Is your feedback doing everything it should?
Nicola Griffiths explores the most constructive ways to let pupils and teachers know how they are doing
The issue of marking regularly dominates Twitter and articles in the education press. They have both highlighted the variance in the frequency of marking in different schools and the different ways that senior management in schools conduct their quality assurance.
As deputy head, I am responsible for leading the quality assurance at Ipswich High School, verifying key teaching and learning objectives, such as reviewing teaching and learning, by conducting “book scrutiny” and undertaking “learning walks”. Learning walks involve members of a school’s senior management team dropping into lessons for up to ten minutes to review a particular element of teaching and learning. The premise of these learning walks is to give teachers feedback that will aid their continuing professional development.
At Ipswich High School we focus on the elements that enhance the learning of our pupils, which I personally term “the key essentials”. Over half term, I read an article about Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, which detailed research evidence for the most effective teaching, regardless of subject specialism. Given that these principles form the basis of the teaching and learning we strive for across the senior school, I am confident that this consistent focus will continue to enhance the learning experiences of all our pupils.
The purpose of book scrutiny, which is conducted both by heads of department and by senior management, is to review pupil books for a number of factors, least of which is marking. The article on Principles of Instruction referred to research conducted by the Education Endowment Foundation in 2016 which concluded that “the quality of existing evidence focused specifically on written marking is low. This is surprising and concerning bearing in mind the importance of feedback to pupils’ progress and the time in a teacher’s day taken up by marking.”
"The focus should not be on the frequency of written marking, but on the quality of feedback."
This challenges the common misconception that written marking is the only form of valuable feedback. Written marking when reviewing pupil books is not the whole process, since the focus should not be on teacher marking alone. In lessons, pupils may frequently be asked to self-assess, to mark their own work or to peer-assess and mark a fellow pupil’s work. Both options enable pupils to get timely feedback on their work. The focus should not be on the frequency of written marking, but on the quality of feedback and whether it helps pupils to improve.
Feedback comes in many forms and in every lesson teachers’ feedback to pupils verbally. At the training day I attended at the ISA head office, there was reference to the “verbal feedback stamp”, a way of evidencing that pupils had received feedback in this format simply by stamping a pupil’s book and asking them to make note of the comments that were given by the teacher, so that this interaction did not go unnoticed, by the pupil, the parent and, of course, inspectors.
This is a good way of evidencing and proving action, but it is a laborious task. At Ipswich High School, the focus for teachers is a combination of written marking, whether by pupil or teacher, as well as numerous opportunities for verbal feedback. The school’s marking policy states that a half termly assessment needs to be conducted for all pupils in Years 9 and above, with an assessment for pupils in Years 7 and 8 at least once a term. During this time, teachers mark an assessment piece which helps to inform pupils of their targets for improvement.
During a book scrutiny I will be looking for evidence of a piece of assessment work, along with the associated target and improvement form. During school inspections, inspectors triangulate their evidence, and will ask pupils in interviews whether they understand their targets for improvement. I hope to replicate this by asking pupils a series of questions of this nature, either through an electronic survey or face to face, to see how effective our systems are.
I hope this approach will help to reassure parents that it is part of normal teaching and learning practice if work is marked by someone other than their child’s teacher, and acts as one of the best forms of immediate feedback. Again, it is normal and good practice that when written feedback by a teacher is limited, it will have been accompanied by verbal feedback at the start of a lesson.
The quality assurance processes carried out by both heads of department and members of the senior management team provide invaluable information to enable teachers to reflect on their practice and, ultimately, aid their professional development. It also illustrates to senior management whether the actions outlining best practice in teaching and learning policies are in fact being implemented.
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