This is a brief write-up of my TLT16 presentation. You can find the slides here. There are loads of other blogs I referred to, including some of my own. In no particular order:

Evidence? What evidence?, Marking is not the same as feedbackSo, how might we best feed back?, Whole-class marking, Is questioning yet another cult?, How do we create meaningful conversations? and Questions are shit all from me.

Jo Facer on Giving feedback the Michaela way and We have overcomplicated teaching.

Joe Kirby on hornets and butterflies.

Ben Newmark on Telling ’em what they need to do.

Doug Lemov on Reducing teacher workload by rethinking marking.

Tom Bennett, who wrote this the morning of TLT.

There are loads of others, of course, and I referred more generally to the thinking of Harry Fletcher-Wood and David Didau. Chris Curtis also writes very honestly about his thinking here.

Marking is not the same as feedback

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, without actual marks on the page, whether in angry red, positive green or DIRT purple, the evidence is not so obvious.

Except to the humble teacher it is. We look through books and see a difference between the quality of work at the start of the year and later on; we are witness to conversations in the classroom which show an increasingly deeper understanding of our subjects; we see students making inferences and leaps based on newly acquired knowledge; we are, over the year, able to elicit more and more nuanced responses from students.

The notion of providing ‘evidence’ of our input is as misguided as it is dangerous: remember, evidence is the answer to a particular question posed of a particular piece of information, often with a particular answer in mind. If the question is, “how much green pen is in this book?” then the answer is the amount of green pen, not the effectiveness of the feedback, if – indeed – that’s what the marking was even for.

And, if we’re all now accepting that learning is invisible then we have to also recognise that our input is going to be at least very difficult to see. Thus marking is a poor proxy for judging a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom, or, indeed, a student’s journey. Just like a student’s activity should not be mistaken for achievement, marking should not be viewed as evidence of effectiveness.

We really should read what our students write, but this doesn’t have to be time-consuming. So, before work is handed in, why not:

  • Ask students to pre-highlight certain key indicators? In history this might be dates, whereas in maths it might be brackets; in a French class it might be a tense.
  • Ask students to pre-edit. Create a ‘here’s what you could’ve included’ list which students then highlight or add in. This is perhaps the one occasion when a different coloured pen is acceptable!
  • Model answers first. Obvs.
  • Scaffold through questions, then gradually remove the scaffolding over time.
  • Give students the common misconceptions beforehand.

But we still have to offer some kind of advice, right? So what can we do?

  • Just ask questions? I’ve always found this a great way to stretch ideas, but do we need to write these down? Why not just give them a load of questions, and maybe number them? Then we could simply number their work: “You have 4, so that means …”
  • And on that, just give numbered tasks? Or next steps?
  • Use marking stickers? The problem with these is that they can be quite generic, but they certainly reduce time if you’re only looking to build technical ability.
  • Use dot marking? Again, these can be generic, but in terms of building a hierarchy of technical accomplishment, as well as a desire to move up the dot-ladder, they work well.
  • What about verbal feedback stamps? No. Their sole point is to provide evidence of feedback, but they do no such thing. Ditch them.
  • Try whole class marking crib sheets? These seem to be becoming more popular as teachers look to reduce the workload, but – again – there is the danger of being too generic or vague. Use them, but remember that anything students produce is knowledge dependent, and as such a very generic sheet might capture only proxies. Just be careful.
  • Write a few notes on a scrap of paper? This might not be the high-vis signposting that some want to see, but it’s at least as effective as anything else suggested above, and has the added bonus of allowing the teacher to be as flexible as necessary. Oh, and it saves a heck load of time.

Thank you so much if you came along. The session seemed to generate a lot of ideas, but then marking always will. I sometimes think I should put “marking” in every blog title, just for the hits.

Also, thank you to Dave Fawcett and Jenny Ludgate for organising the day. It was my first time (after a few years of failing to get a ticket in time) and I was genuinely really impressed. Hopefully I’ll be invited back next year.