A policy for feedback, not marking

Less than two years ago I worked with a colleague on an update of our marking policy. Part of the change was a shift to calling it a feedback policy.

Unfortunately, what we did was gave it “Feedback policy” as a title, and then wrote a marking policy. Old habits die hard. But this is one that I’m determined to kill off. So over the past term and a half I have worked with staff across my school (mainly those who are full-time classroom teachers) to develop a new approach which is properly rooted in Feedback.

In doing so, I had a few aims, but the most pressing was to move the shift from focussing on marking for evidence, to a policy which identified evidence of feedback. (There is, after all, a reality that someone will want to scrutinise it at some point!) Part of the reason for that was my determination to try to reduce marking workload. To allow us all to Do Less, But Better.

As yet the policy has not been finalised and approved by governors, but as I have spoken about it, and many have asked about it, I thought it would be useful to set out some key points here.

Key Principles

The policy deliberately starts from some key evidence drawn from the EEF toolkit summary of research into Feedback:

section1.png

It’s notable that none of this requires written marking. Therefore, upon this evidence is built our outline of the key principles that underpin the policy. I would argue that these are the most important elements for teachers:

section2.png

Perhaps the first bullet point is the most important. I have had endless conversations with teachers who tell me that they are marking for someone other than the children. We want to put a stop to that.

The fifth point is also significant: perhaps the most valuable feedback that happens in schools has nothing to do with marking: it is the feedback a teacher gathers as a lesson progresses. That is where real immediate action can have immediate impact.

Feedback in Practice

Building on the work of the Assessment Commission, we have set out how feedback is given in three ways (in order of decreasing importance):

  1. Immediate feedback – at the point of teaching
  2. Summary feedback – at the end of a lesson/task
  3. Review feedback – away from the point of teaching (including written comments)

Again, it’s deliberately written to imply that written marking should be an approach of last resort. Often other methods are more appropriate, whether that be individual pointers in the lesson, follow-up tasks, or lesson adaptation based on reviews of work.

I’ve written before about the law of diminishing returns when it comes to marking books. Put simply, the most valuable feedback that comes from marking a book occurs in the first few seconds of looking at it. Teachers can make a lot of more use of that quick feedback than children ever will of written comments.

Consequently, our policy deliberately aims to give teachers the room to use the most effective forms of feedback, without insisting on the demands of written marking where it is unnecessary.

What about evidence?

The main reason most schools seem reluctant to move away from written marking is the need for evidence. How will Ofsted / the Local Authority / the RSC know that we’re giving good feedback, if it’s not written in the book?

The answer to this is obvious really, when we think about it. How does any school leader know where good effective teaching habits are being used? They watch the teaching.

So rather than trying to make our approach fit the need for evidence, we’ve taken the opposite approach: we’ll use the best methods available to us, and signpost inspectors and others to the evidence they will find (which often won’t be written):

section3.png

We’ve tried to make it obvious. We could have gone simpler: I was tempted simply to write “Go and look in the classroom!”, but I think we’ve found something a little clearer.

My hope is that with this clarity, teachers will feel able to lay off the red pen a bit, and start instead making decisions about how best to spend their time. Often, in my view, a cursory glance at the books, followed by a re-think of the next lesson is far more effective than any amount of comments. Even better if that re-think can be part of a collaborative discussion with other teachers in the team.

Other details

There’s more to the policy than these broad strokes. We do still have a written marking approach, and will still make use of highlighters to pick out key points and stampers to indicate common messages (particularly in KS1). We will still set targets based on our Key Objective framework.

But hopefully, we will also see teaching teams using more of their time next year to collaborate on planning the most effective lessons, and finding common solutions to common problems. And they may even get an evening or two back to spend with their families.

Do Less, But Better

16 thoughts on “A policy for feedback, not marking

  1. Helen King 24 May 2016 at 10:21 pm Reply

    Makes perfect sense to me!

  2. Mal 24 May 2016 at 10:52 pm Reply

    Whatever works for staff and students.

  3. Beth Budden 25 May 2016 at 10:19 am Reply

    Reblogged this on BethBuddenTeacher and commented:
    Thank you Michael!

  4. Beth Budden 25 May 2016 at 10:51 am Reply

    If assessment means ‘to sit beside’ (rather than sit in front, behind or somewhere else entirely) then a policy like this serves to reinforce this essential idea that a teacher’s job is to ‘sit along side’ the pupil and help them learn. I’ve always thought that teachers spend far too much time proving they are teaching rather than proving to themselves that pupils are learning. I like where this is going because it understands feedback as operating in both directions: from teacher to pupil, but also very much the reverse. It’s that responsive teaching, isn’t it. In the end, what teachers do, their classroom practice, needs to bring them increasingly closer to understanding where their pupils are and where they need to go next, but importantly, most importantly here!, to ensure this leads to pupils increasing their understanding of this for themselves, after all we can’t learn for them, much as we often seem to think we can. If teachers can take a gem from this intelligent policy idea it must be to question their classroom practice (both before, during and after lessons) and ask: Is this really going to impact learning, or is it just what I’ve been told will impact learning and show everyone I’m a ‘good’ teacher?’ Learning is pretty flat when pupils are simply compliant and so is teaching.Teachers must stop doing things to demonstrate they can teach, and stick to doing things that they know improve learning. The rest will then fall into place. There you go, that’s my short comment!🙂

  5. […] pupils in just the right way would have been time better spent. And Michael’s latest blog on marking and feedback is a must read on […]

  6. Sarah Binns 25 May 2016 at 7:34 pm Reply

    Wonderful piece.
    I’ve direct messaged you

  7. teachingbattleground 26 May 2016 at 5:46 am Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  8. […] Source: A policy for feedback, not marking […]

  9. Simon 26 May 2016 at 3:51 pm Reply

    Totally agree with this – I’ve always liked to think of feedback in the scientific sense (ie. that which feeds back into the teaching/learning process) rather than as another word for marking. Good work!

  10. […] After reading @michaelt1979’s “A policy for feedback not marking” https://michaelt1979.wordpress.com/2016/05/24/a-policy-for-feedback-not-marking/ […]

  11. R Waring 3 July 2016 at 4:02 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on rwaringatl.

  12. @Head_stmarys 4 July 2016 at 2:28 pm Reply

    This is fabulous stuff. We are currently writing St Mary’s latest marking policy which has now become a feedback policy. Are we okay to use your ideas and how best would I acknowledge your work as a source?

  13. Simon Clark 6 July 2016 at 7:39 am Reply

    I am also about to rewrite our marking / feedback policy – this is a brilliant starting point for us – thank you.

  14. David (@w0rdninja) 3 August 2016 at 12:25 pm Reply

    This is a fantastic post. Was your Feedback Policy accepted by the governors?

  15. Tahseen Akhtar 5 September 2016 at 2:52 am Reply

    Some brilliant ideas here. Thank you!

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