Guest blog from Emma Turner, Deputy Headteacher and Leader of Teaching and Learning at Springwood Primary School - @MrsWelshTurner
In Education, there is always one certainty... marking!
There has always been marking: marking that identifies what pupils have done well; marking that celebrates and marking that moves pupils learning on. It’s the one thing that all teachers expect, lugging home that huge pile of books for an evening or a weekend.
However, ‘distance’ marking has been proven to be far less effective at helping pupils to improve, or motivating them to try harder, than immediate feedback given verbally in the moment. We’ve known this for a while. Yet many schools still insist on their teachers marking in detail every piece of work that every child does.
Back in 2016, at Springwood Primary School marking in books was very visible. Distance marking was the norm. Teachers would take the books away at the end of the lesson spend their evenings writing comments such as, but not limited to, the famous “2 stars and a wish”. There was little evidence of editing and improving happening by the pupils. In some cases, teachers would even correct spelling errors. Peer feedback, when it happened was irrelevant, didn’t move pupils learning on and also happened after the event.
Where there was some close-the-gap marking, it was not always responded to. This was probably due to the fact the pupils didn’t get to see it until the next lesson, where they were already moving on to another task. The term 'waste of time' springs to mind.
Assessment for Learning project - Autumn 2017
During autumn term 2017 two class teachers had taken part in the Shirley Clarke Assessment for Learning (AFL) action research project. This had a huge impact on pedagogy and how they were able to move the learning on within a lesson. A lot more emphasis was placed on verbal feedback rather than distance marking.
The teachers shared their feedback methods using IRIS Connect and discussed strategies that really worked and those that didn’t, making tweaks where necessary.
It was soon clear that in these classes pupils were taking more ownership of their learning and were more motivated to improve, acting on teachers input throughout a class, rather than just at the end. This was triangulated and through a series of formative assessment, INSETs were taken on as a whole school approach.
The IRIS Connect clips enabled them to share strategies such as pit stops, use of visualisers, peer improvement and co-constructing Shirley Clarke (SC) with the whole staff. Seeing it in action was a really powerful way to disseminate good practice linked directly to the research.
The message given to staff from SLT was not to waste red pen, and to only do some distance marking and quality marking once per week in literacy and math. They ensured all teachers knew that good quality verbal feedback throughout a class was the priority.
During the following feedback sessions all teachers agreed that the quality of work pupils were producing had improved and that feedback within a lesson, through individual and group feedback, pit stops and plenaries, had improved the teaching and learning in classrooms. Pupils were becoming more reflective and more inclined to review and improve their work.
This, however, was not obvious from looking at the books. In fact, it had led to very little evidence of distance or quality marking in some classes; with some books seeming like the teacher hadn’t looked at them at all. It became clear that we had gone too far the other way.
Taking Estyn into account - March 2018
In March 2018, Estyn (an education and training inspectorate for Wales) commented on how marking and feedback was inconsistent when looking at pupils books. One of the recommendations from the inspection was;
“Ensure a consistent approach towards teachers’ written feedback on pupils’ work.”
All staff discussed the AFL marking and feedback policy and procedures and agreed to link our work on 'thinking hats' to our policy. The idea was to make verbal feedback, children’s self-assessment and peer assessment more visible.
We agreed that yellow highlighters would show what children had achieved with reference to SC, the black pen would signify things that needed to change or improve and green pen would be used for the improvements and edits that children then went on to make.
We also agreed that when verbal feedback was given the teacher would signal this with a VF code in the margin. The AFL feedback and marking policy was amended to make this clear to all staff.
A visit from the Challenge Advisor
Following a meeting with the challenge advisor who sat in on our 'looking for learning' drop-ins, it was still clear that the marking in books didn’t reflect the good feedback going on in the lessons.
Some of the suggestions he made were:
- To show when verbal feedback had been given through pupils changing the colour pen they write in from that point onwards.
- That the pupils whose teachers don’t get to feedback to within a lesson will have their books distance marked, with a close the gap question that will help their understanding.
This was implemented immediately and discussed in the very next INSET.
The challenge advisor was able to source books where these strategies were working successfully. These were shown to the teachers, who agreed that with a simple tweak, marking and feedback could be made far more visible and have a better impact on pupil outcomes.
These tweaks have had an effect on the books already: they look more valued, it is clear when a teacher has given verbal feedback, pupils can make clear links to SC when assessing their own work and distance marking has improved and is beginning to be more consistent, especially in literacy and math.
Teachers are beginning to use IRIS Connect to show how they put these strategies into place so that they can be reviewed and shared at staff and key stage meetings. This is helping teachers at Springwood achieve a far more consistent approach to both feedback within a session and marking in the books.
Teachers don’t need to change the way they feedback to pupils. Good quality feedback is happening in literacy and math sessions throughout the school. Knowing that those pupils who don’t get feedback during the session are the ones that will need to be distance marked has made every book look more valued.
Recently, monitoring has picked up that although marking and feedback in literacy and math is improving and more consistent, this is not true for science and the other areas of the curriculum.
Next steps of the journey - Spring 2019
Our AFL journey is still underway. The next steps are to ensure that high-quality verbal feedback, given in a variety of forms is consistent not only across the school but also across the curriculum. When pupils are applying their skills, they still need high quality prior learning questions and activities, pit stops, self and peer assessment strategies and individual feedback from their teachers.
What matters is that all our pupils have the very best opportunities to learn and succeed every second of every school day.
IRIS Connect can and is helping us to do this through reflective action research with colleagues. It will also help to create a consistent approach across year groups and the curriculum.
If you’d like to find out about how IRIS Connect can help you achieve more for your teachers, get in touch to arrange a meeting at a time that suits you.