A few quotes to begin…
- Feedback is information given to the learner and/or the teacher about the learner’s performance relative to learning goals. It should aim to (and be capable of) producing improvement in students’ learning. Feedback redirects or refocuses either the teacher’s or the learner’s actions to achieve a goal, by aligning effort and activity with an outcome. It can be about the learning activity itself, about the process of activity, about the student’s management of their learning or self-regulation or (the least effective) about them as individuals. This feedback can be verbal, written, or can be given through tests or via digital technology. It can come from a teacher or someone taking a teaching role, or from peers.
- “Feedback is a menacing succubus that sucks the life out of the music, leaving a dried husk, devoid of soul.”
- Nigel:The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…
Martin: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Martin: Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Martin: I don’t know.
Nigel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Martin: Put it up to eleven
Extract from Spinal Tap
So – we have reached the end of our study of Jekyll and Hyde, a unit of work that has been well documented on this blog. I’ve marked the students’ assessments and been very impressed with the responses with most students picking up on that delicate balance between AO1, AO2 and AO3.
Eschewing the convoluted ‘marking and feedback’ sheets promulgated by a certain prominent/fashionable educational cult, we decided to go simple and just use an A4 sheet with a simplified mark scheme and do my usual comments and questions in margins. Thanks to a colleague for allowing me to use this:
I like questioning the students – it is a proper dialogue between teacher and pupil and becomes a real focus for feedback. “How can I improve?”; “Look at my questions in the margins.” We all do it – it’s gimmick free. You can see some of the annotations I’ve made on students’ work in the screen shots below, annotations which formed the basis of the feedback and improvement lesson which I did last week.
In order to feedback for this lesson, I wanted to do something slightly different. I began by asking students to collect examples of good ideas/points made in their essay. They looked at their essays (and at each other’s) and wrote down one good idea per post-it note, covering their desk with as many of these as possible. The thinking here was to get students to celebrate their own work, so at first I didn’t want to do a peer review. However, some of the less confident students felt more comfortable in swapping so I encouraged their independence.
Once we’d collected the post-it notes (some groups of 4 managed 12 or 13, others were less dynamic!) I then reminded them of the AOs for the Jekyll and Hyde question before giving them a sheet of sugar paper (on which I had scribbled AO1, AO2 and AO3) and asked them to group the post-its into categories.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they could do this with some confidence – they were clearly able to distinguish the differences between understanding, inference and analysis of methods/language.
This activity was useful in yoking together a couple of things: students’ reflection of their own work and the sharing and appreciating of the good ideas of others; filling in gaps in their knowledge, and finally utilising a meta-language (of AOs) to organise their thoughts.
Just to make things interesting, I asked one member of each group to move to another table and do the ‘take one, leave one’ activity: the selected student identifies one idea from another table that they would like to take back to their home group and they also ‘leave’ a new idea. There are other ways of making this more interactive: these ‘cuckoos’ could also question their new group about whether they have the post-its in the correct place, but time was running out!
A few other little tasks followed – such as thinking about the wider text, for which I used this slide:However, what I really wanted to get on to was the improvement stage. The task was simple and again we’ve all done it: ask students to take one aspect of their writing and make it better using the knowledge gained in this lesson and my annotations on their work.
Student 1 – Vanessa was challenged to write a little more about AO3 to develop a point that she made about Hyde being ‘treated differently within the whole of the novel’. I felt that this was a bit of a throwaway line so what could she do to develop this? She responded with this:
I think it adds a little more substance to the point, don’t you think? She’s beginning to explore more complex issues within the novel and I also like the additional point about him being ‘physically broken in two’ in response to another comment from me.
Student 2 – Caitlin
Caitlin decided to improve her conclusion. She wrote that ‘Stevenson has target his book toward repression’.
Caitlin is a talented student; I asked her if she could comment on some symbolism here. She responded with this:
Student 3 – Aaliyah’s task was to improve on the first paragraph in the section below; I asked her to explain this idea of Hyde evoking disgust using more developed AO2 responses
This is Aaliyah’s improvement
You can see here that Aaliyah has expanded on her comment on the notion of the unknown.
Student 4 – Millie
I wanted to see a little more on methods in Millie’s middle paragraph, to expand on her comment on ‘broken and decaying’…
Here’s Millie’s response (in green):
The Sutton Trust (quoted in the first epigraph to this blog) value effective feedback, aiming ‘to produce improvement in students’ learning’. I think that this is evident in the work the students produced in this lesson. Everyone was engaged, with most producing some real progress. Most. One or two students did struggle to find things to say, until I directed them towards my questions; it’s the end of term, there is reluctance and some students still resist improving work they see as ‘finished’, so it is important to emphasise the value of feedback and the reasons for doing it. Joe is always reluctant, but I use some convoluted analogy.
“Imagine you’re learning to build a brick wall. You do it and it’s a bit wonky. The boss says it’s okay, so you think that’s the way all brick walls should be built. Is that right?”
He grunts, no.
“So instead, the boss says, ‘just make that top edge straighter, smarten up the pointing and you’ll have a great wall and no complaints from the customers”.
He grunts again and starts writing.
Feedback is not marking, and David Didau has written extensively on this (see here http://www.learningspy.co.uk/workload/is-marking-the-same-thing-as-feedback/). Marking is functional, utilitarian; it needs to be done but unless students look at it and act on it, it isn’t really doing anything but feeding the monitoring monster that lives in an office somewhere in your school. Earlier this year, I was faced with an extraordinarily complex marking sheet designed by P…L with which I had to mark some An Inspector Calls essays. Each essay took a life time to mark and I’m not sure how effective the sheet was for students – it confused them in its overwrought complexity. The intention was good, I’m sure, but an A3 sheet with a huge amount of data was off-putting; the second quote in the epigraph feels quite appropriate in that these kind of activities are indeed succubi which suck the life out of learning and teaching.
Finally, you’re probably thinking of the relevance of the Spinal Tap quote. Some of my students achieved full marks in the essay, so how can we ‘make it go up to 11?’ They contributed to the post-its activities because their knowledge and input was important, but I felt that it would have been churlish for me to ask them to ‘improve’. There were five of them, so I got them together in a group and whilst the others were writing their improvements, this group worked on creating questions, an activity that goes down well with some of the teachers I work with on training. This was the activity:
They responded well to the challenge, producing some really credible questions and a few bullet points for the different AOs. I was worried that this would be divisive and one student did ask me ‘is that the clever table?’. However, there is a real sense of purpose and identity to this class and they work incredibly well together; I was pleased to hear one or two students say “I’m going to be on that table next time” which made me feel a bit better, a little less elitist.
Let me know what you think.