This blogpost is part of the October #blogsync initiative. You can read other blogs from the set at blogsync.edutronic.net
I love the #blogsync project, and always look forward to reading blogs on the theme. However, too often I find myself nodding along, agreeing, and then wondering how much of the wisdom really applies to my own students. Already this month there is a balance of blogs which reflects the more secondary-based balance of bloggers. It’s inevitable, and I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage any blogging, but there is sometimes an issue when the focus is largely on students at the upper end of that phase. As such, my blog will be less about specific examples of making marking work, but more on the generalities of how it applies to primary level teachers and their students.
There has been a great deal of advice and ideas about how to make marking more effective, and the use of focussed feedback and DIRT time is certainly recommendable. However, as students get younger, so the challenges of these approaches become greater. I teach Year 5 at the moment, so am in something of the middle ground, but you can imagine how difficult it might be to expect a Year 2 child to read and respond to written feedback in a meaningful way.
Does that mean that marking is less important in KS1/LKS2? I would argue not, but that its focus is necessarily different.
The nature of development of both students and teaching means that we rightly expect more independence of older students. When I taught KS3 I found marking feedback could often be reasonably complex and still be understood and acted upon by students. For example, when marking Year 7 history essays, I could comment on the need for a clearer explanation of a point, and expect the student to be able to consider that for themselves and edit appropriately. The challenge is very different when the main area for feedback is the need to use paragraphs appropriately, or to use the column method of subtraction.
Often with younger students the focus of marking is necessarily more on the work of the teacher. Interestingly, this seems to be a key area of assessment that is too easily overlooked. It also seems worthwhile to note, therefore, a tweet posted by Dylan Wiliam this week, when asked for an example of a mistake he had made which led to learning:
@DrChips_ Example of really big mistake: calling formative assessment formative assessment rather than something like "responsive teaching"—
Dylan Wiliam (@dylanwiliam) October 23, 2013
For primary teachers, particularly those with younger students, a lot of the process of marking needs to be about responsive teaching.
Take an example from my own recent assessments. I have used some processes not unlike those suggested in other blogs, such as formative use of a summative test (as suggested by @headguruteacher, Tom Sherrington), and the use of symbols and DIRT time (as championed by @Shaun_Allison). In some cases that has allowed students to act for themselves to improve their work or their understanding. However, the most important outcome of those processes has been my own awareness and understanding of what has been understood.
If I take a shortlist of key things I’ve taught so far this year, I can very quickly use my marking (and elements of my feedback) to identify my own areas of success and development. Column addition and perimeter have been well understood; multiplying/dividing by powers of 10, less so. Most of the students are confident with text-level structures of the non-fiction genres we’ve studied, but structuring paragraphs is going to be a target. The majority can recall the French subject pronouns in ‘order’, but fewer can correctly select the correct one on demand.
These aspects of feedback are not part of my written comments on students’ work – they are far too broad for that. They are elements which form my own feedback; the aspects which must guide my teaching over the coming weeks. They are areas which will benefit from re-visiting as a class. Alongside those are some more specific areas for individuals and small groups. Some of these can be tackled in brief discussions, others will need more focussed intervention, but all of these decisions should be outcomes of the marking process.
Sometimes I appreciate the superficially easier process of marking the work of younger students, but it’s clear that the younger the students, the truer Wiliam’s words are that formative feedback is as much about responsive teaching as it is student responses.
It’s perhaps worth noting at the end of this blog that the real challenge for me now is the management of these necessary interventions in a way which supports those who need it, while continuing to allow those who have secured the necessary learning to continue to make progress. Answers on a postcard?