Why did you decide to undertake this project? What was it designed to achieve?
The importance of feedback in the classroom has long been recognised; it is an inherent part of what we do day in and day out to ensure our students make progress. One study which really demonstrates the power of feedback is the work of John Hattie1 who determined feedback as being the single factor which has the biggest impact on learning in the classroom (effect size 1.13). He determined that feedback was more influential than other factors such as students natural ability, instructional quality, students disposition to learn, class environment, challenge of goals, homework and questioning (to name a few). This study got me more interested in finding out exactly why this is the case?
More recently, Dylan William2 simplified the idea of feedback in the classroom by considering that there are eight main ways a student may respond to feedback (see Figure 1). Of these eight responses, only two of the outcomes (highlighted) are desirable within the classroom setting. This demonstrates how difficult feedback can be to get right, and helps us to understand why it can have a great impact on learning.
So with this in mind, I decided to address how we can effectively tailor feedback more effectively in the classroom to ensure we achieve the two desirable outcomes shown above more frequently, in order to support students learning and progress. To do this, I decided to focus on methods of providing feedback in the classroom which I felt were the most efficient and easy to implement, so that they could have a significant impact on the quality of feedback and therefore the students learning. I decided to target three key areas:
- Students need to be trained to give and respond to feedback
- Verbal feedback must always be specific
- Feedback should be timely
What impact has your project had on learning and teaching or outcomes in the school?
1. Students need to be trained to give and respond to feedback
Before targeting this area, I was interested to find out exactly how confident our students feel about giving and receiving formative feedback. In a short questionnaire, I asked students to rate their confidence if asked to complete a self assessment activity (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: ‘How confident do you feel if you are asked to self-assess a piece of work?’
It is interesting that at KS4 and 5, despite the students getting older and having more experience at giving and responding to feedback, their confidence still seems to decrease (the same trend was observed for peer assessment). Perhaps this is the influence of the important exams they face. It is during KS4 and 5 that it is even more important that feedback in the classroom leads to the two desirable outcomes as indicated by William; increased effort and aspiration.
I also asked students which format they receive the most feedback through (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: ‘Which format do you receive the most feedback from?’
We know that during day to day lessons, through different AfL strategies including self and peer assessment, the students are receiving feedback all the time. It is very interesting that they do not perceive it in the same way as teachers do; I think this is largely down to the fact that when given a grade or score, they will often only read as far as the grade3. As we approach mastery teaching at KS3, it is therefore even more important that we train the students to give and respond to formative feedback, and not feedback based on numbers or levels. So how can we do this?
Strategy 1: Top Trumps
In MFL at KS4, Top Trumps were used in a number of ways to develop the students’ understanding of how to assess their own written work. Students were first asked to give some written feedback on model paragraphs written in a particular tense. On struggling to know what to comment on, they were given Top Trumps cards (see Figure 4) with criteria listed to help them assess the quality of the writing. After completing this exercise, students went away and wrote their own paragraphs for homework which were then peer assessed in lesson using blank Top Trumps (see Figure 5). Finally, students were given a set of Top Trumps in which scores /5 had already been recorded; they had to assign criteria to match the set of scores provided.
Following these exercises, the students were asked how they felt it had impacted their learning as well as their ability to assess their own work:
- 23 out of 31 students said they felt more confident at assessing their writing
- Half of students found that they gained ideas as to how to improve their own writing
- 25 students out of 31 showed improvement in the quality of their writing at the end of the three tasks (as assessed by the teacher before and after the use of Top Trumps)
In Science at KS5, Top Trumps were also used to train students at using mark schemes and giving feedback in relation to an exam question. Students were given three completed Top Trump cards (seen in purple in Figure 6) to go alongside three answers given to the same question. Students had to use the mark scheme to work out which feedback matched which answer, annotating each as they went along to justify the feedback provided. They were then asked to self-assess their own answer using the same exam question on a blank Top Trump card (seen in yellow in Figure 6). When a different exam question was set at a later date, the following conclusions were observed:
- Every student improved by at least one mark compared to first attempt
- 64% of students improved by 2 marks or more
The students from KS4 and 5 who used the Top Trumps were asked how they felt it has impacted their learning and their ability to assess. The video linked here shows their responses.
