Joy and knowledge

Fabulous Feedback

There are a number of areas of my teaching practice that I’m looking to seriously improve this year and I’ve been writing about each aspect over the last few weeks. Perhaps of the utmost importance is feedback and marking.

I am now entering my fifth year of teaching… crikey! I have been finding time after time that my marking has been taking me AGES. As an English teacher, it can soon stack up anyway but it was becoming an unmanageable beast. I was commenting and annotating and highlighting and target setting. Students would read it, sometimes ask me to discuss it and then it would be put to one side. I’d mark their next piece of work and the cycle would happen again. Nothing was done with the feedback and necessary changes weren’t being implemented. Even if I could cope with the fact my marking was taking me so long; it wasn’t being acted upon, therefore it may as well not have been happening at all.

I had already begun the process of getting students to engage with marking and feedback last year. When students received their feedback from me, I would ask them to write a reflection on it. I felt at the time that this definitely meant students would take it on board and that their work would improve. This didn’t happen. Reading @headguruteacher ‘s post about ‘closing the gap‘ made me realise what needed to be done. Students needed to rewrite the work. So, last year, when I handed work back to students, I asked them to rewrite it according to the feedback but true to my terrible form last year, I forgot to chase it and it was never really a formal homework task… so it didn’t happen.

This created a big change in the way I will run lessons this year. I have three 1.5hr lessons with each of my classes per week- two AS classes and one A2 group. I have worked dedicated ‘evaluation’ lessons into my scheme of learning. These will take place once a week with my A2 class so that they can present updates on coursework progress, teach each other and rewrite work. I hope that these lessons will provide all students with the space to reflect and therefore develop. The gap will be closed and my hours spent marking won’t be in vain.

I was also intrigued by @headguruteacher ‘s post about co-construction. There are other elements of co-construction that I’ll blog about at a later date but for now, my focus would be improving peer assessment in the classroom. (@TalkingDonkeyRE) Andy Lewis’s TeachTweet video about students marking their own A level essays had a big impact. Peer assessment isn’t something new to my students or my teaching. I was promoting peer assessment left, right and centre. I must have thought that if it was happening then my workload would automatically be reduced- WIN!

No, it was a definite LOSE! I was having to mark the work afterwards anyway because students weren’t getting what they needed from the peer assessment. Some students did a more thorough job than others and it meant that some students ended up with barely existent/ useless feedback whilst others were overwhelmed with it. Many students wouldn’t trust what their peer had written and wanted me to confirm what feedback they had received.

I am never one to give in and so it was a time for a change.

If you take a look at this post, you’ll see that I set success criteria for collaborative working tasks and students receive feedback; not only on the content of what their group has produced, but also the way in which they’ve worked together- so that it can become more effective in the future. I have decided to take the same approach to peer assessment. When I look at their work, they will receive feedback on their writing but also on any self and peer assessment carried out. Initially this will increase my markload but I’m hoping it will soon reduce as their confidence in each other, the mark scheme and the process increases.

I began this process in earnest with my AS groups this week. They were presented with part of a short story, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, for analysis. We talked about the way it was written, the ending of the story was revealed and we then discussed what clues had been given that had not been noticed on an initial reading. They were then given 20 minutes to write whatever they were able to on the subject of foreshadowing. Once the time was up, they passed their books to the front and stood up. The books are a big part of my marking process this year so that all their work is in one place and they (and I) can see the progress made over time.

I had written part of an essay and then marked it in several different ways. I wanted students to read first the essay and then the various feedback. I stuck all styles around the room. Chairs and bags were tucked in and the students were asked to walk around the room. They first read the essay and then they focused on the marking method used. I finally asked each of them to stand next to the style of marking they preferred. My secret hopes were dashed when they didn’t all pick the same style, but teaching never throws you the easy way out! There were a small group of students at each style and there wasn’t a single marking method that stood out as a favourite. I often think about the range of tasks offered in class; ensuring that all students are catered for but do I do the same with my marking? Absolutely not. Instead, I usually throw it all in at once and hope students will take what they want from it.

Here are the 5 styles students were presented with:

IMG_1074IMG_1075 IMG_1076 IMG_1077 IMG_1078

Each of the students justified their choice of marking styles and sat down at their original seat, where I had placed a peer’s essay for them to mark. Having only just met them the previous day, I tried to match students as best I could so that they would read an essay that would be around the same level but perhaps a little higher so they could learn from reading their peer’s work but not be too frustrated or outfaced by the level of writing. Some pairings didn’t work but I’ll be able to pitch this far more easily once I know the students better.

Later on, when I was marking the work, I took note of those students who had done it particularly thoroughly. I wanted to highlight how it was effective so that other students could learn from it. Obviously peer assessment has two hurdles to jump in terms of the work becoming more effective:

1. They must become more familiar with the content and success criteria of the work.

2. They must become more familiar with one another and the interaction involved in such an assessment process.

My hope is that by sharing pictures and commentaries on examples of fabulous feedback, peer assessment will improve. These commentaries and pictures are shared on each class website and they won’t be specific to group. My A2s have a lot to learn from the feedback techniques of many of my fabulous new AS students but my AS students can learn from the subject expertise of my A2 students.


