NQT Special Edition: Strategies for effective student feedback

Written by: Adam Riches & Roy Watson-Davis | Published:
Image: MA Education

Effective feedback is key to effective learning and therefore effective teaching. Adam Riches and Roy Watson-Davis offer some advice

One of the most time-consuming tasks faced by teachers is marking. Books, assessments, exams, you name it as a teacher you will need to mark it.

The process of feedback and marking is one that is debated a lot. There are proponents of the minimalist approach – putting the focus on assessments – and there are proponents of the feedback for progress approach.

Regardless of your standpoint, there is a strong correlation between progress and feedback. No marking equals less progress, but does more marking mean more progress? Actually, no it doesn’t.

More marking leads to more stress, more work and more work-filled weekends. What teachers need to think about is the effectiveness of their marking.

Setting targets has been a rather fashionable trend in the field of marking in recent years. This approach gives the pupil a direct area to work on. Great in theory, but how do they work on “expanding their answer” or “showing their working out?” Well they don’t know either. If they did know, they would do it and we would all be happy. If you like the target approach, try these things to ensure your time is not wasted:

  • Clear achievable targets with a timeframe for completion/evidence to be shown – get the pupils to self-evaluate their performance towards their target at the end of each week. It saves you going back through work.
  • Forward target-setting – at the top of each lesson, the pupil writes their target and this reminds them to work on this area in the lesson.
  • Starter and plenary time where pupils do peer activities regarding targets set by the teacher.

These ideas ensure that the most is made from your valuable input. Target-setting is brilliant if used correctly and supported during classroom learning.

Another effective way of feeding back to pupils about work is by using written questions. The idea is simple: read a pupil’s work and then ask them a question or a series of questions about it.

These questions can be literacy-based, testing technical knowledge, synthesis questions, hypothetical questions or simply one-word questions. The possibilities are endless. Using Bloom’s questioning taxonomy to vary the questions, teachers can tailor feedback to individual pupils. This helps with differentiation and it also allows you as a teacher to focus on any weaknesses in a piece of work.

The primary aim of this method is to get the pupils to think about what they have written and to reflect on it, while simultaneously extending their learning.

Remember, time needs to be given to respond to your feedback. A good time for this is during starters or plenary activities.
This form of feedback can be used in conjunction with other methods but there are some clear advantages over other ways of marking.

These advantages include: instant response to feedback; non-intrusive method of questioning; differentiated feedback tailored to individual pupil needs; variety of learning extensions possible; quick and easy to do for the teacher; can be reversed (pupils ask you questions); linked in with feeding forward (what is your target for next lesson?); builds a rapport with the pupils; can act as a settler for the start of lessons.

Disadvantages, however, include that time must be given to allow pupils to complete the questions, that some pupils will not understand the questions you have asked them, and that you may have to look back over pupils’ books.

This feedback method also gives you a great opening for some in-book dialogue. This can be really effective in the classroom, especially with pupils who are less likely to share their concerns with you. Building a dialogue in their books also builds trust. Remember the feedback doesn’t always need to be about the work, you can question the pupils on how they are getting on too!

Marking codes are a hugely under-used resource. As a teacher, saving time annotating while not jeopardising the quality of your marking is a hard balance to hold. Marking codes allow you to get through work effectively and quickly, often reducing the written word count on your part significantly. If your department doesn’t have a marking code policy, make one of your own. As long as the pupils understand it, that is all that matters. Try something like these five simple codes:

  • Sp: spelling error.
  • C: incorrect use of or missing capital letter.
  • P: incorrect use of or missing punctuation (including incorrect or missing apostrophes).
  • //: new paragraph needed.
  • Squiggly underlining: Grammatical error/does not make sense/can’t read.

Once you marked the work, get the pupil to work through and find the error you have indicated in the margin. Again, this makes feedback a shared exercise. If your students are not interacting with what you have written it is simply not effective marking.

A hugely effective albeit more time-consuming method of feedback is face-to-face tutorials. Research has shown that face-to-face interaction is often the most popular type of feedback in the eyes of pupils. It is a great opportunity for them to speak directly to you about their work. A great way to do this is to allocate pupils a time-slot and then give them a sheet to fill in as you speak.

This ensures they have a written record of the exchange and they can refer back to it at any time they wish. Although this method may seem time-consuming from the outset, in theory it will reduce you written marking time, so it can be a very useful tool during class revision time.

Ultimately, if you can get pupils responding and interacting with your marking it constitutes good feedback. Effective feedback is a crucial element of pupil progression and an even more important part of keeping you as a teacher sane.

  • Adam Riches is head of key stage 5 English language and the whole-school literacy coordinator at Northgate High School in Ipswich. Follow him @teachmrriches. Roy Watson-Davis is head of history and politics at a school in Suffolk. Follow him @roywatsondavis

NQT Special Edition: Free download

This article was published in SecEd as part of our November 2016 eight-page NQT Special Edition. The Special Edition, which was published with support from the NASUWT, offers best practice advice and guidance ranging from classroom practice and wellbeing to workload and your rights and entitlements as an NQT. You can download the entire NQT Special Edition as a free 8-page pdf via http://bit.ly/2fAp3q0


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