One of the two big takeaways which I discussed in my clip for Craig Barton’s ‘slice of advice’ podcast was that you don’t have to mark pupils’ written work.
I think the first place that I heard of this radical idea was from several of the teachers at Michaela School. They promote the idea of whole-class feedback: instead of marking pupils’ work, look through it, note down common strengths and weaknesses or misconceptions and use this to plan feedback which you deliver to the whole class.
Many of the advantages of this approach are discussed by Andrew Percival from minutes 14-18 on Craig’s podcast: It’s easier to give detail and nuance verbally, it gives teachers more time to think about planning lessons, it encourages focus on ‘improving the pupil, not the work’ (a quote from Dylan Wiliam).
For me, another major advantage is not having to spend hours writing individual comments… I did so for 10 years and it was the one part of my job that I hated, even though I knew that the research showed that it was more effective than giving numerical scores. I guess I just didn’t think enough about whether there may be an alternative.
I used whole-class feedback last term together with online homework. I set this through diagnosicquestions.com but next term I plan to trial drfrostmaths.com, particularly because I like the fact that there is the option for adaptive level of difficulty in the questions. Pupils get immediate feedback as to whether or not their answers are correct and hence the chance, which many have taken, to correct their mistakes.
Once all pupils have completed the task, I look through the answers and choose which questions I wish to discuss in class. Last term, I then presented solutions to these questions, or asked a pupil who had correctly solved the problem to do so. Next term, I think I will try to present a slightly different question (possibly just changing the numbers) because this will be less frustrating for those pupils who have already answered the question correctly. It will also give those pupils who struggled originally the chance to re-do the question to show that they have improved their understanding.
I’ve just mentioned one negative of the whole-class feedback approach: some of the feedback won’t be relevant to some pupils, so we may see this as a waste of time. An alternative would be try to give verbal feedback based in a more individual way, but this would take a large amount of time with a whole class. One advantage of individual written feedback is that producing it does not use up the limited resource of lesson time.
Another advantage of written feedback may be its longer-term nature. A pupil may well have forgotten what you said to them yesterday, but if you wrote it down they can go back and look at it again. As I developed as a teacher before I stopped writing comments, I was getting better at directing pupils to look back at my past comments when they had not taken my suggestions on board.
Overall, I feel that these two issues do not outweigh the advantages of whole-class feedback (though from my comments above, you can tell I’m a bit biased!) However, they mean that I haven’t completely ruled out written feedback.
What do you think?