Research School Network: Juggling Feedback Effectiveness and Efficiency Learn how Etone College’s feedback approaches have evolved and how the EEFs Guidance Report supported further reflections.
Juggling Feedback Effectiveness and Efficiency
Learn how Etone College’s feedback approaches have evolved and how the EEFs Guidance Report supported further reflections.
by Staffordshire Research School
We all know that life is very much a balancing act and that, some days, we are far better than others at keeping all the plates spinning in the air at the same time! We all also know that teaching is no different including how we manage the many aspects of our role whilst also finding time to provide effective feedback for our students.
Some of the answers to finding time might lie in collaborative planning, shared schemes of learning and central resources which can then be adapted by staff for individual groups thus freeing up more time for feedback. We could turn this on its head however and argue that, by saving time on feedback through time-efficient methods, we can free up the time to allow teachers more time to plan in this collegiate way. The answer might also lie in removing any unnecessary practices in school that use up teacher time to provide more time for the jobs that really matter. However, some of the answers also lie in our approaches to feedback itself.
So how can we balance providing purposeful and meaning feedback to our students that is acted upon and ensures progress, whilst also ensuring that we do not create overly burdensome assessment and feedback practices that impact negatively on staff wellbeing? How can we also minimise the opportunity costs of feedback that is not time efficient whilst ensuring that it remains high quality and moves learning forward?
Thankfully, reforms in teaching have put teacher workload at the forefront of current thinking and schools are, more than ever, considering the impact of all policies on teaching wellbeing. Many schools have adapted assessment and feedback policies to ensure that they provide high quality feedback to pupils whilst, at the same time, being mindful of the workload for staff. This is central to Recommendation 4 of this latest guidance report. At Etone, we put a very strong emphasis on workload reduction and staff wellbeing and monitor this through regular staff surveys. A wellbeing and workload committee, where all faculties are represented, ensures that staff have a voice and can bring suggestions and solutions, including ideas for workload conscious feedback. We also ensure that we take time to actively share any effective approaches for feedback with all staff through pedagogy briefings, CPD, lesson takeaways, Teach Meets and good practice peer observations and book looks. We recognise the power of sharing good practice and that there is certainly no need to reinvent the wheel!
For many years, teachers, pupils and parents alike have thought of feedback as grades, marks or written comments in exercise books and this type of feedback still, I believe, plays a very important role in ensuring that pupils know what they can do well, where they are going and how to get there. However, I also believe that feedback is far more holistic than this and that written feedback needs to form part of a more comprehensive package of feedback for pupils. The report is very clear that, rather than focus solely on the methods of feedback, schools should also ensure that all feedback follows the principles of the first three recommendations of the guidance namely that:
- We need to lay the foundations for effective feedback
- Deliver appropriately timed feedback that moves learning forward
- Plan for how pupils will receive the feedback
We re-wrote our assessment and feedback policy at Etone in 2018 and are currently reviewing it again. One of the first ways that we initially reviewed our practice at Etone was to give ownership of the timing of feedback back to our faculties and remove any arbitrary time frame for written feedback. Each subject has its own assessment calendar with the planning of assessment closely linked to the curriculum whilst also considering data collection points and managing pinch points for staff. We ask Directors of Learning to review the assessment calendar to ensure that is it providing high quality feedback for pupils, information for reporting and tracking progress but also is manageable for staff. In light of the latest guidance report, we are also reviewing our policy to not only ensure that we fully address the recommendations but also to enhance and formalise the part that verbal feedback has to play in feedback and include subject specific approaches.
One of approaches to high quality and time efficient feedback that the guidance report suggests is live marking. Live marking is when “feedback is given during the lesson rather than after the lesson” and can be undertaken with individual pupils during typical class teaching. This does come with a note of caution, however, in that there must be “consideration of the learning and focus of all pupils during this time”. At Etone, this is something that we would like to implement more fully although we have been using this strategy to some degree, including to live mark for literacy, for some time. Our live marking for literacy also capitalises on the skills of our TA colleagues. The verbal interaction that comes with live marking can also increase the effectiveness of the feedback as there is the opportunity for discussion with the pupil which can only serve to make feedback even more meaningful.
