What does effective feedback look like?
In defining feedback, and this does sound obvious, but something has to happen first. Like the way bats or whales tend to use sound to listen to the echoes: sonic use. So, feedback is a reaction, it’s a consequence of the performance.
I think there are two types basically, that’s useful and, probably, useless. In terms of educational feedback, the purpose is generally to provide information that consolidates or improves performance.
There are numerous forms of feedback – oral feedback, such as about a piece of work, observation of a task or response to a question acknowledgment, the ticking of a page to say that the work is actually being looked at, and then we use things like grades or marks, and then written feedback.
There’s also physical feedback, the learners pick up on the nods and the winks and the applause and their facial expressions. The method will of course depend on the purpose and the context:
- What are you trying to achieve?
- So how is this best achieved? However, feedback can have three effects on receivers, they can be:
- negative, or indeed it can be
- neutral To have a positive effect, learners need to know where they are in their learning – what are the next steps, or possible steps, and some indication of how to get there. In other words, it works best if it is focused on confirming what is being done – is it right, or clearly indicates what needs to be done, with some indication of what can be achieved, where the learner needs to go next? This raises questions about the method and style of feedback. It’s often seen as desirable to give praising feedback, but be cautious, it’s likely to be well received and often engender motivation when it’s genuine, but it’s sometimes difficult to maintain.
When sharing feedback with pupils, you need to consider carefully what it is you are wanting the pupil to change, and then be specific in what you ask them to do. This applies to individual and class written or verbal feedback. As highlighted by Mick, there is often lots of feedback that you could give to a pupil. However, skilled teachers identify what feedback will have the biggest impact and then share it with pupils in an effective way.
John Hattie, author of ‘Visible Learning’, believes that there are four levels of change possible from a piece of feedback (either written or verbal). What you want pupils to change will dictate what level of feedback you give. The levels range from asking them to make changes to the task itself, to changing a pupil’s view on their own learning.
The four levels are:
- Task: How can the task be completed or improved?
- Process: How can I do better at tasks like this?
- Self-Regulation: How can I manage myself to be a better learner?
- Self-Evaluation: How good am I?
(Hattie and Timperley, 2007)
Task e.g. rewrite your answer to question 3 removing the brackets at step 2. This type of feedback is directive and helps to improve the current task. However, its effects are limited as pupils are unlikely to be able to transfer this correction to other tasks.
Process e.g. always underline key words in the question, then write a plan linked to them. This level of feedback helps pupils to understand underlying features of success in the subject and supports them to transfer their skills.
Self-regulation e.g. Which strategies that you used today worked well? Why? This is about helping pupils to understand more about how they learn by helping them to self-monitor, recognise how well they are doing, and to think about how they can respond to improve their own learning.
Self-evaluation e.g. You are great at maths. Pupils like praise and it may help to motivate, but praise based on the pupil has little effect on learning, as it offers no useful information about how to improve.
Research into the use of these targeted levels of feedback has concluded that consistent feedback of any one type is insufficient. If feedback is too task-focused, pupils will have difficulty transferring it to other concepts. If it is too general, they may have difficulty applying it to specific tasks.
The most powerful approach therefore is to offer balanced feedback that links types – task, process and self-regulation.
The examples below show how the balance of levels could be shared with an individual in either verbal or written form.
"Correct question 3 – check the steps again to see where you went wrong. What will you do differently tomorrow?"
This piece of feedback, given as written or verbal, is broken down into task feedback and self-regulation.
"Look back at your checklist for creating a bar chart. You have missed out a crucial step – can you identify and change it on the graph?"
This piece of feedback can be broken down into task and process.
"One of the animals you ticked doesn’t live in a cold place. How can you use our display to help you remember which animals live in the cold?"
This piece of feedback can be broken down into task and self-regulation.
When you are deciding what feedback to give a pupil, consider what you want them to change, then help them to make that change by giving them feedback that targets that level(s). Ensure that your feedback is accurate and clear and provides specific guidance on how to improve.
Once you have decided what you want them to change (e.g. something to do with the task), you then have a decision to make about how you will share that feedback.
Have a piece of your written feedback in front of you or think back to a time you gave a pupil a piece of verbal feedback.
Reflect on the following questions and record your responses in your notebook:
- what did you want the pupil to change?
- if there were many things you wanted the pupil to change, which change would have had the biggest impact?