This playlist links to videos of me talking through some successful examples of peer assessment.

Whilst peer assessment is improving and time is being given for students to ‘close the gap.’ There was still the outstanding problem of my marking workload and my own ineffectual techniques.

Due to my truly terrible, mostly illegible handwriting, I have been more than intrigued recently by video and verbal feedback. I tried this for the first time this week with my A level groups. I got my iPad, a quiet and cool classroom (on a sweltering day) and sat with a stack of books and a green pen. I circled and underlined as I talked through their work. This meant that students would receive feedback they could easily look back on and remind themselves of and I could have those valuable conversations about their work without having to make the time for it- it was already done. I made the videos unlisted and then shared them via email with each student. They will then comment underneath the video with:

1. What you did well.
2. What your areas for improvement are.
3. What you think of video feedback and any changes you’d like me to make next time.

Students will feedback on my feedback! And by the time we reach October my students will be sick of hearing the word ‘feedback!’

UPDATE: Email just received from a student. No, she wasn’t prompted to send it. I just received it!

‘I really like this method of feedback Hannah, listening to your voice on video is like being in class having you look at my work – I actually prefer it to written feedback because I was able to sit by myself at home and take on board what you had to say, and I have a better chance of remembering what you have said as I can replay the video too 🙂 can we carry this on all the way throughout the year? It’s is good idea!’

Even more student feedback about the process so far!

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This weekend, I have crystallised all of the feedback expectations into 2 pages of ‘fabulous feedback’ guidelines that will be stuck into students’ essay books- one at the front and one at the back. These sheets will provide guidance for the students and reminders for me not to overdo it and to vary the strategies I use. David Didau’s (@LearningSpy) post on peer critique inspired some of this- thank you! I can’t imagine improving my teaching now without the help of Twitter.

Page 1: 

A Level English with Hannah- Fabulous Feedback Guidelines

All the work we do for English will be assessed and feedback will take place. Much of this work will be self assessed, some of it will be teacher assessed and most of it will be peer assessed. There are reasons behind each part of this marking process.

Peer assessment

Self assessment

Teacher assessment

This sort of assessment will be a very central part of your A level English course, especially in the first few weeks. It is important that you become comfortable with assessing your peers’ work for a number of reasons. The first is that you will get to see a range of work that can show you the kinds of things you need to carry into your own work as well as things you need to avoid. It also means that you can receive feedback quicker on your work than I can often provide it. This is why we need to ensure you know how to do it effectively so you can learn from it.

There are two aspects to this part of the process. At times, the self assessment will take place immediately after finishing a piece of work so that you become accustomed to marking criteria. It also means that you and the next assessor can see how accurate your understanding of the success criteria is. The other way in which this kind of assessment can occur is after feedback has been received. You may be asked to reflect on that feedback to show that it has been understood and it’s also interesting to see how feedback has made you feel about your work.

This kind of assessment exists so that I know how you’re doing and therefore I can offer suggestions for development so that progress can be made. It is also useful for you to receive a more ‘expert’ view on your work. Although I will be assessing the writer’s work, there will also be some level of feedback on any peer/ self assessment completed so that the accuracy of it can be developed. Methods of marking will vary and will most likely be recorded by video.

TIMESCALE: Immediate/ 2-3 lessons after completion.

TIMESCALE: Immediate/ after feedback is received.

TIMESCALE: Up to one week after completion.

After the majority of feedback has been received, you will be expected to rewrite your work accordingly. If you merely read the feedback and did nothing to correct your work, it is more than likely that you will forget the aspects requiring improvement and make the same mistakes in the future. If you re-write then this too can be checked and you’ll feel a sense of achievement straight away that learning has taken place. The learning doesn’t take place just because you read your feedback; the corrections need to be made.

Examples of ‘fabulous feedback’ will be posted on each website.

AS Students:

A2 Students:

 Page 2: 

Fabulous Feedback- The Finer Facts

Be Specific– Ensure that any comments and markings on the page are clear and precise; avoid random ticks. Make sure instead that the correct/ incorrect things are each highlighted effectively. Comments should explain, in detail, what the writer needs to do to improve their work. Use success criteria or marking schemes where provided and ensure you have explored what the writer has done to achieve or miss criteria.

Be Kind– All comments should focus entirely on the work and not the person. The comments should challenge the work created and therefore the writer; not in a personal way, just in an English way! All comments should be written in a respectful and measured way.

Be Helpful– If the comments don’t benefit the work, the learning, the learners or the class, don’t share it. Everything you provide feedback on is there to help make the work better.

There are a number of strategies you can use to provide feedback and these should always be in conjunction with any success criteria provided.

