If we’re not giving students feedback on their learning then, frankly, what in God’s good name are we doing? There is nothing else which should have a higher priority in your teaching.
David Didau – The Learning Spy
David’s comment from a recent blog post inspired me to think more carefully about feedback. His blog sets a standard for the rest of us, I think, because he makes us feel uncomfortable about our own practice, the mark of a true leader of learning. Coupled with an unhealthy period of time watching Dylan Wiliam keynotes on you tube – a man who looks more like a Bond villain than anyone I’ve seen – I came to realise that, yes, more than anything, feeding back is the key to everything we do. And I’m never convinced that I’m doing enough of it.
I took this idea from ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’, the best book on the subject I have yet to read, and I’ve read a few. My S1 class of twelve-year olds have been working on similes and mastering the apostrophe recently and I wanted to assess their progress. They undertook a small Writers’ Craft exercise where they had to recognise features of a writer’s style and continue the story in the same vein. All well and good. Some simple success criteria allowed them to peer and self-assess before handing completed work to me. So that was Friday.
Marking on Sunday involved something completely different for me. Anonymous feedback. It has become very clear to me that when you give a grade for something then the learning in the task ends. It is also sometimes difficult to get the students to read, or at least pay much lip service, to comments. This strategy attempts to address that.
I wrote nothing on the papers but on a prepared grid, I bullet-pointed five comments linked to each paper. In them, I commented on success criteria, whether achieved to not, along with a little hint towards something specific to their writing. e.g. ‘This was a great name for the character’, or, ‘you used two very effective similes here.’
In the follow up session, I handed out papers with nothing on them but also gave four anonymous grids. Groups had to read all comments and decide which comment was linked to which paper. This meant they had to read the comments and had to find areas of weakness – or strength – in their own writing. The discussion they had and the disagreements at times were the most effective learning experiences in the whole task.
Students then took that feedback and began to rewrite their stories. What was clear was that the learning comes through the discussion and the targeting of criteria. The end product is very often not especially important in terms of learning but the process of mastering the skills seems to develop more through discussion and collaboration. I’m really impressed with the results. Not the stories but their new approaches to reading comments. And maybe I’m getting more of a handle on genuine feedback which works.