- reflecting on the feedback you gave, which level of change (task, process, self-regulation, self-evaluation) did you target with it?
- on reflection, would you give the same feedback again? Why/why not?
The delivery of your verbal feedback will be the focus of your next observation and mentor interaction.
What does effective feedback look like?
In session 1, Mick Walker explained that there were four questions you should ask yourself when deciding on the purpose and design of your assessment. The final question was:
- How are you going to feed back the information to pupils?
When giving feedback, you want pupils to be able to access it and, crucially, be able to act on it. The next sections are going to look at additional ways to address the ‘how’ you could feed back information about learning to your pupils.
It will cover:
- Written feedback
- Group verbal feedback
- Symbol marking
Consider your personal development needs and select 2 of the feedback methods to review.
1. Written feedback
It’s worth spending the little bit of time considering written feedback, as this is the area that attracts quite a lot of attention, especially with regards to things like teacher workload. There’s evidence that written comments are more effective in moving pupils forward than say for example using marks or grades. However, whilst high marks may motivate some pupils, low marks may well have the opposite effect on other pupils.
There’s also evidence that giving marks and comments doesn’t necessarily work. Pupils read the mark or grade and not actually the comments. But written feedback is not always effective. Here we need to consider the quality of the feedback. Does it actually help or hinder? Does it clarify or confuse? Is it worth the time and is it worth the effort? And is the feedback appropriate? I’ve seen one side of A4 of teachers’ comments given back to infants who can’t actually read. So this raises the question: who is the feedback for? Is it really having a positive impact on the learner or is it to simply to comply with a marking policy or set of expectations about teacher behaviour? Feedback is an effective basic human interaction, but in a teaching and learning environment we don’t ask quite often enough about whether the feedback is actually making a difference, and how do we know it’s making a difference?
Marking is something that is generally referred to in feedback but the impact of marking has been of particular interest in terms of teacher workload and the DfE teacher workload challenge which was in 2014 found that marking was one of three top causes of teacher mark load. In fact 53% of about 47,000 people thought that whilst marking pupils’ work is necessary and productive, its frequency in depth is often burdensome. Much of this was associated with what has been described as deep marking, or triple marking. That means several iterations of comments between the teacher and pupil using different pens so this transaction goes backwards and forwards, but there’s no evidence that this is actually effective. But yet the practice, the use of this, is very widespread. The DfE report reducing workload around marking, made three I think very useful suggestions that marking should be:
- manageable There’s also a report from a group of 16 schools in Wigan, the ‘Wow’ schools, ‘With Others We Succeed’, who tried a variety of approaches to marking pupils’ work in order to evaluate the impact on pupils, teachers and indeed parents. Was it meaningful? Was it motivational and was it manageable? The trial approaches including things like just stopping marking to see if actually made any difference and indeed it did make a difference, but it led to changes in classroom practice like structuring lessons to allow time for speaking to pupils, a different mode of feedback. There were some significant gains in terms of reduced workload and an increase in pupil satisfaction. Now this is not to say that written feedback is wrong. Teachers need a repertoire of feedback techniques, but it is important that schools and teachers should evaluate their practice to see what actually works and, by that, I mean what actually impacts on teaching and learning.
Record your thoughts in your notepad.
Providing feedback through marking pupil work is a core task for teachers. A written response is a clear method of providing feedback, and a method of supporting progress and attainment. However, a 2016 report by the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group noted that written marking was a key component of large teacher workloads, and recommended that marking should be driven by professional judgement and be “meaningful, manageable and motivating” (page 9).
Meaningful: marking varies by age group, subject, and what works best for the pupil and teacher in relation to any piece of work. Teachers are encouraged to adjust their approach as necessary and trusted to incorporate the outcomes into subsequent planning and teaching.
Manageable: marking practice is proportionate and considers the frequency and complexity of written feedback, as well as the cost and time-effectiveness of marking in relation to the overall workload of teachers. This is written into any assessment policy.
Motivating: Marking should help to motivate pupils to progress. This does not mean always writing in-depth comments or being universally positive: sometimes short, challenging comments or oral feedback are more effective. If the teacher is doing more work than their pupils, this can become a disincentive for pupils to accept challenges and take responsibility for improving their work.
