Feedback for learning

I am amazed by the voluminous amounts of guff that is spouted on the subject of giving pupils feedback. This is one of those areas of educational policy where something that falls into the category of the blindingly obvious is leapt upon discussed, cogitated and commercialized to a hideous degree. Neophytes trot out acronyms like demented members of a wayward religious sect: AfL, APP, ASIP, IAP, IEP, AOs (if you don't believe me, look here). In some of the schools my wife has worked at efforts to give feedback and record progress have taken her hours and been largely ignored by pupils. A lazy or disengaged pupil who has scrawled drivel on the page isn't going to read a detailed account of areas to address for future progress. Nor could he or she care less that their miserable efforts have been recorded on camera and neatly stuck down next to their work. This is feedback for inspectors, not feedback for learners.

Ultimately there are only a few things you need to know about feedback:
  1. It should be timely. However conscientiously conducted, aligned to levels, assessment objectives and learning goals any feedback you give a pupil rapidly looses its effectiveness if it's taken too long to come back. A good rule of thumb for written work is that feedback should be given the very next lesson. It's tough keeping up with it sometimes, but the pile of marking never goes away so you may was well just get on with it.
  2. An element of competition is no bad thing. Dylan William talks an awful lot of sense in this video, but I think he underestimates the power of peer rivalry in driving pupils on. Teachers these days go to incredible lengths to conceal from pupils when they're handing an exam back what others in the set got. But we all know that as soon as they've left the classroom pupils are asking each other what they got and making mental comparisons. I'm not suggesting we return to the days of posting year group percentages, ranked in descending order on department doors (with all the ignominy that entailed for the poor kid at the bottom) but neither do I think that kids should be told that the only person they're competing against is themselves.. The world doesn't work like this and we do kids a disservice if we suggest by our actions that it does.
  3. Feedback should be given both in written form and, much more importantly, in face-to-face form. Many pupils will pay scant interest to the comments written at the bottom of their work. But take the time to chat through their work face-to-face and you can convey nuances in a way that simply isn't possible otherwise. Of course, giving face-to-face feedback is time consuming but it needn't be the preserve of only those teachers with small classes or generous non-contact hours. It is quite possible to review work one-to-one occasionally (once either side of half term say?) by setting a silent task for the class and calling pupils out one-by-one to the front.
  4. Feedback that requires action on pupils' part is also very effective. This might take the form of making corrections, resubmitting a piece of work or (old school alert!) copying out misspelled words.
  5. Lastly pupils need to know how they've done. There is a current vogue for not placing a mark on any piece of work - the thinking being that if you do the pupil will look at the mark and ignore the comment. I'm sure there's some element of truth in this. But for examination sets in particular pupils need to know where they stand. They need to know where a piece of work they've done places them along the continuum. Concealing the truth from pupils does them no good at all. The increase in the number of pupils I have coming to me with wildly over-ambitious university choices is, I'm sure, in part a function of teachers' reluctance to be honest right from the word go.

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