Simplifying our practice: Marking and feedback

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

In a series of five articles, Adam Riches is looking at how we might simplify common classroom practice in order to make teaching and learning more effective. Part one looks at marking and feedback


Whether you are considering individual, department or whole-school marking and feedback approaches, the more simplified they are, the more effectively they can be applied.

Traditionally, “time-saving” approaches to marking and feedback have centred around the codification and delivery of the feedback, not on the processes of ascertaining the content of the feedback itself.

As such, these approaches have faded in and out of best practice showcases, and in and out of the classroom.

Often we save time by encoding the feedback, but exponential time and effort are then spent decoding the feedback on both the teacher’s and student’s part. In short, just because a teacher isn’t having to write as much in a book, doesn’t remotely improve the process.

Statistically speaking, the average teacher spends up to 11 hours a week marking and giving feedback to students in books – this according to the OECD’s 2015 annual Education at a Glance report. They found something similar in 2017 as well. If that much time is being spent outside lessons responding to student work, then questions need to be asked about the efficiency of the approaches being adopted.


Knowing the difference

When we strip things back, marking and feedback need not be complicated activities. First, and most importantly, we need to differentiate between marking and feedback.

Marking highlights the level of correctness of a piece of work. The focus may be accuracy of work, 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 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 isn't new, but these are concepts that we can easily forget and blur, making our practice more complicated than it needs to be.



Hear more from Adam Riches on the SecEd Podcast

Two recent episodes – both featuring Adam Riches – tackled practice relating to assessment, feedback and marking. Effective marking and feedback (June 2021) focused solely on classroom assessment practices (https://bit.ly/2TkgMQ8) while our episode The secrets to quality first teaching (April 2021) looked at a range of effective teaching practices, including feedback (https://bit.ly/2R5PIT8).



When should I mark?

Dividing marking and feedback is important because each has its place in the learning of a student.

Marking work too soon gives you no real indicator of a student’s understanding or ability to apply newly taught concepts. As such, it is important to mark only when a sufficient amount of learning has taken place. Depending on your style of teaching, this may be sequentially or it may be dependent on the units which you teach.

Depending on how you assess your learners, this may take a multitude of forms, but do not assume that so-called deep marking will yield the most reliable results.

Multiple-choice questions and short answers can often be significantly more effective indicators of knowledge-retention than longer answers. These can be quickly and easily marked by peers in class too.

Of course, there is a clear caveat with marking. It needs to be done with sufficient time for you to be able to adapt your teaching. The days of having a single end-of-unit assessment should be a thing of the past. Marking at a terminal point in a unit of work isn’t always the most effective use of time and energy.

Effectively and strategically timing your marking will considerably reduce the complexity of planning and allow you to adapt to learners’ needs. In the bigger picture, the more informed you are, the more you can streamline your teaching.


Feedback takes a long time

Everybody sees the value of feedback. Students understand things better when they are provided with clear, usable advice from an expert.

Our issue is time. To give feedback consistently well, you have to step away from reading every page and every word and make the most of wider approaches that have the biggest impact on learners. If you find ways to provide feedback more quickly, you are simply able to give more of it or to spend the time you save improving other areas of your teaching.

The first consideration when simplifying your feedback is to stop thinking of it as a process that needs to be done outside of lessons after learning has taken place. Look for misconceptions as they arise, while the learners are working. Track them using a simple sheet as a memory aid. It saves you looking at books outside of the lesson.

Be proactive while pupils work and circulate, check and react, making the most of your time in lessons – it will save hours outside lessons.

The second consideration is how you give feedback to the learners. What mode is best? There are a number of methods that have been used over the years. Two that work in complete unison and strip complexity right back are live feedback and whole-class feedback.

Live feedback is a simple process and I have written about this before in these pages (Riches, 2017). The process involves you giving feedback as learners are completing tasks, meaning they actively respond and are able to overcome misconceptions in context, not in isolation. It allows you to give individual feedback quickly and efficiently. Simply posing questions or even giving prompts in books means that you can help learners overcome obstacles really efficiently.

Whole-class feedback relies on identifying common misconceptions. Of course, not all learners will have the misconception, but that doesn’t mean they will not still gain from regular reminders.

I keep the delivery incredibly simple – the sheet or format doesn’t need to be complicated. What is most important is that you build good routines and habits for learners to seamlessly complete the tasks set (for more on whole-class feedback, see Riches, 2021).


Making adaptations

Much like any changes in your classroom, you need to be very clear on the reasons and applications. So plan your marking and feedback time with the learning and take the time to explain and teach the students how to respond to what you are giving them.

By building effective habits and routines, the processes will become even more streamlined. It may take time, but it is time well spent.

Also, do not try to simplify everything at the same time. Try new approaches and test what works well for you and your classes. The approaches above may not be for everyone, but your big considerations need to be:

  • How much time is this taking me?
  • How helpful is it for the students?
  • Is it going to help them progress with their learning?

Get the balance back when it comes to marking and feedback and you will have so much more time to do other things – even perhaps taking some down-time!


Further information & resources


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