Research School Network: Whole Class Feedback: a primary case study Using whole class feedback to reduce staff workload and help students achieve next steps

Whole Class Feedback: a primary case study

Using whole class feedback to reduce staff workload and help students achieve next steps

by Huntington Research School
on the

Back in the summer of 2020, there was so much uncertainty about what school would look like in September. Was remote learning going to take precedence? Were things going to return to normal? What was normal anymore? So many unanswered questions, but one thing we knew for certain was that we were going to be very busy.

Our priority was to support children returning back to school routines and learning. As a whole school, we needed to make sure that now, more than ever, our time was being used as efficiently as possible and any activity that seemed time consuming, with very little impact, needed eliminating.

We reflected on what we were spending the majority of our non-teaching time on. The answer always reverted back to marking. Our policy at the time followed quite a traditional marking approach: lots of written commentary by the teacher. We knew this needed changing to reduce teacher workload and use our time more efficiently.

I was first introduced to the term whole-class feedback’ around two years ago. I naively believed it to just be a pro forma, which teachers filled in at the end of their marking. An extra thing to do. I was always making notes after marking anyway, but often on bits of scrap paper or whatever I could get my hands on at the time. These notes often referred to incomplete work or presentational issues; never anything relating to the misconceptions of the class: I kept a mental note of these. I would also often lose these notes, so this pro forma interest me: it would help me to become better organised and therefore I began using it.

Example pro forma
Example of whole class feedback proforma

It wasn’t until I later visited St Matthias’s in London, where Clare Sealy was the head of at the time, that I really began to understand the real meaning of whole-class feedback. We met with the English leader who modelled delivering whole-class feedback and I began to really understand why it was becoming such a trend.

There’s no denying that written commentary in books is time consuming and can be a very repetitive process. Often you find yourself writing the same comment several times over and feeling frustration when pupils do not act on or understand what you have written. There are many times when you write in children’s books the improvements needed, but then do not see any improvements made. This visit made it apparent to me that our children most likely did not know how to make the improvements; they really needed to be shown not just told. What whole-class feedback allows you to do is save time, address the whole-class in one go with the common misconceptions and model to them how to make the changes. Bingo.

Dylan Wiliam uses this diagram to describe the basic concepts around formative assessment:

Formative assessment

These, Wiliam argues, are the core aspects that we need to be part of formative assessment, whether in writing or verbally to the class. However, I would say that for me the efficiency of talking to, explaining, picking up on body language, asking and answering questions, adapting and refining our explanations is so much greater than attempting to write the perfect written comment’ to ensure that children 1. Know what they are learning 2. How they are getting on with that 3. What they need to do to take the next step.

I started trialling whole-class feedback with my Year 3 class shortly after the visit to St Matthias and I could already see benefits such as:

The time saved from written marking allowed for better preparation for the next lesson.
- Around 75% of children addressed errors in their books during that lesson whereas before only 1/5 children would respond to commentary.
- Children were able to ask questions about the improvements and develop discussions to deepen their understanding.
- On a single sheet of paper, I can see the bigger picture on how lessons went and I had a record to reflect back on.

This academic year it was rolled out more widely across English and Maths. All teachers were given a uniformed pro forma to follow and we had several training sessions to model how to carry it out effectively. Around 2 weeks after implementation, all teachers met again and reflected on how the new strategy was going. We agreed that a few box titles needed adjusting on our pro forma and we fine-tuned how much feedback to give in one go to avoid cognitive overload.

Fast forward to today and we have made plans to implement it into non-core subjects too. Staff are able to mark a class set of books in under 15 minutes and provide purposeful feedback the next day, which children act on. Support staff are now involved in the feedback too, adding their own comments onto the pro forma at the end of each lesson and supporting in feeding back. Previously staff would rush marking because they had so much to get through, which then resulted in poor quality feedback. Both teachers and children now have a much clearer understanding about what needs improving and how things should be improved.

Shifting from written commentary in books to verbal feedback really was a huge culture change and to some, seen as a large risk. And I can see that. Marking has always meant large volumes of written feedback. It’s just what we have always done. But really, when we reflect deeper on the impact of our old approach, we now know it didn’t have the desirable outcomes that we thought it did. I’ve had conversations with colleagues since who say they are apprehensive about implementing it in their schools as commentary in books proves teachers are marking consistently. I don’t see this as a good reason not to have a go. We are still marking consistently: just in a way that is unconventional to some. Regularly monitoring of completed pro formas and identifying progression in children’s books has since become the evidence and proof of teachers’ competency.

I’ve recently just read Mary Myatt’s fantastic new release, Back On Track. She refers to how schools should strip back on all the busyness and reflect on which activities really impact learning. We feel this is exactly what we have done. Myatt says that if children have done something incorrectly, chances are it’s because they don’t know how, so why give them the task to self-correct? Our new approach gives clarity to both teachers and children on the next steps in learning. We’re finding it a win, win situation.

Sophie Law is a Year 6 Teacher at St Matthew’s Catholic Primary in Bradford and an Evidence Lead in Education for Huntington Research School

More from the Huntington Research School

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more