Assessment for who?
‘Don’t write in green pen; it’s for them, not for us’: a comment that I overheard a student make when the teacher set up a feedback task. Cynical though it may be, the pupil had a point. Red pen for marking, green pen for response and redraft, black pen for written work. But for whom is the purpose of this?
Despite certain liberation through Ofsted’s lack of criteria on expected quantities, the term ‘marking’* conjures quite a uniformed descriptions from educators: tedious, stressful, arduous. Even in my short time teaching, I’ve lost count of how many occasions that I’ve taken a set of books home over the weekend only for them to remain stacked in my hallway, ready to return to my classroom in the exact same state that they left. Why, therefore, am I so reluctant to mark books?
1) A lack of accountability
2) Work load
3) Effectiveness and impact
As David Didau aptly writes, assessment and feedback are not the same. Indeed, while marking is a method of feedback, it is not always the most effective. There seems to be a misconception that because teachers spend so long marking, this type of feedback must inevitably achieve desired progress. If feedback to students’ written work is to be effective, schools must move away from misguided and vague systems that force teachers to constantly mark books. Instead, written feedback should be intertwined within a rigorous scheme of work, based on assessment that are unpinned by daily recap, weekly quizzes, and knowledge exams; these are referred to by Joe Kirby as the ‘Three Assessment Butterflies’.
For schools and teachers to design successful systems around feedback- as with any other strategy- the following questions are necessary:
– How effective and impactful will this strategy be?
– How will this reduce teacher workload?
– How will teachers, and students, be accountable for this?
As I mentioned previously, my marking this year has been poor. At the start of the year, eager to fulfill what I perceived was a vital role of a teacher, books were constantly marked. In an attempt to raise the confidence of students, comments along the lines of ‘Great effort, Sam! Keep this up!’ were begrudgingly written alongside a stamped happy face. Similarly, every student received a WWW and EBI, along with numerous content based questions sprawled throughout the pages that I marked. I bemoaned this method. Detesting the hours spent on marking books just for students to respond to questions like ‘which factor was the most important in causing the Atlantic Slave Trade’ with ‘The blue one’, it was clear that my time would have been better spent planning lessons, phoning parents, and improving my subject knowledge. Indeed, the opportunity cost of typical marking is too great.
Since then, I have tried a number different techniques, with inconsistent results. However, I have found the following strategies of feedback to be the most effective.
Feedback crib sheets:
Mr Thornton’s method of whole-class feedback revolutionised my practice. Below is an adapted version of his crib sheet that I use for assessment, and how a student has re-drafted as a result of this. When marking an assessment, students are given a next step code (e.g. NS2). Pupils then use the code to write out their next step target, which includes an example of how to improve their work in preparation for re-drafting. This form of modelling is essential. For NS2, if I had just written ‘Rather than describing the impact of a factor, focus on the extent to which Hitler can be blamed for starting WWII’ students would have struggled to understand how to demonstrate this in their re-drafted essay. However, with additional modelling in feedback, such as, ‘for example: “Appeasement was significant because… This suggests that Hitler was not to blame for WWII because…”, pupils are more likely to recognise how to achieve their next steps for progress, and successfully redraft their work.
Whole-class content based feedback:
Immediate feedback is powerful. Tackling a misconception straight away goes further in correcting errors than simply waiting for the next round of marking. After initial revision and self-quizzing of knowledge organisers, my lessons always start with a daily, knowledge-based recap, as shown below. This way I can provide feedback to the whole class straight away.
However, it is important to provide feedback on the written work in books. This does not mean that it is necessary to trawl through pages correcting every individual word that multiple students have all spelled incorrectly. As with Mr Thronton’s crib sheet, I look to establish common trends and provide feedback on these through whole-class revision and explanation. However, I also recognise that feedback for students will be different depending on how well they have grasped a certain concept. Therefore, in my marking, I simply place a code on the last page that corresponds to a certain target with a number of associated tasks. This way, my workload is minimal, yet students are challenged in feedback, and given the time to respond.
What next? Accountability and structure
Looking over the past year of teaching, inconsistency in my marking is glaringly obvious; some aspects were positive, others negative. In preparation for next year, I have interlinked my whole-class feedback and assessment feedback with schemes of work. For each topic, knowledge organisers will form the basis of necessary content that all students will learn and be assessed on. Using weekly knowledge quizzes, I will identify common errors, and use whole-class revision to rectify these. In books, I will be accountable for identifying errors and misconceptions, but the onus will be on students to correct their own work. Therefore, whole class modelling will be essential in feedback; this way, pupils will observe correct spellings and content, before looking through their own work in order to spot further errors and correct them. Like revision, it is important for students to learn how to self-edit, particularly considering they will not have the luxury of a teacher reviewing their answers in a GCSE examination, prior to submission.
In terms of assessment, I will provide more in-depth feedback on essays in preparation for re-drafting. Using the aforementioned crib sheet, students will respond to modeled feedback by re-writing their answers in order to demonstrate progress towards their target. Although I will be accountable for providing immediate feedback on assessments, thus promoting the relevance of the task, students will once again be responsible for improving their own answers as they will be accountable for using models and examples to support with their re-drafting of an essay.
Marking is a chore; feedback is uplifting. There is nothing more rewarding than taking a student from point A to point B, even when the route looks so challenging. Whole-class and low-stake assessment unlocks a new perceptive on marking. With less onus on the red pen, and more emphasis on learning, students will relish a new found sense of independence and accountability. Less marking ultimately means more, and better, feedback.
*I refer to ‘marking’, in the typical sense, as written comments made on answers completed by students in their books, or equivalent mode of evidencing schoolwork.