It’s well known amongst teachers that feedback is crucial to pupil learning. However, delivering it effectively can be something of a headache in practice: it can be time consuming and ensuring students respond to it is challenging.
Despite our best intentions, our feedback may not be moving our pupils forward. So, what can we do?
Helpfully, a team of researchers and teachers have worked with the EEF to produce ‘Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning’, a guidance report packed full of advice from the best available evidence about feedback.
This timely report supports schools to reflect on their approach to feedback to make day-to-day practice more effective. Considering how much time we spend assessing and feeding back to students, understanding how our time can be spent most productively is crucial.
The report sets out six recommendations, of which, three stood out to me in particular.
Recommendation 1: Lay the foundations for effective feedback
I don’t think that this can be emphasised enough. As Dylan Wiliam comments in the report, feedback is what happens second, after high-quality teaching and careful selection of an assessment task that reveals how well students have understood the learning. Without these foundations in place, feedback may be of little value.
Recommendation 3: Plan for how pupils will receive and use feedback
Early in my role as a school leader, I was mentoring an NQT who spent a disproportionate amount of time marking. I asked them to bring some books to our next meeting and to mark a couple of them while I observed.
It was evident that they were marking everything the student had written: notes copied from the board, class tasks already checked by peers as well as independent tasks. It led to a really useful discussion about what they were marking, why, and what good feedback would look like for particular tasks to help students move forward.
There are many factors at play that determine how students understand their teachers’ feedback and whether (or not) they act on it.
At at Sandringham, we have worked hard to develop a common language around the students’ role in feedback. We use the term ‘ReAct’ when giving our pupils feedback, designed to place the emphasis on their role in acting on their teachers’ feedback. Although this language is very well established in our school, as any teacher or school leader will know, habits have to be established each year and reinforced consistently.
Our Year 7s don’t automatically know what it means when we say ‘ReAct’. Likewise, older students used to the routine of getting work back and hearing their teachers talk about ‘ReAct’ may not necessarily want to act on it. Reminding students of the purpose of feedback and modelling how to use it, as well as other strategies recommended in the report, are all helpful in building a culture of feedback in our classrooms.
Recommendation 6: Design a school feedback policy that prioritises and exemplifies the principles of effective feedback
Feedback policies should promote and exemplify the principles of effective feedback rather than specific methods, such as whether it is written or verbal. I would argue that exemplification is especially important at subject level. The demands of each subject area varies widely, and thus exemplification of assessment tasks and what effective feedback might look like can be hugely helpful in demystifying what is expected of staff.
Helpfully, the report also makes suggestions about what schools can leave out of policies, such as stipulations about the methods and frequency of feedback. Instead, it emphasises the importance of teachers having the freedom to exercise their professional judgement.
It can be tricky to strike a good balance between consistency and autonomy, but the report provides a set of useful, thought provoking questions for school leaders to consider as they reflect on their school’s policies.