Saturday, 28 November 2015

Two Stars and a Wish... For Better Feedback: Part 1

When training, I used peer assessment frequently as a plenary. It was great: all students diligently reading their partner's work and acting as fairy godparents, using their red wands to spell out their feedback. Or, as some people told me, marking the work so I didn't have to.

Of course, it all looked well and good until I started looking at how how effective some of this feedback was. When it came to marking the books myself, I found a range of spelling 'corrections' (my favourite being the student who 'corrected' a spelling that was already accurate) and very few targets that would actually help the student develop.  Thinking back, I'm not sure why I was surprised; it seems ridiculous to question why the feedback was ineffective when the students had not been taught how to give feedback effectively.

I started NQT year by using little peer/self assessment (and remarking those that had been done myself). This was not sustainable. I quickly realised that, if I wanted to make it worthwhile, then I would need to train my students- using a range of strategies shamelessly stolen from colleagues in my school and through twitter. And now, in the spirit of sharing that makes teachers amazing, I thought I could start to share them with you, starting with my most prized tool: highlighters.

There are many things that I have to be grateful for at my current school. One of these has to be the resource pack our subject leaders prepare for us each year.  Each September is like Christmas morning as we unwrap our fix of postits, polypockets and highlighters.  Each room gets a class set, with a range of colours; I can safely say that these are my most important tool in peer/self assessment.

The different colours are key.  In English, students often need to combine several skills in one paragraph of an essay/piece of creative writing and getting them to highlight these can often demonstrate when a key skill is not applied.  This also gives assessors an area to focus on, as they can then explain how a highlighted section links to the differentiated success criteria.  For Year 7, it can be as simple as highlighting quotations in one colour and the inferences made of a character in another.  At A Level, I get students to use five colours to show where they have met the different assessment objectives- something that's particularly important when students have difficulty applying so many skills in one piece of writing.

Lastly: it makes my marking more productive.  I don't have to read through an entire piece to recognise a lack of quotations or a lack of language analysis.  Instead, I can focus my written feedback on whether students understand what analysis is (especially if they have not highlighted an example, or have highlighted something that isn't actually demonstrating that skill).

Overall, I can safely say that if, next September, Santa does not bring me highlighters, I will be ordering my own.

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