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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Roe

Marking is not always required, but feedback is essential

This is the third blog piece in a series, written by members of the Thrive Development Team, that will shine a light on the Thrive Teacher Workload Charter.  Along with our headteacher team, we have devised 11 statements that will help manage workload so that great teachers still have the energy at the end of a challenging week to be great family members and great friends. In this piece Julia Mitchell (Trust School Development Lead - Primary) and Jonathan Roe (CEO) reflect on marking and feedback.

In recent years we have shifted the focus of our marking and feedback guidance in the direction of feedback, and for two main reasons.  Firstly (and not the best reason) because Ofsted moved away from being proscriptive about marking in pupil’s workbooks.  Secondly (and the better reason) the evidence around the effectiveness of written feedback (marking) is patchy at best and incredibly age determined (EEF 2021).  As a school trust with learners aged 3 to 16, we leave it to schools to set their own marking and feedback policies, and we monitor these; but as overarching principles, we offer the following guidance.

Focus on feedback in the lesson

Where a teacher enables high-level pupil engagement built on taught learning behaviours, they can have the confidence to facilitate purposeful pupil talk and diagnostic teacher/pupil engagement that gives the teacher almost all they need to assess learning and plan next steps.  In this scenario feedback happens ‘in the moment’ and learning is accelerated in the lesson.  Pupils who are actively engaged in learning in this way may not produce work in their workbooks, but the skilled teacher will have a wealth of formative assessment data for the whole class and for individual pupils.  There may be some lessons where pupils do not produce any tangible work at all (BTW this will be frowned upon if it gets out of hand!) meaning that marking is not necessarily required - so long as good quality feedback is happening.

Feedback in lessons, implemented effectively, should lead to progress in children’s learning without significant contribution to teacher workload.  Effective feedback given at the time (using the Questioning and Feedback WALKTHRUs - show-me boards, say it again better, probing questions) delivers feedback that moves learning forward there and then, giving the teacher the formative assessment knowledge they need to move learning forward, right in the lesson.  We believe that the overwhelming majority of the formative assessment information that teachers need can be gathered in the moment, so that teachers can leave the lesson with a clear understanding of what next steps should be.  So what should marking look like?

Make marking proportionate

This is where it get’s tricky.  What’s right for a high ability pupil in a Year 10 English lesson, shouldn’t be the same for a low ability pupil in a Year 2 music lesson - it goes without saying.  Marking must be age appropriate, subject appropriate and learner appropriate.  But as a general rule we appreciate this intervention from Dylan Wiliam ‘I recommend what I call ‘four quarters marking.’ I think that teachers should mark in detail, 25% of what students do, should skim another 25%, students should then self-assess about 25% with teachers monitoring the quality of that and finally, peer assessment should be the other 25%. It’s a sort of balanced diet of different kinds of marking and assessment.’

A brief note here to the curse of teacher guilt.  Stopping detailed marking of everything is something that some have been resistant to, but as Dylan Wiliam says ‘In education the only way to improve is to stop people doing good things to give them the time to do even better things’.  Stopping doing good things is very hard for some but it is worth getting over out guilt if we are convinced that we are doing even better things, more effective things, things that result in greater learning.

Clearly, Dylan Wiliam’s four quarters is a neat and tidy guide to be amended appropriately.  But as a guide it’s really helpful.

The phrase ‘in depth marking’ is open to interpretation and schools will give all sorts of guidance on this (green highlighters, different coloured pens etc.)  And some of this marking can also happen in the lesson (we want to work with staff to lessen the amount of marking they do at home). Having a pile of exercise books sitting somewhere within reach at home, promotes only a feeling of dread for an entire weekend for the teacher.  Teachers leaving the building with a trolley filled with workbooks is not a scenario that definitely contributes to pupil progress, but will definitely contribute to teacher burnout.

‘Skim marking’ sounds almost lazy - but it’s purpose is twofold.  Firstly to confirm or deny the view the teacher gained during the lesson, and secondly, to clarify in the teacher’s mind the whole class and group feedback message they present at the start of the next lesson.  One or two laser sharp points, should do it and prepare the class for their next steps in learning.

Neither is ‘self assessment’ a lazy way of teachers getting pupils to do their work for them.  Rather it is a deliberate process of reflection (these skills need teaching) that enables a pupil to measure their own performance against WAGOLLs, exemplars, modelled responses and other students.  Once taught, these skills can be quickly employed at the end of a lesson with pupils realising their own areas for improvement and being given the time to refine responses and edit work.

‘Peer assessment’ is also a set of learned skills, and reflects Ron Berger’s principles (An Ethic of Excellence, 2003) of feedback should be specific, helpful and kind - all skills that can be honed and developed in students over time.

Review practice and policy frequently

Schools review their marking and feedback policies regularly both to remind and to update in light of changing circumstances or research developments.  Over time we have simplified marking and feedback arrangements, and reduced workload as a result.  Our focus is firmly on the two goals of promoting pupil progress whilst always remembering who the marking is for, the child and the teacher.  We support this view through ensuring that reviewing teacher performance includes improving feedback to pupils and reducing workload.  We don’t look for VF (verbal feedback given!) in the margin, how many ticks there are or lengthy comments from the teacher.  We look for progress through refinement, response and practise, and we take feedback from pupils and teachers on how this is going.

In summary:

  • Feedback from pupils in the lesson tells teachers almost all they need to know.

  • Workload can be kept manageable by marking in the lesson and teaching self and peer-assessment techniques.

  • Review the marking and feedback policy annually in light of changed circumstances or research evidence.


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