. We were going to do every single thing we could.  But the hours were often unsustainably long I can now see.

So when I glimpsed the artful intentionality of every moment in student’s lives, the impeccable designed and executed systems, I feared that this was also true of Michaela.  I knew this would challenge the long term sustainability of the school.  Those brilliant teachers would tire.  Many would leave. Organizational memory, the culture, the will to sustain it all would be diluted.  The school would regress to the mean.

But happily like many intuitions which we presume are accurate, mine appears to have been in large part unfounded. And this is very good news, not just for Michaela but for every school seeking long –term, sustainable excellence—because one reason teachers at Michaela told me they leave by five is that they do something brilliant, simple and replicable to reduce workload without eroding outcomes. And you can copy or adapt it tomorrow.

Ready for it?

Teachers at Michaela do not mark student essays and other writing.  They read the essays their students write in English and History and French and Religion and they grade them but the grade is all the written feedback students receive.

How could they?  you ask- perhaps thinking of the personal dialogue you establish with your students when, late at night or on Sunday morning, you fill the margins of their essays with individualized comments—“Nice, use of evidence, David, but you’ve left out an important piece of evidence from page 62.”  “I love this sentence Sarah.  You capture Hurston’s vision perfectly.”

This task, as Joe Kirby and Jo Facer described it to me is ‘maximum effort; minimum impact.’  It takes hours. It almost always happens at home for teachers, blurring the lines of the workday and making you feel like you are never done as you stare guiltily at those accusing stacks of essays and writing pieces.  Over time you perhaps assign less writing.  Or you grade them when you can and give that artful feedback weeks after students wrote the papers—and hardly remember writing them.  Or you toil away and just maybe work yourself towards unsustainability.  And maybe once or twice you’ve even wondered- do they read them with as much intentness as you put into the writing of them?  Do we know whether they read them at all in some cases?

“We seek the opposite,” Joe said, “Maximum impact at minimum effort.” So they re-worked marking.  And the solution is pretty logical.

When students at Michaela write essays, their teachers read them all and take notes to inform re-teaching the next day. Instead of marking each paper that needs a better topic sentence, they jot down themes and maybe example:  “better topic sentences” and “brilliant example of topic sentence from Gabi.” The next day show up in class and say: “Many of us are struggling with our topic sentences. So let’s look at how to write them better.” and then: “Let’s look at why Gabi’s was so good.” And then:  “Now go re-write your topic sentences.”   Or perhaps its content focused: “Many of us misunderstood what the results of the battle were.  Let’s review the events and then you can rewrite.”

And there it is. Time spend writing comments becomes time spent re-teaching.  And students then must be responsible for using and applying what they’ve learned. And the greatest amount of energy can be spent on what’s most important to the group. And then—without the disincentive to assign writing—students can write some more.

Honestly, it’s brilliant. And it actually draws on what many of us already do during class, when we circulate, observe work and then address common misunderstandings.  But it asks the question-is a focus on always individualizing feedback for every student always the best use of our time? Or even usually? Especially if it’s in writing?  When you consider alternative uses to a teacher’s time, the answer is probably no.

Take three hours spent writing comments, allocate 30 minutes to identifying trends and planning a short re-teach and then do other things, including some non-teaching things.  This is hugely important because workload has historically been an Achilles heel in the high performing urban schools movement.  To change the lives of students otherwise cut off from opportunity is an immense job and often presents a brutal choice. Do you reduce the hours for the adults—the adults you love and honor and who give deeply of themselves to help others—and know that the cost will be lesser outcomes for the students and families you also love and have dedicated you professional life to serving? Or do you push for maximum outcomes for kids and know that people you care about will sometimes—often—work too hard and suffer?

In the end the core social good—the expectation shifting inner-city school—will only be as expandable as we need it to be if we can unlock large scale efficiencies- ways to continue to get maximum value for kids at more sustainable cost for adults.  Insights into game changing efficiencies and synergies are rare.   But Michaela School is on to one.  And, as I pointed out in my first post, you can borrow it no matter what your school’s approach.

Marking – can we make it easier and less time consuming?

Another great post from Tom Sherrington – would love to know what you think on this?

Tim

At HGS we’ve been thinking hard about how to make sure teacher feedback has maximum impact and, recently, I’ve been revisiting some blog posts that continue to inform my thoughts on this important area: ‘Close the Gap’ Marking: a whole-school approach used at Saffron Walden High School, focusing all feedback on student response. Marking […]

via Rethinking marking and feedback. It’s all about the response. — headguruteacher

Whole class marking -crib sheet

A lovely example of how to reduce workload BUT improve the quality of feedback: Please find details and more info at https://mrthorntonteach.com/2016/04/08/marking-crib-sheet/ but I have pasted how he uses it below:

KHS Marking sheet template

The crib sheet as a way to provide quicker feedback to the whole classroom rather than writing comments in each book, so reducing marking time from 2-3 hours per class to less than an hour. Now I actually really do miss writing comments, leaving questions and the other bits in their books but it really wasn’t a workload issue I could continue with (especially as I have my first child on the way!).

Therefore the crib sheet allows me to go through each students’ book and I make comments on the whole class sheet using the sections below.

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The benefits are that it gives me a snapshot of the whole class’s progress, allows me to ‘fine tune’ my lesson planning and it also gives activities and tasks for students to complete within DIRT the next lesson.

crib

Using this I do the following which we complete in lessons for 20-25 minutes, you can also get a feel of what it looks like in students books. Students’ are given an A5 copy to stick in under the title of ‘DIRT’ and using a red pen they review their SPaG, answer questions I have created from reading their books, finish any work or complete an extension activity. We always finish with a spelling test to hammer home those misspelt key words.

dirt-1    dirt-2dirt-3  dirt-4

Pupils books look something like this – we do this every 2 weeks or so.

dirt-35dirt-6

Now, that does not mean I use this for assessments – my focus is on providing more detailed and worthwhile assessment feedback, with this being reserved for standard lessons etc. For more on what I’m trying in assessments, check out the rest of my blog.