Marking ≠ Feedback

This has been something of a bugbear (who knew that that was a single word!) of mine for some time now.

Every time feedback gets discussed, many people go out of their way to emphasise how they have found more effective ways to give feedback to children. There seems to be widespread agreement that written comments are not the only way of giving feedback, and everyone has their method of reducing workload without sacrificing the quantity of feedback given to children.

But the focus is always on ways to reduce marking workload. It never addresses the other aspects of feedback.

Andy Tharby explains this much better in his blog than mine (so do go and read the link at the end!), but the EEF toolkit also shares some important points here.

Firstly, this most undervalued statement is its opening offer on the role of feedback :



Nobody ever seems to mention the second object in that sentence. And yet feedback given to the teacher is, I would argue, of far more value than that given to the pupils. After all, the teacher is both the expert, and the one in control.

More to the point, teachers spend so much time worrying about the feedback they’re giving to children that they can too quickly neglect the feedback they could be collecting themselves. Certainly it can become undervalued.

Any teacher who has observed a trainee will recognise the number of occasions in a lesson taught by a novice, where valuable information is provided by the students, but missed by the trainee teacher. That information could be in the pupils’ questions, their answers, their first attempts at a task, or even in their facial expressions or body language. Much of the art of excellent teaching is the skill of responding appropriately to this feedback. That information “about the learner’s performance relative to learning goals” is invaluable in helping the teacher to reshape the lesson.  Often, the feedback a teacher receives leads to feedback for the pupils on their progress and next steps. (Although not always in the form of marking, as mentioned in my previous blog “Hidden Feedback“)

A good teacher might respond to hundreds of pieces of such feedback in  a day.

And then there’s the marking. Or rather, there’s the opportunity to look at the work the students have completed.

Naturally sometimes there are opportunities for further feedback to be given to the children, and so written comments, or codes, or videos, or highlighters – or all manner of tricks of the trade might be useful. But the most important feedback here, once again, is for the teacher.

A first glance at a piece of work can tell you a huge amount. A closer reading, or scrutiny of the calculations can indicate a mass of information about the progress students have made, their misconceptions, their areas of strength and future needs. It can help to shape teaching, planning – even the whole curriculum in some cases.

But if the priority is to provide feedback for the pupils – written or otherwise – then some of these opportunities can be lost. If the teacher seeks information that can be converted into childspeak, or highlighted in some way, there is  a risk that they might overlook some of the valuable insights that are available.

Worse, if the demand for evidenced feedback is too great, then a teacher may put off even looking at the work until time allows for greater depth marking. A whole opportunity to obtain feedback has been lost. Even where shortcuts can be found – and many of them have much to recommend them – the most important aspect of feedback to be obtained from a teacher looking at books, must surely be that gleaned by the teacher that allows him or her to ensure that:


And if written comments, or sticky dots, or pink highlighting, or a video clip, or a QR code allow you an opportunity to provide further feedback directly to the student to allow them to redirect their actions, then all well and good.

But there’s a lot more to feedback, than marking – written or otherwise!

The post was inspired in part by a #PrimaryRocks chat on Twitter, but also by the excellent post on a closely-related theme by Andy Tharby of Durrington High School, Worthing:



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7 thoughts on “Marking ≠ Feedback

  1. cazzypot2013 11 January 2016 at 11:26 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. Tim Stirrup 12 January 2016 at 8:49 am Reply

    Marking does not equal feedback, but marking is a subset of feedback. My long held opinion is that most online marking for maths completely removes the ability to look at the work pupils do, as all that is obvious is a tick or cross. None of the actual work, of the maths, is visible. In my opinion, this is why the OECD find that those who use technology for practicing maths perform worse than those who don’t. Because the teacher does not get the feedback they need to correct, to intervene, to demonstrate.

    We remove teacher workload in one area – marking maths by using multiple choice or single answer online software – to replace it with other much more expensive options. Year 11 interventions, one to one tuition, lots of revision classes, KS2 test retakes, Year 7 catchup, and so on.

    • Michael Tidd 12 January 2016 at 8:55 am Reply

      How very true. A classic case of false economies. We prioritise the doing and marking of homework over the use of homework to further learning.

  3. Recent Reads – ajgingell 19 January 2016 at 9:29 pm Reply

    […] Marking vs Feedback from @MichaelT1979 […]

  4. Andy McHugh 12 February 2017 at 9:48 am Reply

    A great piece, thanks! I wonder how many teachers, for whatever reason, see marking as ‘something to get out of the way’ and so just write comments that pass muster in a work scrutiny, without really exploring how they could alter their teaching.

  5. […] I realised without knowing it that I do it naturally there, too. Michael Tidd’s blog here discusses the feedback children give to us and how tweaks in what we do with that feedback can […]

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