Learning with our mistakes | Feedback in the classroom

‘Good job’.

‘Well done.’

‘I like what you did there, but have you considered…?’

Feedback is an essential part of life, in school or otherwise. How do you know how you’ve done in something if nobody tells you? Doug Lemov talks about practice making permanent, but if we continue to practice the wrong thing, then we’re going to consistently go about doing something all wrong – time after time.

One of my targets in the classroom was to work on the feedback that I was giving, either verbally or written. My mentor advised that I read Chris Runeckles’ Making Every History Lesson Count and, wow, did that book make a difference. He has chapters on questioning, challenge, explanation, practice and modelling, but these are my key takeaways from his chapter on good feedback.

I hope it helps you as much as it’s helped me.

Cut the content

Teachers have lots to do, in their jobs, every single day. Therefore, it’s really important that we resist the urge to add to our already busy to-do lists (mine are usually scribbled in my Bullet Journal). To help with this, be careful when marking. Written marking, for instance, is pointless if students are going to continue learning the same misconceptions. Runeckles says that it’s actually better to leave no feedback than bad feedback, so make any book-ticking worthwhile with specific, actionable targets.

How are we going to make their targets specific without giving ourselves too much extra work? Easy: we’re going to create a feedback code for students to memorise. Runeckles suggests P (point), CK (content knowledge), BEx (basic explanation) and DEx (detailed explanation), but choose a form that will work best for you and your classes. The important thing is that you’re consistent with it, as it’ll make the whole marking and DIRT-doing way more straightforward.

When marking, though, try to avoid giving grades all the time, or your students won’t even bother reading that feedback you’ve spent hours crafting. You should also give them time, in class, dedicated to improving their answers – or that marking will have been a wasted effort. As Dylan Wiliam says, feedback should mean more work for the recipient than the donor.

How to feedback

Once you’ve created your systems for feedback, it’s time to get going. One strategy is peer- and self-assessment and, while these are great methods to cut down on your workload, they won’t always work out. Graham Nutall says that 80% of feedback is from peers, and most of it is wrong. This isn’t done spitefully, either; the truth is, many students simply won’t know how to provide feedback. As with anything, you need to model good peer assessment first.

Provide them with checklists, and even editing scaffolds, where you tell them in the final 5 minutes of an extended writing task what their answer absolutely needs to be successful, and give them time for self-corrections. It is our job, after all, to guide our students to their learning goals.

Feedback for all

You can also provide whole-class feedback as long as you continue to be specific with your targets with each student. For example, you may wish to pick out a common misconception and reteach the whole class. Or, you may wish to give specific targets for multiple students; for example, one task for those with poor structure and one task for those without detailed knowledge. Number those targets as 1 and 2. Write the appropriate number in a student’s book and display the full target on the board.

You’ve just saved yourself hours of writing but are still marking in detail. Check you out.

It is important, though, that we expect a response. Runeckles suggests that your DIRT lessons, where students can act upon their targets, may look like this:

  • Show them a worked example on the board, where you tick all of the facts that it contains. Have them do the same in their own answers.
  • Stick a model answer in the middle of their page and provide positive comments on the left and development comments on the right. You should model this to begin with, and then students can use the feedback about what makes a good one in a redraft of their own answers.
  • During the redrafting stage, ask them to improve a specific part of their answer. Use coloured pens and asterisks to add to them.
  • Students may also wish to answer a new, but similar, question to the one they had already had practice with.

Importantly, whichever strategy you go for, you need to remember the all-important feedback loop. This is where teaching is constantly adjusted to take into account the responses and achievements of all students, and content is retaught as appropriate. Applying the same methods and pedagogies to all of your classes simply won’t be an effective approach.

Which of these strategies are you excited to try in your teaching? Let me know if any of them work in the comments below, and consider liking this post to let me know that you want more of these book breakdowns.

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