The average teacher spends 3 hours a week marking student work. For the UK alone this represents almost one billion dollars a year of investment into what is, essentially, one of the most personalised strategies currently in use. John Hattie recently collected together the work of numerous researchers who found that, when done well, this feedback has the most significant impact on improving learning. Black, William and others found that when done badly it can actually reduce the effectiveness of learning and even be harmful. Here are five suggestions for how feedback can be personalised and thereby made most effective.
One - Provide time for a response
When marked or assessed work is handed back or electronically sent back to the student, allow time for them to respond. This is sometimes called DIRT (Directed Improvement and Reflection Time). The expectation should be that the student will write more in response to the marking than the teacher writes in their comments. This is so that the student engages with the comment and reflects on the meaning of it. This first suggestion really is essential and without it the next four cannot really be implemented effectively.
Two - Ask questions that require further thought
Make sure that all teacher comments are in the form of a question that can be answered. These can be written questions, standard extension questions or coded questions but however they are used, it should be possible for the student to add a response that requires them to think and/or review previous work. If this strategy is used as part of class time then it will discourage students from handing in pieces of ‘research’ that have been simply sourced on the internet and handed in without a full understanding.
Three - Use rubrics whenever possible
When marking work, teachers often have an unstated rubric in their head. If this rubric is shared with the students then it allows them to attempt to take control of the outcome of the assessment. In one example, researchers asked students to draw a house without giving them any indication of the marking rubric. When the work was returned, students were told they had gained no marks for effort and had lost marks because they had not included a garage, a pool and a barbeque. The students were understandably angry because, had they seen the rubric beforehand they would have included these items. The task is a good illustration of how we often set tasks assuming that students know how to be successful without giving them the framework for improvement they need. A simple example is ‘key words’: every time a task is set, include a list of key words which must be included in the response.
Four - Make use of peer assessment
The use of peer assessment is so efficient and so pedagogically sound that it continually amazes me how little it is used in everyday teaching. The reason, I suspect is twofold; firstly education systems are still making the mistake of believing that the teacher is the source of all wisdom in the classroom and have yet to really appreciate what the research has been telling them; secondly schools tend to be driven by correct answers and exams and are not yet devoting much time to the development of such skills as reflection, communication, collaboration etc. The easiest way of introducing basic peer assessment is to get students to swap books then provide them with the answers so they can mark their friend’s work. This will not bring about much debate but it will save hours of teacher time. Next easiest is to ask a question and then read out the answer of one of the students so that others can suggest improvements. Next, when you give back marked work you can ask another student to interpret your comments and write a PIN for their friend. A PIN is a Positive, Improvement and Next step. They will write the thing they liked best about the work, the way they feel it could have been improved and a suggestion for further work. Some schools use ‘Three stars and a wish’ in which the student must say three things that were good about the work and one way it could be improved. Peer assessment can be used before the work is handed in so that the student has time to correct simple mistakes they may have missed.
Five - Return it as rapidly as you can
Impact is increased enormously if the feedback occurs quickly. The trick is finding ways of requiring reflection from the student based on minimum focused input from the teacher. Right and wrong answers can be provided by software or marked by the student/peers via a mark scheme. Teacher time should not really be spent on such marking especially since a student requires minimum reflection when just seeing if the answer was right or wrong. Here are some quick and easy techniques you can use. Put two ticks next to something that is excellent – if the student gets two ticks they must write why it is excellent. Write WWWT (what’s wrong with this) – student needs to find out. Only key pieces of work are marked – there is a clear policy in the school that classwork is not marked so that feedback can be focused more pointedly and more rapidly. Overall summary is not written – student writes this. Name some experts – rather than writing out solutions or explanations, write down the name of the student that had the best answer or make a note of who these are so they can be asked to read out their answer allowing others to write their own suggestions for improvement.
It takes quite a while to train students in the use of such feedback methods and often the homework that is set turns out to be unsuitable for such depth of response. The key is to experiment, be patient and when you have a method that works take time to embed it as a habit. Longer research projects spanning a few weeks that have weekly review feedback built in can be a useful mechanism for ensuring creativity and ownership of the work. Such projects may require team efforts by teachers but can result in a personalised dialogue with the student that can have lasting impact. When you have developed an idea that works, share it with your colleagues.