There’s really no argument about the fact that feedback is pretty important. It sits right at the top of the list of strategies which make the biggest impact on students’ progress. If we’re not giving students feedback on their learning then, frankly, what in God’s good name are we doing? There is nothing else which should have a higher priority in your teaching.
OK, with that off my chest, it’s important to acknowledge that there a couple of problems to be aware of. All, sadly, is not rosy in the feedback garden.
Firstly, most of the feedback students get comes from their peers and, sadly, most of that is wrong. It would seem that nature abhors a lack of feedback almost as much as it does a vacuum: any lack of meaningful feedback on the part of teachers is an opportunity for misinformation to breed.
The second problem is that approximately 70% of the feedback given by teachers to students is not ‘received’. That is to say, the students either don’t read it, don’t understand it, and don’t act on it.
Some of the reasons for this might be:
- Feedback is most often accepted when it confirms existing beliefs; where beliefs are challenged, feedback is often rejected
- If you give feedback to the whole class students think it must be directed at someone else and no one ‘receives’ it.
- Students often find teachers’ feedback to be “confusing, non-reasoned and not understandable” (Hattie 2009)
- Even when they do understand, they’re not sure how to apply it to their learning
- Most feedback is related to tasks rather than processes – that is to say it tends to focus on what was done rather than how it was done.
So what to do? Prof Hattie suggests that feedback needs to be: ‘just in time’, ‘just for me’, ‘just where I am in my learning process’, and ‘just what I need to help me make progress’. Regrettably, it often isn’t.
Armed as we are with all this knowledge, it’s time to examine some strategies for making feedback stick. At my new school we use a system for recording written feedback called Triple Impact Marking.
The idea is as follows:
- Students proofread work and highlight where they have met success criteria – this could either be self or peer assessment.
- The teacher corrects misapprehensions and asks questions about the students’ work: How could you…? Why might…? Do you think…? and sets a specific task which will require students to act on the feedback they’ve been given ie. Rewrite the 2nd paragraph ensuring that you…
- Students answer the questions and complete the tasks using the feedback they’ve been given.
The hard bit is forcing yourself not to correct students’ work but instead to get down and dirty with a spot of dialogic questioning. I found this a real mental gear shift and at first struggled to find the best sorts of questions to prompt meaningful reflection at stage 2. My experience is that it’s best to ask something concrete like “How many adjectives have you used?” rather than something abstract like “Is your writing descriptive enough?” This will get the student to read their work back but also gets them thinking about whether using only 2 adjectives was really enough to qualify their writing as descriptive.
Of course, for all this to have any impact at all, the next time must be as soon as possible. Asking students to hold feedback in their heads indefinitely doesn’t work: there must be given an opportunity to act on it next lesson. So, to maximise the impact of marking we need to commit to giving our feedback as soon as possible and then beginning the next lesson with Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time (DIRT) so that they have an immediate opportunity to improve. This feeds neatly into my maxim that marking is planning (and the very best form of differentiation).
For me the most crucial aspect is that feedback should not come at the end of something. If it’s to be meaningful it has to happen during the process in which students are engaged. Now as this isn’t always possible during a lesson we need to plan for opportunities to act on feedback. Why not use the Learning Loop planning model to ensure that these opportunities are built into your schemes of learning?
We’re often in a rush to cover the next bit of the curriculum but this is yet another reminder that sticking rigidly to schemes of work and ploughing on with the next part of the course is a sure-fire, guaranteed way of preventing students making progress. And who wants that?