Further to this, the EEF report ‘A Marked Improvement’ highlighted some key research findings about how to make written feedback more effective for pupils:
- Awarding grades for every piece of work may reduce the impact of marking, particularly if pupils become preoccupied with grades at the expense of a consideration of teachers’ formative comments
- The use of targets to make marking as specific and actionable as possible is likely to increase pupil progress
- Pupils are unlikely to benefit from marking unless some time is set aside to enable pupils to consider and respond to marking
- Some forms of marking, including acknowledgement marking (e.g. ticks or VF to indicate verbal feedback), are unlikely to enhance pupil progress. A mantra might be that schools should mark less in terms of the number of pieces of work marked but mark better
2. Group verbal feedback
It is important to highlight that written marking is only one type of feedback. Verbal feedback is one of the most commonly used forms of classroom feedback. It can be provided on written work in the form of re-teaching misunderstandings or intervening and guiding pupils through the lesson. Using verbal feedback can mean you can address misconceptions and give immediate correction in-lesson.
In many instances, verbal feedback will be given to individuals. You have seen examples of how to do this effectively when responding to questions and answers in module 3, or when monitoring independent work and balancing the levels of feedback you should give in module 4. However, giving group verbal feedback is also highly effective. Below is one example of how it can be done.
Group verbal feedback is about giving targeted verbal feedback towards a group of pupils or the whole class. The teacher would read through a set of books and take notes on how the whole class have responded. Then, in the next lesson, the teacher responds to the most frequent issues that came up by giving general feedback to the class or group.
The teacher may select one pupil who has done well as a model of what they are looking for. Alternatively, they could select a pupil’s work that could be a model for responding to the feedback. Either method would support pupils to build a mental model of how to act on the feedback.
A further method of using group feedback would be to provide immediate correction by stopping the whole class (or group) to address a common misconception you have seen arising.
Below are videos of group verbal feedback in action.
Group verbal feedback - Early Years – Bethan Hughes at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Group verbal feedback - Early Years – Bethan Hughes at Reach Academy [AD]
Group verbal feedback - Primary
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Group verbal feedback - Primary [AD]
The 3 ways to give group feedback
This allows you to challenge misconceptions or knowledge gaps.
For example, in maths, pupils are consistently forgetting to complete the final step of solving a word problem (which is to re-read the problem and answer the question). Initial teaching can be repeated here with the use of fresh examples and reminders of the steps.
Revisiting models of work
This allows pupils to compare their work to a successful model and improve their work against it.
For example, helping pupils identify missing features of a writing genre. Revising models allows pupils to improve their work and understand what success looks like.
This allows pupils to understand the thought process and choices which help to create good work.
For example, taking a weak answer (or creating one yourself) and modelling rewriting or correcting it on the board.
Group verbal feedback
Hear from Secondary teacher and teacher educator Liz Carroll, as she explains why she finds group verbal feedback such an effective strategy.
We know that feedback is important and has a direct impact on progress. So, we need to be delivering that feedback in a constructive way. It’s also really important to recognise that writing in books isn’t the only form of feedback and actually writing in every single book can become an onerous task and have a disproportionate impact on your workload.
If the purpose of feedback is to recognise strengths, correct misconceptions, and keep pupils motivated, using group verbal feedback in the lessons, having marked books, can be really impactful. To prepare for this, when looking through the books you need to become really familiar with the level of understanding in the class. Then you can use that knowledge to feed back to the whole group in a subsequent lesson and immediately see the impact that feedback can have on the learning. You could also stop to offer group verbal feedback just in the middle of a lesson so you’re not responding to what you’ve seen in the books when you’ve looked at them, but you’re responding to the work that’s happening there and then. And again pupils will be able to respond to that guidance straight away.
Record your thoughts in your notepad.
3. Symbol marking
A way of making our marking more concise and easier to understand is by using symbols or abbreviations to indicate a statement.
Coded banks of statements can be created by an individual teacher or with colleagues across the school. In recent years, school marking policies often include a ‘marking code’. The symbols can be as detailed as you would like and can easily be made subject-specific. You can see an example of this in the table below. Please note that this is one example, rather than a recommended set of codes.
If using symbol marking, it is important that they are shared and that you know that your pupils understand the codes.
Displaying them in the classroom and in pupil books is highly effective:
- AP - achievement point
- BP - behaviour point
- OA - objective achieved
- PA - objective partly achieved
- NA - objective not achieved
- Sp - spelling mistake
- // - new paragraph needed
- WND - word not needed
- GD - good description
- ^ - missing word
- P - punctuation needed
Hear from fellow teachers as they discuss how they have used symbol marking effectively in their school.