At Etone, we have also prioritised providing visualisers for staff. We make very effective use of visualizers not only to model what we expect of a piece of work to look like (to ultimately reduce the job feedback has to do) but to jointly review and assess work with a whole class. We often use an example of a pupil work but also make use of exemplars provided by examination boards which illustrate work at different levels and grades. In this way, pupils are really able to engage with mark schemes, fully understand success criteria and can give justifications for why a piece of work has been awarded a certain mark or grade. Using a visualizer to model feedback in this way is a great way to inform peer and self-assessment as pupils are much more confident to make judgements and provide feedback when asked to complete the same task for their own work or the work of others. We also make use of model answers to demonstrate standards and provide that “shared understanding of quality”, often with tasks provided for pupils to analyse what makes the answer effective at different grades. As with all forms of teacher feedback, we must remember that there should be opportunities for pupils to respond to and act on the feedback if it is going to fully impact on progress.
We have been using coded marking, which is the second strategy that the report suggests, for some time at Etone either to inform pupils of their targets or to provide very clear fix it time tasks. As we assess a piece of work, we look for common targets or tasks and then formulate these for the assessed piece of work. Some may be common across assessments or individual to each class. Pupils are then provided with some individual feedback, including positive comments on what they have done well, along with the codes that pertain to their individual piece of work. Time to improve the work is an embedded part of our practice as well as a planned element of pupil entitlement.
The report also suggests using codes in a slightly different way – linking them to the learning intentions of the task – with questions such as “does this offer clear evidence to substantiate your argument” – to guide pupil reflection and allow them to make corrections or redraft their work. Over time, if the same codes are used, they will become well embedded in practice and pupils will start to naturally use the questions to guide and inform their work. As with any strategy, the report reiterates that it is important that the codes are fully understood by pupils and that we, as teachers, model their use to ensure they are as effective as possible.
In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of ensuring that the work submitted by pupils for feedback is as highest quality as it can possibly be. The report calls this strategy “thinking like the teacher” – ensuring that the quality of written feedback is not “constrained by the quality of planning, editing and reflection exhibited in pupils’ written work”. In other words, before we spend time providing feedback, pupils should be given time to plan their work, redraft and revise, pre-empting what the teacher would say. A practical example that is used at Etone is to provide pupils with an A3 sheet for a practice question. Firstly, they decode the question to ensure that they fully understand what they are required to do. Next, they plan their answer, linking to prior learning with guidance and support provided. A copy of the mark scheme (pupil friendly) is provided to inform their answer as is a structure strip (differentiated) to guide their written response. We then build in time for peer review and redrafting before the final piece is submitted for teacher feedback. Not only does this approach allow the teacher to focus the feedback on the parts of the answer where the pupil really needs support but we also believe that the pupils understand the task far better as a result of the structure provided. This can then be carried forward into formal assessments and examinations.
These three approaches are all very helpful strategies to make our feedback more time efficient and no doubt, schools will devise their own. The report also notes that written comments can be effective and should not be rejected by teachers solely because of the associated opportunity cost. They offer a valuable opportunity to provide individual feedback to pupils in relation to the task, the subject or their self-regulation. The report recommends that, what we do need to do, is carefully consider a number of key points with regard to written comments which include:
- when they are offered
- ensure that they are useful
- carefully monitor the time spent on writing them
The key message for me here is that teachers do not need to provide written comments all the time but that they are part of a carefully planned menu of feedback that we can select from to best meet the needs of our pupils. As I stated at the start of this blog, feedback to me is holistic and includes a diet of many different strategies for pupils. Whether this be modelled feedback using a visualizer, a high quality model answer, feedback codes, whole class feedback, examiner commentaries, verbal feedback or the more traditional written comments, what is most important is that it moves learning forward. Pupils need planned opportunities to respond to our feedback and we should carefully consider when and how it is received in order to maximise its benefits. At Etone, we do provide written comments for pupils and give them guidance on what went well, targets and fix it time tasks. However, we also make sensible use of whole class feedback, drawing together common strengths and targets to feed back to pupils, alongside marking codes and well planned fix it time lessons with model examples to ensure that we provide our pupils with high quality feedback as well as keeping workload in mind.
For me, the most important question, as both an experienced teacher and a parent of children of secondary school age, is does the feedback method I am using provide high quality feedback? Does it allow pupils to make progress? Will it be well received? How can pupils act on it now and in the future?
Recommendation 5 of the guidance report discusses the use of verbal feedback, which is something that, as teachers, we have always provided for our pupils as part of “effective instruction”. We may provide verbal feedback through a whole class discussion in response to a misconception that we have picked up or an individual conversation providing support for a pupil during a lesson. We might provide it “spontaneously as a quick prompt for a task” or in response to a pupil query. Therefore, verbal feedback can take several forms – whole class or individual – and be stand alone or work alongside written comments. Verbal feedback is nothing new – what is different, however, is ensuring that we recognise this as an important part of feedback to pupils. It is one of those items on our menu that we can use to deliver the best possible diet for pupils in terms of effective teacher feedback and is certainly something that we will be enhancing more fully as part of our regular policy review.
