The conflation of marking and feedback has led to a pernicious culture in schools that equates lots of written marking in books with high quality feedback. The irony is, of course, that the evidence on written marking is thin (read the EEF’s review on the evidence of written marking: ‘A marked improvement’) and sometimes great feedback is nigh on impossible to evidence.
It’s difficult to pick the best metaphor to describe the profusion of marking and consequent impact on teacher wellbeing but I’m going to go with this (and excuse the hyperbole – I’m an English teacher): teachers are drowning in a sea of marking. At the start of term we dip our toes into the sea of marking (got to test the temperature) and before we know it our feet have been pulled out from under us by an undercurrent we didn’t see coming. Midway through the term we’ve lost sight of land and when the holidays hit we use that time to wade our way back to shore. It’s an exhausting and demoralising pattern as predictable as the ebb and flow of tides. We joke about teacher widows (pity those in relationships with teachers) but part of the problem is that our teachers have been lost at sea.
Whatever the metaphor, I can’t help but see a correlation between the fetishisation of marking (read this from David Didau) and a teacher recruitment and retention crisis. If middle and senior leaders want to keep hold of their teachers then they need to look again at what they are expecting of their staff in terms of marking and feedback. I’m not, however, expecting our senior leaders to stand, Cnut-like, on the shore and command the incoming tide to stop.
Of course our students deserve good feedback to help them improve and we as teachers need to be able to identify what students know and what their misconceptions might be to inform where we go next with our teaching. However, we can do a lot better with how we navigate the sea of marking to ensure that fewer teachers are being washed-up, bedraggled and browbeaten, before their time.
I was lucky enough to attend the #LeadingLearningsHRS course at Huntington Research School yesterday and one of the documents I was given to read is a Research Summary of Marking and Feedback. In it, there is a helpful summary of ‘modest conclusions’ that can be drawn from the EEF ‘A marked improvement’ document about what makes for effective feedback:
- Prompt questions rather than teacher corrections promote greater student ownership over the correction process
- If students are given the lesson time needed to engage with marking, then coded marking is just as effective as written comments
- Giving students adequate time and support to help them understand comments and, in particular, highly specific targets will yield the most positive results
- A focus on the quality of feedback as opposed to quantity and frequency is likely to lead to greater progress for students
- Feedback should be timely, so oral feedback is often appropriate in a way that written marking is not
I think marking crib sheets (the brainchild of @mrthorntonteach though I’d also recommend reading Jo Facer’s blog for how they do feedback at Michaela which is similar in approach to the idea of a crib sheet) meet a lot of these features of effective feedback with the added boon of being teacher friendly.
I have been using marking crib sheets since the Autumn term. The first time I used them I managed to mark a complete set of 30 books in under an hour – a record breaking time for me. I was able to get a feel for how my students were doing and also give personalised feedback but I didn’t have to lug all of the books home and spend the usual 3 hours diligently writing all over their books in a worthy attempt to provide quality feedback.
Since then I’ve encouraged my team to use marking crib sheets and have been explicit about not expecting to see so much written marking in students’ books (though it’s a hard habit to break – sometimes we can’t help ourselves and that’s fine). School policy dictates that once or twice a term students receive WWW/EBI feedback on a piece of work and then complete a ‘yellow box’ activity to act on this feedback – this ties in very nicely with the crib sheets. We can take in students’ books, knock up a crib sheet and give students numbered targets on an assessment piece. Sorted.
I think it’s really important that the valuable time teachers spend marking is not wasted. If we don’t give students time to read, reflect and act on our feedback we might as well not bother. What did we give last Sunday up for if students just flick their eyes over what we’ve written (which could be beautifully personal and even witty) before cracking on with something new? So I expect my team to use a lesson to go through their feedback with the class – perhaps flashing a few great examples under the visualiser – before getting students to complete a task linked to their personal targets. Whilst students are getting on with their ‘DIRT Task’ (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time) teachers can circulate and give 1-2-1 support and specific verbal feedback.
As we review and refine this approach, I’m hopeful that it is enabling teachers to give good quality, valuable and timely feedback to their students in a way which recognises the importance of their wellbeing. It might even mean that teachers look through their books more often because they’re not put off by the expectation to scrawl on every page.
See below a few examples of crib sheets in action in my classroom which I hope shows the many ways it can be used. If you’ve made it that far, at the very bottom of this post you’ll find a link to a google drive with some templates you can download to use/adapt.
Having a completed a 2b style question, my middle set year 8s received an A5 copy of a marking crib sheet in their books. Here’s an example of the written feedback my students receive (in line with school policy) including a personal WWW comment and numbered EBI targets (which refer to the numbers on the crib sheet) followed by a personalised DIRT task which the student has completed in a yellow box and annotated with how her writing has been improved:
Here’s another yellow box improvement and self-assessment (in blue pen) of a DIRT task focused on what she thinks I would now say about her work:
I think this is evidence of students really engaging with the feedback they received on the crib sheets and there’s evidence of real improvement. All of this with only an hour of my time spent going through their books! What’s even more encouraging is that the class have responded really well to this form of feedback.
Here’s my first ever crib sheet. This wasn’t following an assessment, I was giving the crib sheet a go for a general book look and trialled including an image of a praise-worthy bit of writing. NB: I have used initials for the purposes of sharing here but would ordinarily write students’ names.
An example of a crib sheet for giving feedback on a year 8 Animal Farm formative assessment:
An example of KS3 Paper 2 Section A Q1-3 feedback that doubled as cover lesson instructions:
Here’s a couple of examples of it in use for year 11 Lit essay feedback:
Like the look of them? Find a few templates here.
Interested in how you can be wellbeing friendly whilst still giving great feedback on PPEs? Read this.