Getting feedback right in your classroom

Written by: Adam Riches | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Marking and feedback can be a pressure point for new teachers and can lead to high workload. Adam Riches discusses some healthy habits to develop to ensure efficient and effective feedback and marking practice

Providing effective feedback to your learners is one of the most direct and efficient ways to help them overcome misconceptions in their learning.

That said, giving feedback can quickly become onerous and time-consuming if not managed and applied in a sustainable way.

One of the biggest strains for early career teachers (ECTs) is getting the balance right between what is done in the classroom and how much is done outside the classroom. Marking and feedback account for a significant chunk of teachers’ time but the process of giving feedback need not be undertaken in the traditional, detached way.

Battling through endless piles of books, writing comments and targets in the vain attempt to get learners to realise where they are going wrong, is a “time-negative” approach.

Change your view of feedback and you can take a huge weight off your shoulders and put your time to better use.

Marking vs feedback

By taking the time to reflect on the differences between marking and feedback, we are able to unpick how we can refine each approach. Seeing marking and feedback as mutually exclusive makes your practice more precise and effective.

Marking highlights the level of “correctness” of a piece of work. The focus may be accuracy of work, or spelling, punctuation, grammar – regardless, marking means highlighting errors. Additionally, we may attribute the level of error or success to a mark scheme and give the student a numerical indicator or mark following the process.

Feedback is a different animal altogether. When we feed-back to a learner, we advise and guide them on how they can overcome misconceptions and/or make the next steps in their learning. Feedback is an on-going process in which learners should be given time and opportunity to respond and adapt their thoughts and work to sequentially improve. Unlike marking, feedback gives specific points for improvement.

Marking provides us with a good indicator of success in a summative application and feedback allows us to assess learners' progress formatively. This is not new, but these are concepts where the lines can easily blur and this can make our practice more complicated than it needs to be.

Live marking

I have often written about live marking in SecEd and to this day it remains one of the most effective parts of my practice.

Not only does live making in lessons allow you to significantly reduce your workload outside of the classroom, it gives you real-time, accurate data in the classroom as the learners are progressing through tasks. You are able to ascertain, adapt and overcome misconceptions as they arise, and the best thing is that you can do it all as they work.

Yes it can be a challenge getting yourself and your learners into the habits of effective live marking, but they key is to be transparent and not to rush the process.

For example, try circulating with some simple success criteria that you have pre-determined. It may be capital letters, it may be the use of specific terms, it may be more complex – a concept or idea. Regardless, if you have something specific you are looking for, you can significantly reduce the cognitive load for you as the “marker”.

It also allows you to understand quickly if learners are progressing towards the end-point you have in mind for their learning, or indeed for this lesson.

I dare not mention verbal feedback at risk of being inundated with jeers about stampers, but live marking gives you an opportunity to embed verbal feedback in a meaningful way that requires learners to instantly respond in their work. It is the instant nature of live feedback that makes it such an incredible tool.

Put yourself in the shoes of the learner – when is it best to get feedback? Best is when you are actually doing the job. Think about driving a car – if someone tells you a better way to get somewhere after you have finished the journey, it is annoying. Feedback in school is the same. Don’t wait until the end of the proverbial journey to give it.

For a more in-depth discussion about live marking, read my 2017 article on in class marking and feedback. I also talk more about live marking and other practical approaches during the recent SecEd Podcast episode on feedback and marking (SecEd, 2021).

Coming away from just long answers

Something that took me a while to figure out was that you do not need to think about feedback only in terms of longer pieces of work – you can glean a significant amount of information from less formalised, shorter tasks such as low-stakes testing and quizzes.

Although I use a lot of low-stakes testing and quizzes in lessons to check for knowledge retention, I also use questioning for retrieval practice in less explicit ways.

Quizzes and low-stakes testing allow for quick (instant) checking of understanding. Making quizzes explicit is easier than you may think. There are loads of free quizzing platforms that will give you lots of data based on the students’ responses. This can then effectively inform the work you are setting, and which students are most in need of intervention. It can also flag up misconceptions.

Setting up quizzes can take time of course (generic quizzes often lack the specific questions you need), but the time investment is worth it. These resources will also be available for the next cohort and the next, plus you will be creating a strong bank of revision resources.

Whole-class feedback

Regardless of how you collate the work from your class or classes, it is how you communicate back to them that is important. Individual comments can be difficult in some subjects and can take a lot of time. I am a huge proponent of whole-class feedback (Riches, 2021).

This approach remains a really effective way of helping students overcome misconceptions, even at a distance.

As always, the key is the framing of the feedback. Explicitly state the issues and misconceptions that have arisen from the task, give the solution – this may come in the form of a quick PowerPoint, audio recording, worked example or video (or a combination) – and then give students a chance to apply this knowledge. You can even provide answers for students to reflect upon.

Ultimately, this approach ensures that it is less likely that misconceptions become embedded.

Making it work

Marking and feedback are among the big factors for burn-out in our profession, so it is important to develop healthy habits early doors. During your ECT years you must manage your workload in a way which allows you to sustainably progress as a professional. You need to experiment with what works for you – don’t stop adjusting your practice when it comes to feedback and marking until you reach a happy balance of time put in versus impact on learners.

Further information & resources

Forming healthy habits: An ECT supplement

  • SecEd’s regular supplement for early career teachers ECTs offers 20 pages of advice, tips and ideas to help new teachers survive & thrive at the chalkface. Themes include pedagogy, workload, wellbeing, mentoring, professional conduct and general tips (June 2022):


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