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Effective Marking & Feedback

Feedback is the most powerfully important invention in which a teacher can engage, but marking students’ books can be mind-numbingly tedious drudgery. Because of this tension, many schools have introduced strict marking policies and work scrutiny schedules to make sure that teachers don’t shirk this crucial responsibility. But marking and feedback are two quite separate things.

Marking is the activity of checking, correcting, and giving a mark to students' written work. Feedback is information given back which shows what has been done well and what can be done to improve.

Effective marking is an essential part of the education process. At its heart, it is an interaction between teacher and pupil: a way of acknowledging pupils’ work, checking the outcomes, and making decisions about what teachers and pupils need to do next, with the primary aim of driving pupil progress. This can often be achieved without extensive written dialogue or comments. Marking is a vital element of teaching, but when it is ineffective it can be demoralising and a waste of time for teachers and pupils alike. In particular, it has become common practice for teachers to provide extensive written comments on every piece of work when there is very little evidence that this improves pupil outcomes in the long term.

Marking should serve a single purpose – to advance pupil progress and outcomes. Teachers should be clear about what they are trying to achieve and the best way of achieving it. Crucially, the most important person in deciding what is appropriate is the teacher. Oral feedback, working with pupils in class, reading their work – all help teachers understand what pupils can do and understand. Every teacher will know whether they are getting useful information from their marking and whether pupils are progressing.

Types of marking:

  • Semi-formative assessment: written tasks closely modelled on those in the final examination and marked according to assessment criteria set out in the course description. The way the practice piece is marked (how these criteria are applied, the symbols used, the comments provided) provides guidance to students as to how the corresponding task in the final examination will be assessed.

  • Formative assessment: work (such as course work assignments) which counts towards the student’s mark or grade for the course, and which is returned to the student within a few days, with feedback in terms of symbols, comments and a mark or grade.

  • Marking of non-assessed work: this follows the same principles as formative assessment, in terms of symbols and comments, and speedy return of the marked work; it may not always appropriate to give a mark or grade.

  • Direct and indirect correction: direct correction consists of writing the correct letter(s), word, phrase or construction directly on the student’s script; indirect correction consists of indicating that there is an error, without writing the correct version on the script. For example, errors can be: coded; circled; underlined; underlined and coded; underlined + description of error; counted in the margin, but neither marked nor coded.

Ofsted recognises that marking and feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment. However, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type, or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy. Marking and feedback should be consistent with that policy, which may cater for different subjects and different age groups of pupils in different ways, in order to be effective and efficient in promoting learning.

While inspectors will consider how written and oral feedback is used to promote learning, Ofsted does not expect to see any written record of oral feedback provided to pupils by teachers.

“The most powerful single modification that enhances achievement is feedback. The simplest perception for improving education must be ‘dollops of feedback” Professor John Hattie (Influences on Student Learning)

Research suggests that appropriate, constructive and assessment-based feedback is one of the most critical features of effective teaching and learning. In a meta-analysis of over 800 studies, Hattie (2009) found feedback was the most important teacher practice in improving student learning. Feedback supports students to know where and how to improve, and it can support their motivation to invest effort in making improvements. It is an integral part of Assessment for Learning.

Well-timed feedback can support cognitive processes for better performance, including confirming or restructuring understanding, improving strategies, guiding students to more information, and suggesting directions and/or alternative strategies they could pursue in order to improve. Feedback can also engage students in metacognitive strategies such as goal setting, task planning, monitoring, and reflection, which are important skills for self-regulated learning. Feedback can influence students’ affective processes, improving effort, motivation, and engagement.

The research of eminent educationalists such as Dylan William, Paul Black (Inside the Black Box), Shirley Clarke, and John Hattie highlight the fact that formative assessment (assessment for learning) plays a fundamental role in ensuring pupils make good progress, therefore raising standards.

Feedback is effective when it is timely (not too late after the task), frequent (not too scarce), and acted on (not ignored). The quantity of feedback should not be confused with the quality. The quality of the feedback, however, given, will be seen in how a pupil is able to tackle subsequent work.

Feedback is information given to the learner or teacher about the learner’s performance relative to learning goals or outcomes. It should aim towards (and be capable of producing) improvement in students’ learning. Feedback redirects or refocuses either the teacher’s or the learner’s actions to achieve a goal, by aligning effort and activity with an outcome. It can be about the output of the activity, the process of the activity, the student’s management of their learning or self-regulation, or them as individuals (which tends to be the least effective). This feedback can be verbal or written or can be given through tests or via digital technology. It can come from a teacher or someone taking a teaching role, or from peers.

The sole focus of feedback should be to further children’s progression through the curriculum. Feedback should empower children to take ownership for improving their work; adults should not be doing the work for the pupil.

Feedback should incorporate the following features

  • Goal-referenced – linked to, and assisting understanding of, the goals of learning

  • Matched to the needs of the students, with the level of support they need

  • Accurate and trustworthy (with teachers and students in agreement about what counts as success)

  • Carefully timed, provided when students need it to improve learning (which might be during the learning activity, or before revising a piece of work)

  • Addresses strengths and weaknesses as well as revealing what students understand and misunderstand, and accompanied with strategies to help the student improve

  • Addresses correct rather than incorrect responses and building on changes from previous attempts or understandings

  • Guides ongoing learning

  • Directed towards enhanced self-efficacy and more effective self-regulationConversational (either written or oral) rather than one-way

  • Used in conjunction with self and/or peer assessment

  • Does not threaten self-esteem

  • Checked for clarity, adequacy, and effectiveness with the student – does this feedback help?

  • Actionable – with the student given time in which to respond to and act on feedback

  • Focuses on effort rather than success

Three stages to effective feedback

  1. Feed-up: Before feedback can be given, students need to know the learning intention(s). Feed-up clarifies for the student Where am I going? What are the goals? This information sets the context for feedback.

  2. Feedback: Feedback itself focuses on monitoring and assessing learning progression in relation to the learning intention or task. It is about How am I doing? What progress is being made towards the goals?

  3. Feed-forward: This relates to the next steps required for improvement on a specific task or learning intention. It is about Where to next? What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress? Here the answer is likely to be directed to the refinement of goals and seeking more challenging goals because these are most likely to lead to greater achievement.

You should read and understand your own school's marking and feedback policy so that you ensure that you are following the guidelines set out by your placement school/employer.

Further Reading

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