Manageable, meaningful and motivating

One of my professional focus areas in 2016 is around marking. Student voice in 2015, and at the end of the first term this year, has shown my area for improvement to be ‘timely feedback’.

I’m going to be straight up here; it bugs me. I feel like I am battling and tackling marking all the time.   So to not receive strongly positive ‘student voice’ in this area is a bit disappointing. (To clarify, the feedback isn’t strongly negative either, just a bit ‘meh’ around this aspect). I swear, I could work seven days around the clock and I still wouldn’t achieve all that I would love to achieve for my students.

And, I am on-the-hoof most of the time as a teacher, aiming to get around everyone in the classroom–but with some squeakier wheels than others, it is never going to be a perfect science. Even if I gave quality oral feedback to every student in my class, every lesson, I suspect ‘student voice surveys’ would still show room for improvement in ‘timely feedback’.

This is because students, and parents, and teachers, tend to think that feedback is only of any value if it is written, probably in red or green, on the student’s work. If it hasn’t been inked, it hasn’t been given feedback.

Imagine my delight when I discovered in the UK an independent review group has just published a report on Eliminating Unnecessary Workload Around Marking.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/511061/Marking_report_240316.pdf

A summary of what that report contained which resonated with me:

  • Effective marking/feedback can happen without written comment
  • Not all written feedback should be eliminated, but it should be proportionate
  • Good quality feedback is measured by how the student is able to approach the next task
  • There is little evidence that extensive written comments improve student outcomes
  • That you must spend hours marking student work to be considered a good teacher is a myth
  • All feedback should be manageable, meaningful and motivating
  • The overemphasis on written feedback prevents teachers from working with students in a meaningful way
  • That ‘marking’ might just be more valuable as evidence to demonstrate teacher quality in the eyes of parents and school leaders, than actually having an impact on student outcomes.
  • Marking should only ever be to improve the outcomes for students
  • Too much feedback can actually take the responsibility for learning from the student  

Loosely and instinctively, I knew that setting ‘timely feedback’ as my PD focus would require a shift in three different aspects of feedback practice.  First, the need to manage time in such a way that there is more for the can-be-drudgery of ‘marking’, secondly, research better ways to approach feedback (peer, and self, and how to make it meaningful/efficient), and last of all, educate students that they are receiving ‘timely feedback’ nearly every day in class; they just need to learn to recognise it when it happens.

Yes, I need to not put off the pile of assessments that I carry home and back to school without taking it out of my bag some nights–perhaps because I ‘procrastinate’ with some other work, like resource writing or unit planning or ….

But, there are clearly some other practices we need to identify and adopt which might just change the culture in our classrooms around feedback. I’ve begun by using the audio-to-text feature on Google Docs to record my thoughts as I read the work. Much faster! One of my senior IB girls recently recorded on her phone our conference about her essay.  And there must be many more practical strategies like this. 

I’ll update with what I find in my search. As they say, watch this space.

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