Good work! Read these tips and watch your marking and feedback improve

Teenagers demonstrate a lot of inconsistencies. One day someone is their best friend. Next day they’re not. One day they want to be a goth, tomorrow it’s time to be a hippie. But one inconsistency I have never got my head around is how even some of the biggest slackers still like to see feedback on their work and assessments. It’s like, you never handed in homework, you spent your class-time sprinkling pencil shavings in Max’s hair and you left the exam room early…yet you feel a grave injustice when you haven’t had “enough” comments applied to your work? Anyway. Feedback is not only popular (apparently), it is central to the learning process. However, it can soak up a tremendous amount of time if done inefficiently, time that would be better suited reflecting upon, and developing, lessons. Here’s some tips for dispensing feedback efficiently and effectively:

Utilise symbols

For common errors and targets, deploy a letter or coloured highlighter when these items appear e.g. providing an example, topic sentences, explanatory sentences. This will be supplemented by questions or comments from the teacher to support the individual’s progress. The next step is, uh, key to the learning process and there are a couple of options. The key can be provided with the student’s work. Alternatively, after the work has been returned, the key should be provided on a projector screen to the students. They are required to write out the corresponding feedback next to the symbols on their pages. In so doing, the students are forced to engage with their feedback and their work, instead of quickly scanning the exam and never considering it again.

Utilise students

When it comes to a written piece of classwork (as opposed to assessments), exploit the cheap labour…err, students…in front of you.

  1. Instead of taking home 20 – 30 exercise books or exercises, collect the work of 5 or so students that collectively represent the ability range of the class. Scan the mid-range response and display it to the class so that it can be critiqued as a group. In this way, the editing process is modelled with strengths and weaknesses being identified in a cooperative effort. An improved response is then produced together. The students follow this up by editing their own work independently. Ideally, this process improves the students’ ability to self-critique.
  2. Peer assessment can be problematic as each student’s feedback is only as effective as their peer is willing to be. However, the power of averages can override this by submitting each student’s work to the eyes of multiple peers. Arming the class with post it notes, direct them to move around the class critiquing each other’s work. Students are aiming to be “kind, specific and helpful”: highlighting what they like, highlighting what is a weakness, and outlining how they could improve. This “Gallery Critique” is based on Ron Berger’s book, An Ethic of Excellence, and Andrew Tharby has discussed his success with it too (

students impact teachersUtilise success criteria and feedback banks

Produce a table of success criteria or feedback banks that you can tick or highlight according to student achievement, and supplement with specific notes of praise or actionable feedback. Alternatively, supply the students with the success criteria and some highlighters, directing them to critique their own work. You can then review the work, simply affirming the accurate reflections and adjusting the less accurate considerations.

Some Universals of Feedback and Marking

The points above describe some modes of marking and feedback. The points below outline how to make that marking and feedback as powerful as possible

  1. Provide feedback as soon as possible – feedback is most effective while the work experience and content is still familiar
  2. Be as specific as possible – “Good” and “Vague” is useless. What is good or vague about the work?
  3. Language should be as simple and clear as possible
  4. Emphasise the learning process – address where the students are coming from (have they improved?) and where they are going (what are their new goals?)
  5. Offer the opportunity to amend their work – following the receipt of feedback, encourage students to action the recommendations in the piece of work.
  6. Be aware of individual nature – feedback won’t necessarily be received equally. Some students require prodding to perform to their potential, other students are more sensitive and require a more gentle approach.
  7. Be aware of teenagers’ social sensitivity – don’t compare students and don’t correct publicly. Focus on individual progress and address students individually and quietly
  8. Be honest – make students aware that your feedback will be direct and honest because you care about their progress. This will help them understand exactly how they are doing so that they know exactly how to improve. Do not be insincere with praise – an excess of praise could be discouraging as it conveys low-expectations and even untrustworthiness
  9. Chunk consistently – pump out the marking in a consistent stream of little blocks at a time. This limits fatigue and the consequent decline in feedback quality.

With these techniques now behind you, marking and feedback provision shouldn’t look as challenging as it once did. Enjoy…!

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