Symbol marking - Primary
Yellow box highlighting is used regularly to highlight a particular focus that needs addressing. The yellow box is explained to the pupils at the beginning of the academic year. In year 2 this is used consistently when marking an end of unit assessment in English (the final writing piece of the genre taught, e.g. a poem, character description, a letter, retelling of a story, etc.).
The yellow box is modelled by the teacher around a short piece of writing, e.g. a sentence or two that has a lot of mistakes which then need to be corrected. The teacher models reading the piece of writing together with the class – not pausing where full stops need to be inserted, reading words as they are written (phonics) that sound incorrect, letters written back to front, etc.
The teacher then models to the class how to spot the mistakes but also encouraging ideas for the pupils as they read along and spot other mistakes. The teacher models how to correct and edit along with pupils editing too. The teacher also models the correct use of grammar and questions pupils on this as the text is read out loud.
Once the areas to improve have been identified and the discussion has taken place about the ideas to edit, the whole of the section highlighted in yellow is rewritten to show the completed version of editing.
To reinforce, in Key Stage One this would be a short sentence (or two for year 2).
The work is always re-marked (alongside the pupils) to ensure the pupils see this has been acknowledged and to ensure they understand the purpose of editing and feeling pride in their finished pieces. Over time pupils are then able to self-correct and self-improve after reading through a yellow box that is highlighted. For some pupils, support may still be required to address key areas to improve, e.g. grammar, past / present tense or spelling of words that have already been taught within the spelling programme used.
Symbol marking - Secondary
When my school introduced the symbol marking code, the department head had made sure that the codes were simple to understand, really clear with what they were referring to, and she directed us to use them often to get the pupils used to them. The codes were introduced across the department and this therefore ensured consistency of use, which enabled both teachers and pupils to begin to understand them far quicker.
A few examples of our codes are: P: point, Ev: evidence, Ex: explanation.
When we introduced the codes, it was important to model their use for the pupils and we marked a series of modelled answers on the board together. I used the “I do, we do, you do” approach and I was able to show my pupils how they should expect to see them presented in their work and what this meant that they needed to do as an action.
On a practitioner level, I find the marking code effective as it helps me to provide meaningful feedback to my pupils. I find that they understand the code quickly and can begin to action feedback immediately. It has also had a positive impact on my workload as it is quicker to denote where success and areas for improvement are by using the symbols, rather than having to write lengthy prose. This saves me time and I can therefore invest that time into planning improvement tasks or planning for their next lesson where the pupils will actually have the opportunity to incorporate those improvements. I also find that when we are looking at work as a department, the marking code enables standardisation. I use the same codes as all the other teachers, and it makes cross referencing across the department quick and effective. We are able to look at a students’ work, see where the teacher has identified where they think a criteria has or has not been met, and then we can check through it. Alternatively, during blind standardisation (when we all have clean copies of the same script) we can then discuss it and if there is disagreement about the mark the question should be awarded, that’s when we can query why one person thinks there is sufficient evidence or not by using the symbols to zoom in on those areas in the question.
My use of the marking code isn’t only kept for marking after the lesson, I also use it during my lessons to support with live marking. I circulate the room and use the marking codes to assess pieces of work and provide areas for improvement instantly. The pupils can then respond immediately, and I can support them with that where necessary.
I find that the pupils have responded well to the codes, it has empowered and encouraged them to take responsibility for their own learning as well as providing them with a tool that can reassure them as they write their answers. For example, they can abbreviate PEE in the margin as they write.
The codes have also supported my classes to effectively self/peer assess as pupils are then able to plan, review and assess their own progress. This is powerful for when completing tasks and also in preparation for examinations. I will not be in the exam with them, so the symbols help them to self-mark and correct where necessary, supporting them to understand and internalise what a good answer looks like.
Responding to feedback
A key point to remember about effective feedback is ensuring that pupils have sufficient time to respond to it. This may look different depending on the age and stage of the pupil, but ultimately you must build in time for pupils to enact the change that you are hoping to see.
Otherwise, what was it all for?
Working with colleagues to identify efficient feedback approaches to assessment is important; assessment can become onerous and have a disproportionate impact on workload.
The strategies covered in this session can support you in reducing an ‘onerous’ workload. Speak to your colleagues about assessment techniques covered in this section and identify some that could work for your school and the pupils that you teach.