Strategy 2: Feedback gallery
The idea of a feedback gallery is that the focus is on the feedback provided, rather than on the work itself. In Figure 7 you can see the students circulating after using post-it notes to give a simple WWW and EBI on someone else’s DT project work. Following this, the students found a different piece of work and were given a second post-it note which encouraged them to reflect on the quality of the original feedback provided (see Figure 8). The yellow post-it note in this figure shows the original feedback given by the student and on the green, their reflection on the quality of the feedback given. In this example, the student has recognised that the feedback given is not very specific, and so they have been able to improve it. This type of activity really helps the students to understand how to give high quality feedback, so that in turn they are able to respond to improve their work more easily.
Figure 7: Students circulate looking at the feedback provided by others through peer assessment
Figure 8: Questions used to prompt students to consider the quality of feedback provided, and then improvements made to the original feedback provided
There are many apps out there now that compliment this type of activity, focusing on the quality of feedback given by student to be focussed upon. In Figure 9 below is an image taken from the app Post-it® Plus. This is an app which allows you to digitalise feedback given on post-it notes, share it with the students and allow them to edit it using a typing or pen tool. The post-its below show feedback given by students in response to an answer to an exam question. They have dragged the digitalised feedback into two groups, feedback which is useful and not useful. The students have then had the opportunity to improve the feedback they deemed not useful.
Finally, the app Padlet is another which allows the teacher to lead an activity focusing on the quality of feedback the students are providing. Using their own accounts, students can post feedback/comments to a central forum to facilitate discussion on the accuracy of the feedback provided.
Figure 9: Feedback which was been digitalised by the app Post-it Plus, and then added to/improved by students
All three of these strategies temporarily take the emphasis away from the quality of work produced, and really start to develop the students understanding of how to provide good quality feedback. Without time invested in this type of training, we cannot expect our students to become effective assessors, or indeed equip them with the skills necessary to reflect on their learning. The inability to understand exactly how to improve a piece of work based from the students’ own assessment when a teacher is not there to guide them, will limit their ability to learn independently and potentially hinder progress.
Strategy 3: Justification marking
At KS4 and 5, sometimes there is so much focus on writing essays and then improving those time and time again, we sometimes forget to really spend the time focusing on establishing the students’ understanding of what they are actually trying to achieve. In this example with a year 13 Psychology class, in the final exam students receive a score for AO1 and AO2 in which they have been placed into a band e.g. “4-3 marks – Basic and 7-5 marks – Reasonable”. But do our students really understand the differences between each band, or between individual marks within them?
This activity was designed to improve students’ understanding of the mark scheme they are so often compared to. Initially, students were given a blank essay and had to go away and assign a mark to it using the mark scheme. The marks the students came up with were recorded (Blank attempt 1), and as you can see in Figure 10 varied significantly in accuracy. There were then set a second essay to mark for homework, this time it was annotated with ticks to indicate where the essay had been credited. The students used the mark scheme was to justify why the ticks were there, and then assign a mark. Figure 10 clearly shows the impact this had on the accuracy of the students marking (Ticks), with the average marks away from the actual mark decreasing from over 3 to 1.5. A third essay provided had the mark given, so the students had to add in their own annotations from scratch on the blank essay. Finally, the initial exercise was repeated with students marking a totally blank essay (Blank attempt 2). Although not quite as accurate as when ticks were already provided on the essay, overall Figure 10 shows clearly that compared to the first attempt, following some basic training, students marking and understanding of what an essay should contain had improved hugely.