These will be our 6 main marking methods:

Medal and Mission

1 thing they’ve done well and 1 thing to improve. Make both statements clear, specific and respectful. Helps also if accompanied by highlights/ underlinings.

1 Star and 2 Wishes

By student demand this was changed so that more emphasis was on the development of the work. Same guidance as M and M apart from 2 improvements are suggested.

One aspect at a time

This is very targeted comments and feedback- focussing on just one aspect of the marking/ the given criteria o a single essay.

Mystery Marking

Create your own key and reveal it at a later stage; forcing the writer(s) to consider its meaning. Aim to highlight positives and improvements in equal measure.

Video/ Verbal feedback

This should be a detailed running commentary of positive aspects and improvements to be made. Naturally, improvements are likely to be the focus as the work is commented on, it is therefore advisable to follow this with summing up comments, preferably in the style of M&M or 1S&2W.

Criteria Based

It often helps is symbols/ numbers/ letters are used to identify the different criteria throughout the piece. Each criteria should then have a connecting comment attached to it.

Taking on extra responsibilities this year at work has meant that I need to find much smarter and faster ways of working. Making peer assessment more effective and making my own marking a quicker and higher impact process have been central to this. I will hopefully be able to update you positively as to how these exciting changes develop.

January 2014 Update:

This new process of improving feedback and promoting students doing it far more effectively has, in short, worked. Excellent results have been seen and it is improving their work in two ways:
1- They understand the exam criteria far better as they are able to apply it to their peers’ work regularly.
2- They’re able to pick up tips from their peers’ work; both how to improve and the pitfalls to avoid.
Through the recent introduction of learning logs, students have shared some reflections on peer feedback and they made me happy so I thought I’d share some of them with you. Students are reflecting on this process in a really effective way in that they’re considering all dimensions of how the feedback affects their work.
photo 5 (1)
photo 3 (1)
I was most proud of the comments below. When we first started peer assessment, this student made lots of faces, looked rather disgruntled and voiced her opinion that they shouldn’t be marking one another’s work as they weren’t the teachers. I can’t look at these comments enough!
photo 1 (5)
We now have a fabulous feedback board in class, which displays good examples of students’ work and also doubles as a celebration of the most fabulous feedback being carried out by students.
The examples there at present came from a peer assessment lesson where we commented, passed and commented again until our own work returned to us. I joined in too- to check their assessment and offer some comments of my own.
photo 1 (7)
 photo 4 (4)
photo 3 (4)
photo 3 (3)
photo 2 (9)
photo 2 (8)
photo 1 (8)
You may notice that there aren’t really any of the strategies originally suggested in use. The annotations are far more detailed and advanced than stars and wishes, although we need to incorporate this element in addition as some students need the clarity at the end of the process with a summary of exactly what to improve and what was successful in their work. This will be the next stage. The peer assessment rotation was followed up by DIRT time, where they each re-wrote their work, according to the feedback given.
My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

11 Responses

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blog Hannah-thank you. I’ll share with my colleagues and although we don’t teach students quite as able as your A level students, I do believe that your fabulous feedback ideas can be adapted to KS3 and KS4. If your school is in the Leading Edge group, you can see our ideas on verifying peer assessment in their latest magazine.. Someone came up with a figure of 80% of peers getting it wrong so we have systems of another peer verifying the initial comments and then the ensuing dialogue between the peer assessors and the student whose learning has been assessed supports a great learning conversation and encourages the art of compromise-a great life skill! Keep up the great teaching!

  2. Hi David. Thanks very much for your comment. I’m pleased that you enjoyed it. I used to just plonk a student in front of someone else’s work and expect them to do it properly. That ‘tactic’ inevitably lead to varied results; generally very poor ones. I work for a College but the Leading Edge group looks very interesting. I’ll see if Post 16 can be involved. Hmmm… I shall think about involving that stage so that peers are peer assessing peers and so on. I might have to ease them into that, otherwise there’ll be so many layers of feedback within feedback it’ll begin feeling like that film, ‘Inception!’ That is a good idea though and I might start it sooner with my A2 class. Thanks for the comment!

  3. If you send your email address to my school email, I’ll send the original article as you can’t access the mag. Think there is a bit about PA on school blog too plus other ideas about collaborative staff learning. Although some of the ideas are for year 7, there are some of our basic principles that may be useful for anyone to think about.

  4. Great article – I like the way you combine two key bits of AfL in one go. If I had a pound for every time someone complained about how limited peer-assessment is, well… it’s nice to see the way you’ve set out to actually make it work by giving students the understanding of what you expect. I hope you finally get the reduced marking load you deserve out of it!

    1. Thanks Harry! I’ve only been teaching my AS students for 2 weeks but they already know how important doing it properly is. The feedback they’re producing is astounding and we discussed what they’re getting out of it so far- I have some fab quotes to add to this post as a result. Especially from a student who initially felt very uncomfortable in providing feedback on a peer’s work. Marking load already dramatically reduced 🙂

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