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Marking and feedback. Marking is feedback? Marking isn’t feedback.

A little while ago I wrote this about marking policies:

It’s the evidencing of new ways to do more of something we’re doing too much of anyway to please someone else which annoys me.

I’d read about a school which outsourced its marking. This annoyed me. The thought behind this plan was well-meaning: take away the pressure of marking so that teachers could focus on planning. But marking is planning, isn’t it? How would I get to know a student’s writing without reading it? How would I plan to help students without knowing how they wrote? It’s all very well the marker giving me feedback but that money could be better spent elsewhere, I thought.
There were lots of questions: Could the marker give feedback to students without knowing them? Was this necessarily a problem, or perhaps even a benefit? How would I know the quality of the marker’s comments? Would there be comments? What would I, the teacher, have to provide for the marker?

The most important question, to my mind, is what did the school mean by ‘marking’? Did they mean feedback? Because there’s a difference. My school uses the two terms interchangeably and I suspect others do too.

I don’t tend to do ‘marking’ but I do provide ‘feedback’. The problem is, for the people whose job it has become to look for evidence of this sort of thing (more on that later…), without actual marks on the page, whether in angry red, positive green or DIRT purple, the evidence is not as obvious.

Except to me it is. I look through books and see a difference between the quality of history at the start of the year and now; I am witness to conversations in the classroom which show an increasingly deeper understanding of how events, actions and ideas might link over and across time; I see students making inferences based on newly acquired knowledge; I am able to elicit more nuanced responses from students now than I was in September.

But there won’t necessarily be much red pen to indicate this.

And yet I am, apparently, obliged to ‘evidence’ this to satisfy the demands of either Ofsted or senior leaders. Frankly, though, if an observer needs me to point to this then they’re either lazy or incompetent. Strong stuff, Toby!

There’s a feeling at my place that this is fair enough, that it’s what Ofsted want and that there isn’t another way: I want to scream YOU’RE ALREADY DOING IT EVERY DAY!

Instead I flash this screenshot:

So here’s what I think feedback is: it’s every time we speak to students; it’s walking around the room and not sitting at our desks; it’s reading what they’re writing over their shoulders; it’s pointing out mistakes quickly; it’s modelling and scaffolding (but not too much); it’s creating desirable difficulties and encouraging liminality and provisionality; it’s asking all those bloody questions; it’s telling them (not unkindly!) that they’re wrong and finding out where their misinterpretation stems from; it’s reading their work and NOT writing anything; it’s them highlighting their work prior to handing it in; it’s a rigorous peer-assessment where there are very clear rules, not student interpretations; it’s talking to the whole class about what went well; it’s drafting; it’s having individual conversations during the lesson; it’s having individual conversations whilst on duty; it is also, sometimes, about writing questions; it’s about knowing when to be very specific, when to be encouraging and when to push.

It is not about lots of teacher pen.

Marking is not the same as feedback.

This post was originally written on staffrm.io.