Whilst verbal feedback is time efficient, it is not just as an easy alternative to written feedback. As with all forms of feedback, it has its place and value and needs to be both carefully considered and follow the principles laid out in the guidance report. However, there are obvious and clear advantages to its use including the conversational aspect of verbal feedback. An observation of a secondary school teacher in the guidance report makes reference to the fact that pupils take the feedback more seriously and teachers are able to clarify points with pupils and check that they fully understand their feedback.
As a child, I remember being called out to the teacher’s desk, where they would mark my work with me there and talk to me about what I had done – an early example of effective live marking and verbal feedback! As you can see, we are not re-inventing the wheel or devising new practices here, just combining all of them together to make our feedback as effective as possible. Did I receive that feedback better as the teacher had explained it to me? The answer is probably yes and I probably welcomed the one to one support. I probably understood the feedback better and received it better because it had been explained to me by my teacher (who at primary school is clearly always also your idol!) Did the class suffer as a result of the one-to-one attention? Probably not as long as they were learning and that the time given to me did not detract from their learning experiences, focus or need for support.
As the review of practice concludes in the guidance report: ‘Spoken feedback is valued by teachers because it is consistent with their views of good feedback, namely that it … is possible to tune spoken feedback to the student based on their understanding in the moment, that it focuses on next steps, and that it avoids some of the problems associated with written marking in terms of communication … It is further valued because of its connection to the personal relationship between student and teacher’
So what strategies can we plan to use for verbal feedback? The report makes some helpful recommendations of ideas that we can all try in our lessons with perhaps no or only small adaptations. These include:
Targeting verbal feedback at the learning intentions means that you use the language of your learning intentions to direct pupil attention back towards them to support a more structured verbal feedback. How often do we share learning intentions with pupils? The answer is probably every lesson. Whether you call it “pre-flight checklist” or a success criteria, the report recommends ensuring that we are all clear about the learning intentions and that verbal feedback makes good use of these. At Etone, we provide pupils with topic checklists and learning journeys, have clear lesson outcomes and also share success criteria for assessment tasks to ensure focus. This sort of criteria is also provided for some homework tasks which allows for more effective peer or self-assessment once completed.
We are all far too familiar with the situation where we provide verbal feedback to an individual or group of pupils only for them to have forgotten what we said a few moments later. In a busy classroom, the guidance suggests that we can guard against this by encouraging pupils to write action points. This means encouraging pupils to make a note of key actions following your verbal feedback to refer to and guide their next steps.
We have already talked about how teachers can make effective use of visualisers
in lessons to model and review work earlier in this blog. By providing a visual cue, as well as verbal feedback, the report suggests that this will help pupils to process the feedback more successfully. Not all staff will have access to a visualizer or be confident in its use but, as a school, we have prioritised providing visualisers as well as offering CPD and good practice observations so that all staff are confident in their use. I feel that this is one of the most significant ways in which we can improve whole class feedback for pupils.
Finally, we all remember only too well the challenges of school closures in the pandemic and adjusting to remote learning as well as trying to find effective ways to provide feedback. One of the ways that some schools approached this, and a strategy included in the guidance was to video or audio record feedback. One positive that has come out of the pandemic, I believe, is that we all make much better use of new technologies to support our teaching even now we are back in the classroom. This strategy provides feedback to pupils that they can replay and use again later. For me, this is another technique that can be tried in schools that, as the report suggests, could also aid retention of the teacher feedback.
I hope that my reflections have given at least some food for thought and some helpful observations of how the guidance report might inform the next steps that schools can take. For me, the most important question, as both an experienced teacher and a parent of children of secondary school age, is does the feedback method I am using provide high quality feedback? Does it allow pupils to make progress? Will it be well received? How can pupils act on it now and in the future? Then I put on my other hat as a school leader with both responsibility for assessment and feedback and staff wellbeing and ask myself whether the feedback method is as time efficient as it could be? Will it have an opportunity cost? Will it impact upon staff wellbeing? As we all know only too well, it is not always easy to find a solution that fits all these criteria – we are back to the juggling that I referred to at the start of this blog again. However, what I believe is possible, if we consider feedback holistically, is that we can use a range of strategies at different times and in different situations to ensure that we make our feedback as high quality and workload conscious as we possibly can.
Access the EEF’s Guidance Report on Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning, and supporting resources here
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