My name is Craig and I have a confession to make…

I never understood marking.

I mean it. I never understood it: how it worked, why I was doing it, how it helped students… it all eluded me entirely.

I was always the one schlepping Aldi bags for life across the car park, with the handles burning my skin and the contents burning my soul, (too much?) ready for a weekend of marking and the guilt of not doing it until Sunday night eating away at and destroying my ‘down time.’

I worried constantly about which set of books had too little green pen in them, too few stamps or too little student feedback on the feedback they had already had that I would then have to feed back on. What if someone popped in to look at some books? They would think I was a terrible teacher!
Stamps at the ready; green, purple and red pens at the ready; literacy and marking codes at the ready and it was time to ‘mark.’

My biggest problem was the constant inner monologue whilst marking: ‘They won’t read this. I’m doing it to look good.’ You see, from day one of being a teacher, I knew that I was marking for other teachers, for SLT and for Ofsted: I was not marking for progress and that sat really uncomfortably with me. The thing that was taking the most time, creating the most stress and guilt but most importantly, was stopping me from planning and organising effectively, was useless, in my opinion.
As a new teacher, I didn’t have the clout to change it and even if I did, I didn’t have the answers anyway.
Cut to now. I have moved schools and, like many others, my new school has made the move towards a knowledge-led curriculum. We have redesigned the curriculum and created our own workbooks which are used to support lessons and planning for teachers, however, the aligning of stars for me is the use of whole class feedback.

I had seen the discussions on Twitter, the ideas, screen grabs and opinions flying around and then our head sent us an extract from ‘Hymn Of The Tiger Teacher’ to read ahead of CPD about marking and its effectiveness, and we went for it.

I have to add, that this blog post is the summation of my work as a teacher and Head of Faculty in one school: my ideas and observations about the effectiveness and the potential pitfalls of whole class feedback. It also covers my views on the debate on Twitter in to its effectiveness and use and what I think effective practice looks like. This isn’t an expert speaking, and it isn’t the views of my school or trust, but my students have made progress and it has certainly changed the way I teach.

So, what is whole class feedback?

Whole class feedback is an alternative to physically marking books, where timely feedback is issued immediately and follow up tasks are done to correct, improve and stretch classwork. Timing is key to this. Students complete a task and before the next lesson, or even during the lesson, the teacher reads the work, identifies the misconceptions and then plans a lesson which will work to rectify that misconception, therefore, students are instantly aware of the improvement process, teachers know their students better and no one is spending a whole evening marking work that is at times up to three weeks old that no one is ever going to look at.

1. Whole class feedback is not marking!
One thing I have seen quite regularly on Twitter is the frustration of teachers trying to use whole class feedback to mark work in the same style as before and getting overwhelmed by trying to sum up lots of different tasks, positives and feedback: this simply does not work. Whole class feedback should be viewed as an intervention with one piece of work being scrutinised for a small number of criteria. This way, a lot less time is taken reading the material, the feedback you give the class is a lot simpler and more targeted but ultimately, the follow up task, designed to correct the misconceptions, has real value and learning.

2. In order to do feedback effectively, it has to be planned for.
The whole class feedback cycle is really important. When planning a lesson, it is imperative to identify the piece of work that is going to be fed back on so that the appropriate skills can then be assessed. This does not have to be a big task, an essay or a mock exam, it just needs to be focused and some time in lesson allowed to complete it.
For example, in a recent lesson of mine, my top set year 10 group, who are studying Macbeth, had previously had issues with the pulling apart of language – lots of ‘this quote means…’ rather than the writer uses this verb to…’. I planned a lesson which focused on modelling the detailed analysis of a quotation. As a class, we discussed a single quotation, pulled it apart and I modelled how we should write about it. They then had 20 minutes, with an exam style question, a single monologue and a strict focus to replicate what had been taught. During lunch I then read through these responses (which took 20 minutes), where I very quickly noticed that they had securely pulled the quotation apart, but then struggled to bring this back together to succinctly answer the question; the beginning of my next lesson had planned itself.

3. The narrative of the feedback is important
When completing whole class feedback sheets, it is very valuable to your data collection, to include narrative, especially when planning what feedback is to be given and how you intend to intervene. I try to ensure that my ‘next steps’ are outlined as a mini lesson plan, complete with timings so that it can be used in that manner. Make them easy to access, concise and relevant. This is to save time, not make more work. This is also a great tool for knowing, and showing that you know your own classes: Who are the focus students? Who needs extra support? Who are you worried about and why? The sheets then become very easy to refer back to and that narrative of knowing your class creates itself, becoming a very detailed intervention file in its own right.

4. Timing is everything
The reason whole class feedback works so well is that it ensures students are receiving the right intervention and support at the right time. They are not re-working a piece that they wrote three weeks ago and have long forgotten what they did and why they did it, but instead are re-engaging with it either the next lesson or sometimes during the same lesson. The sooner they can receive the feedback and the intervention, the more relevant and valuable it is towards their progress.
As I stated, I am not the expert here. I am a teacher who is using this in practice and adapting my own practice to find the best methods for my students.
I now understand why I never understood marking; I wasn’t marking in the best interests of progress and I think that knowledge and the tools to fix it have been the biggest force for change in my teaching.

Having re-trained as a teacher after a somewhat successful ‘career’ singing and travelling, Craig completed his PGCE in English and Drama in 2014 from Warwick University. He has since been KS3 Co-ordinator and acting second in English in various schools in the Midlands and now is in his second year as Director of Learning for English and MFL at The George Eliot School in Nuneaton. You can find him on Twitter @MrBonnyM.

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