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I hate marking: I love giving feedback!

Written by Rachel Turner


Posted on January 07 2019

Thank you to everyone for your fantastic feedback from my first marking and feedback blog post. I promised that I would do another blog post about the records, but firstly I thought it was important to share some of the ideas behind our school’s feedback policy so that my next blog post about the marking and feedback record makes a little bit more sense to you all.

As I mentioned in the previous post, my school adopted a new feedback policy just before the summer. The policy was changed after our SLT team attended a course called ‘Challenging learning through feedback’ . If you want to find out anymore about this please follow the link here. I’m not going to recite everything in this feedback structure, so please do have a look at their publications for more details, but there are some key ideas which I think are essential when thinking about evaluating your own mindset when giving feedback.

Before we adopted this new way of giving feedback, I absolutely hated marking! I hated it 10 years ago, I still hate it. When I really thought about why, it was because of one reason: it wasn't effective. No matter how hard I tried to make it effective, I never cracked it. No matter how much I told my classes year after year to read my comments and act on them, they  didn't or at least not without me standing over them and guiding them through it one by one. For myself, and I know for many of you out there, it all became out compliance. This is what my school policy expects, so this is what I have to carry on doing. I've made sure everything I talk about in this post can be used by everybody regardless of what their school policy on feedback is. If you're a 'tickled pink' or 'three stars and a wish' kind of school, this still completely applies to you.

Success criteria (or agreed goals as we call them) are very much at the heart of all the feedback we give. The basic premise is that the main feedback that we give children should be based on the agreed goals/success criteria that were set with them before they have a first try at the task given.

When someone said that to me the first time I thought straight away, well of course you do that: that’s just how we’ve always given feedback. However, when I really started to think about it, I didn’t. Not at all. When I looked at a recent English lesson I had taught on writing newspaper article this is what I found:

  1. I didn’t make my agreed goals/success criteria with the children: I’d written them the night before.
  2. I went through these agreed goals at the beginning of the lesson, without any context. I’d only ever used them because I was always told to use success criteria from being an 18 year old trainee and that’s what anyone who had observed me ticked off on their list.
  3. We didn’t refer to them as being essential during the main teaching input and I always felt like it was that awkward part of the beginning of the lesson where I knew children didn’t really know why it was relevant to them.
  4. My feedback might have mentioned how well the child had used our first agreed goal: using the 5W’s in their opening paragraph , but I also made five other comments about the use of adjectives, their tense, paragraphing suggestions etc. Comments that had absolutely nothing to do with the agreed goals I’d set at the beginning.

In the training, they referred to agreed goals as a ‘cheat sheet’ for children. If I ever do something for the first time, like coding part of the website, the first thing I do is to look for Google’s equivalent of the ‘cheat sheet- usually a YouTube video. Our agreed goals are best set with children: agreed with them so they understand as simply as possible, that if they follow these goals, they will be successful.

For example, if my lesson was about newspaper articles, I may start off with a learning objective, but I would now never reel off a list of success criteria after it. I would do what is normal practice when teaching something new. We look at existing examples, we pick out common features, things that make one example a great example and reasons why another example wasn’t as good. We explore, analyse and learn from what already exists: then and only then do we start to develop some success criteria for our work. The children then aid me in using everything we have looked at to develop a ‘cheat sheet’: a list of criteria which will help them in recreating their own great version of what we have looked at. That set of goals would then stay up in the classroom, be stuck in books and constantly be used and referred to of the rest of my teaching of that topic.

If I give the children the agreed goals, telling them these goals are the ‘cheat sheet’ for how to write a great newspaper article, promising them that if they follow that ‘cheat sheet’ step by step their article will be spot on, I must must only feedback on the goals that I agreed with them. Even if Child A has written an opening paragraph which met the agreed goals but she can’t use a comma after a fronted adverbial yet, resist the urge to point it out! Why? Well think about it:  how untrusting will a child become of your feedback if you give them a cheat sheet to writing something then completely change the goalposts? If you wrote a whole subject policy for your headteacher based on criteria she had set you, done that perfectly and then she told you to redo it all because actually now she wants a few other things from you that she expected before but failed to mention. How annoyed, frustrated and untrusting would you feel? It would make me slam my laptop lid and not want to return to the policy until I’d had a breather! But we do it to children all of the time and then wonder why they don’t read or respond to the feedback we give.

So when do we pick up on the little picky things that weren’t in our agreed goals but are really getting on our nerves because they should be doing them? I would do this during the child’s second or third editing of their work. Give the child the opportunity to pick up on these things before you swoop in there straight away and do it for them. Give children a bit of ownership and responsibility for making those changes independently. Growth mindset is such a big thing at the moment and allowing children to make mistakes is such an important part of that.

At the end of it, children need to trust you and trust the feedback you give. Their positive mindset towards making mistakes will develop the more you make sure that you focus that feedback. ‘Mistakes are proof you are trying’- we need to let them make them and then do something about it for themselves, otherwise they will never believe you when you tell them it’s ok to get things wrong.

For those of you  whose school policy doesn't allow them to use the marking and feedback record rather than writing individual comments in children's books, think about how effective the comments are that you are writing. Could they be more focussed? Could you make more of these comments during a lesson than you do now?

I really hope that this has given some of you some food for thought. I’m sure there are lots and lots of you out there who have read this and think it’s what you’ve been doing for years, but to me it was a revelation to my teaching and made me 100% more effective in the classroom. Remember to check out those publications hyperlinked for more information and feel free to comment with anything you think would also be useful to others about effective feedback.

As a side note: I’m in no way affiliated with the companies or publications I have suggested and this post has not been sponsored in any way. My views are my own and are not representative of the companies mentioned or my own school.