Wednesday 4 November 2009

Effective feedback for students.

I am a member of my school's Raising Achievement Team. We are a group of teachers from different subjects with a common goal, namely raising achievement.

Over the last year we have been trialling different ways of feeding back to students, choosing the most effective ways for our departments and our students to improve and sharing our experiences. Successful feedback, naturally, depends on our objectives and our outcomes for the task set and not all ways are right for all activities or subject areas.

I planned to write this post about 4 months ago and forgot all about it until we did a work scrutiny and my line manager told me, "There isn't enough red ink in the kids' books. Sort it out."

Below I have listed 10 different ways of giving written feedback to students (with my own personal musings thrown in to keep you awake!).

1) Traditional marking
This is the red pen, lots of crossing out, strange codes in the margin, type of feedback so favoured by teachers when I was at school (and still favoured by most School Managers!)
It confuses students and can demotivate them, too. (The ones who bother to read it, that is) Personally, I would avoid this like the plague.

2) The PEN method
PRAISE - the student's strengths
ERROR - point out areas to be developped
NEXT STEPS - suggest a way to improve

3) Highlighting
I love this one (and so does Chris Harte. Read his rainbow assessment blog post.) It involves highlighting where a child has achieved the set objectives and allows them to see clearly which are the good bits in their work, so they can use them again and again.

4) Medal and Mission
This is all a bit "Jim Phelps" for me. It involves identifying were objectives were met by giving "medals" in the form of stamps, stickers, etc and suggesting a "mission" to be accepted by the student to improve. Works well with demotivated boys, apparently.

5) Smile and a Star
Identical to medals and missions only for the less FBI-minded students. Smiles for achievement and a star to reach for.

6) PIE method
PRAISE where objectives are met
IMPROVEMENT suggestions
ENCOURAGE students to try new ideas

7) The Praise Sandwich
This is mainly used in industry during staff appraisals. It involves placing a development point between 2 slices of praise. (You need to be careful with this one and make sure that the layers of the sandwich are in equal proportion. I found a great article about this called "why the sandwich feedback technique is ineffective" but some of my colleagues love it.)

8) 2 Stars and a Wish
For this method, indicate 2 areas where learning objectives have been met, and use the wish to suggest an area for improvement. (Again, I don't like this, maybe because I don't feel it relevant to modern languages, or maybe it just seems a bit "too girly".)

9) A Bubble and a Box
This technique involves identifying and drawing a box around evidence of where objectives have been met and putting a recommendation for developments or improvements in a bubble.

10) Comment only marking
This involves writing comments based on success criteria having been met, and questions to consider for future improvements.

For any of these methods to be effective in improving your students' achievement, we need to consider 3 things:

Firstly, the students have to understand the system you are using, otherwise you may as well not even bother looking at their work.

Secondly, students have to be given the opportunity and the time to respond to your feedback. If you don't allow time for this, you are wasting your, and your students', time.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the teacher must realise that none of the above methods is a skive. It will take a very long time to mark a class set of books using any of these methods. Comments and suggestions need to be tailored to each student's individual needs. Ask yourself this, "Who are we marking for?"

It is a long process but, if done properly, definitely worth it in the end.
Now where did I put that red pen....?


Amor8 said...

Thanks for passing along these suggestions. I am often discouraged after spending tons of time grading assignments and students don't look beyond the letter grade they earned. I have been using rubrics a lot more the last few years, but I will start including personalized praise. Maybe that will encourage my students to read the other comments.

Dom said...

Thanks for the comment. It is quite frustrating that some students don't read comments but perhaps they will if they don't get a grade. What about getting them to comment on your feedback before they get their grade? Perhaps that will make them take notice? :0)

Amor8 said...

Excellent idea. We have an online application that students can view for individual grades. I'll give back papers with comments & post # grade online for them to view. I just got done grading a set & made an effort to give them positive feedback. Thanks again for some good ideas.

Dom said...

Thanks for the comment, Jerry, and thanks for the link to funnelbrain.

Anonymous said...

I agree that with my nursing exam my letter grade was very important to me. But what really mattered was that I passed at all, really. Getting that A was more important than just passing the exam though.