Whole Class Feedback thoughts

Making a fuss of feedback

At the weekend I attended the Teaching and Learning Takeback conference at Southampton Uni – #TLT17. It was wonderful to meet so many engaged and enthusiastic teachers who had given up their time to share their ideas freely with others. One stand-out session was Rebecca Foster’s who discussed the problems with the need to provide endless streams of summative data and the implications of this for curriculum design. She also shared her method of giving whole class feedback (WCF). These ideas were tweeted out by me and many others – like the one below.

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Once something in education, that has always been done, is given a name you can expect a debate to kick off. Knowledge organisers, direct instruction, whole class feedback, none of these are anything new. Teachers have always shared with pupils lists of what they need to know (knowledge organisers), always told them things (direct instruction) and have always given feedback to the whole class about pieces of work. People who say, as they have said on twitter, “I would never explore whole class feedback” have clearly missed the point. Feedback is a constant process in class and inevitably some of it will be delivered to the class as a whole.

The debate around whole class feedback is an interesting one. As with just about everything else people end up dividing down roughly “traditional-leaning” (Pro-WCF) and “progressive-leaning” (more anti-WCF). This is an odd division. It is hard to image something more didactic than the traditional way of marking books where each pupil is told exactly what they have done wrong and what they have got right, whereas WCF encourages pupils to “discover” their errors for themselves; more with a guide on the side to help them. The education world is a strange beast.

When people say they are “against WCF” they tend to mean either.

  1. They don’t like the templates used (efficiency) or
  2. They don’t want it to replace individual comments written in books (effectiveness).

The template

WCF doesn’t have to mean filling in a template like those shared by Rebecca Foster. I was first aware of this type of template after it was created and shared by Greg Thornton here.

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The idea of using the template is that you have this next to you as you are looking through a class set of books and you are making notes on this to share with the class; either by showing it on a screen or as a prompt for what you want to tell them. The reason it is used is that many comments you write in one book you also end up writing in another. By using this template (or one like it) you write the comment once on the sheet, number it, and then write that number in any book where the target applies. The pupil then knows what they need to do to improve. the targets are specific to the piece of work. One example shared by Rebecca, from the Geography department in her school, also had the space to include a screen shot of excellent work. Once the class have been given feedback they then work on redrafting or (and I’d suggest more effectively) complete another task where these targets can be worked on. The first time I used this template it took a little less time than writing individual written comments but the more I used it the faster I got.

What gets lost in this is the fact that WCF doesn’t mean this template. As so often happens we risk losing the pedagogy and focusing on the structure. While I sometimes use a template like this, on other occasions I just put a few notes on a slide showing the features of good answers and the features of less good answers. Pupils then look for examples of these things in their own work and make corrections. This example is feedback following a Year 12 test on coastal processes.

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This is far less time consuming than either writing the annotation on their papers or using a more formal template. It is certainly efficient but is it effective?

Replacing individual comments

There are a few problems with using individual written comments that WCF addresses.

The first is that of time. It is far quicker to give WCF than it is to write annotation on to pupils work. Is this a benefit for the teacher or for the pupil? I have yet to meet a teacher who uses WCF so that they can spend more time with their feet-up. Any time gained from using this method is spent on creating better lessons, creating resources, collaborating with others or working with pupils 1-2-1. There is a finite amount of time and we need to find ways to use it well.

The second issue that WCF addresses is that individual written comments do little to develop self-regulation (or independence if you prefer). When I give feedback to the class the pupil needs to look through their work and check if they have made the errors discussed or where they have made them. They need to look for the common spelling errors and make the corrections. This is developing important study skills for when they don’t have the constant support of a teacher, not just in the exam but throughout their life. There is no evidence anyone has been able to point me to that individual written comments lead to students making better progress and Hattie and Timperley’s meta-analysis shows that this feedback could be harmful if used at the wrong time for the wrong task.

One problem with writing individual comments is that they end up being very generic. You end up with comments like “add more detail here” or “explain this” but without being able to give the detail on how to do those things. When giving feedback to the class you have ample opportunity to demonstrate and model the difference between excellent answers and less good work. The feedback can be far more meaningful.

A criticism that seems to be leveled at the use of WCF is that pupils will miss the personal touch of these written comments. I have never heard this from anyone who has experimented with increasing their use of WCF however, or from a pupil. Again, we need to challenge the image of a lazy teacher using these templates and nothing more.

Pupils in my class get a huge amount of personalised feedback but this feedback comes verbally. After we have looked through the work as a class, and shared excellent examples we have seen, they improve their work or complete a different task to develop areas of weakness. During this time I give individual feedback to pupils about their work. I often sit with a pupil and look through their book with them 1-2-1 and give detailed and meaningful feedback on the progress they seem to be making. This dialogue is far more effective, and far more personal, than a hastily scribbled note asking for “more detail” or to “use examples”.

Conclusion 

Whole class feedback is something that almost all teachers do much of the time. We frequently discuss excellent work with a class or call their attention to common errors. If you are doing this, you are using WCF.

Increasing the amount of WCF you do, and decreasing the amount of individual written comments you write, saves time that you can then use to improve other aspects of teaching and should have no negative impact on pupil progress. Nor should it have a negative impact on relationships with pupils as you open a dialogue about their work.

WCF is an important tool and I am incredibly grateful to the likes of Greg Thornton and Rebecca Foster for giving up their time to explore it more fully with us.

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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.