Figure 10: A graph showing students marking accuracy before and after being trained using ‘justification marking’
2. Verbal feedback must always be specific
When it comes to us providing feedback for the students, we often focus solely on the quality of written feedback provided. We may use marking checklists, feedback stickers or marking codes to ensure the students receive detailed and specific feedback for their work. However, we often forget about the quality of verbal feedback provided. It is very easy to slip into the habit of resorting to saying things such as ‘great work’ or ‘nearly there’; neither of these statements provide students with any information regarding what they did well or what still requires improvement.
To explore the impact of the quality of verbal feedback, the PE department carried out a case study over a series of lessons with a range of different KS3 classes. One staff member focussed on giving very detailed and specific feedback, whilst another staff member gave deliberately vague statements as feedback. To measure the impact of verbal feedback on the students’ progress, both staff members graded each child from 1-5 (5 being extremely competent) on their initial competence of the skill being taught that lesson, and then re-graded them at the end of the lesson. The students were also asked for their opinion on the quality of feedback received.
The average improvement in skill competence of the two groups is outlined below:
Specific feedback – 0.68
Non-specific feedback – 0.38
It is clear from the result shown above that the quality of verbal feedback provided to the children had an immediate impact on student progress, even during the course of a short period of time. The students themselves also recognised the difference in the quality of feedback provided (see Figures 11,12 and 13).
Figure 12: ‘How useful was the feedback you received at helping you identify your areas for improvement?’
Figure 13: ‘How motivated did you feel by the feedback you received?’
3. Feedback should be timely
There is much research out there already which talks about the importance of the timing of feedback. Feedback is considered to be more effective when given immediately, so that the learner has time to act on it4. The formative feedback strategies discussed earlier lend themselves to this, with self and peer assessment both providing the learner with instant feedback during a lesson.
To explore this final theme a bit further, the English department conducted a case study over a series of KS3 lessons. Two top set year 8 and 9 classes using PEA paragraphs to analyse a text were given feedback following a task at different times; one class during the lesson using peer assessment and the other through peer assessment at the beginning of the following lesson. The classes were given exactly the same criteria to mark from, and assigned themselves a score from 1-10 following the initial task. Repeated a week later, both classes were asked to write and peer assess a PEA paragraph using the same marking criteria. From Figure 14 you can see the impact that the immediate vs. delayed feedback had on their progress. In the class that received immediate feedback, 52.4% of students showed improvement of one mark or more in their PEA paragraph compared to only 9.7% in the class which received delayed feedback. Across a short space of time, it is clear that the immediate feedback had a much greater impact on the progress of students. Of course there will always be times where teacher feedback is required, and where delay will be unavoidable. But consider a similar self or peer assessment activity or homework in your subject repeated at points throughout a year; how much of an impact the timing of feedback could have on the progress of your students?
Figure 14: Percentage of students who showed improvement in PEA paragraph score /10
What do you think are the next steps in order to develop this aspect of learning and teaching in the school?
In order to continue to develop this area of learning and teaching in schools, I think classroom teachers need to start to explore or continue to explore new ways in which students can be trained to effectively give and respond to feedback in their subject. It is clear how great an impact this can have on their learning and will ultimately lead to the students becoming more insightful and reflective independent learners; a hugely valuable skill as they approach work or higher education in increasingly competitive environments.
In a nutshell – if you are going to do 5 things…
1 Hattie, John (2009) Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London; Routledge.
2 William, Dylan (2012) Feedback: Part of a System. Educational Leadership: Feedback for Learning, Vol. 70 (1).
3 Johnson, Peter (2012) Guiding the budding writer. Educational Leadership: Feedback for Learning, Vol. 70 (1).
4 Chappuis, Jan (2012) “How am I doing?” Educational Leadership: Feedback for Learning, Vol. 70 (1).
- Post-it® Plus- https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/post-it-plus/id920127738?mt=8
- Padlet- https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/padlet/id834618886?ls=1&mt=8