ppfrontWe started the new year together yesterday with a long sustained look at the theory and practice of giving feedback to and with children in class. We have been doing this for a long time as a school, and teachers do it well, but yesterday gave us a chance to reinvigorate the practice with a serious and detailed examination of definitions and types of feedback; a review of our existing marking practice and a push toward doing less of it, but to greater effect; a hard look at how and why we use success criteria; a model for giving feedback, based on that of Hattie and Timperley (2007) and finally an exploration of four feedback/marking practices that we could use sustainably in school. There has been a lot of work done in feedback in schools over the past 10 years, a lot of it sparked by the Visible Learning work of John Hattie who gave a strong statistical case for its fundamental importance and thus encouraged educators and those that lead them to review their practices. This has been highly welcome, and whilst Hattie and I will diverge at some points in the way he uses his data, in this area the work is sound and of immediate impact. So if that sets the groundwork for it, there has been some other work, notably that of Shirley Clarke, Ron Berger,  Peter Johnston and Ruth Dann, which we wanted to incorporate into our thinking, as their approaches and findings complement the statistical findings of Hattie whilst helping us to find new ways of putting it into practice.

The powerpoint of the morning can be downloaded here. The other resources we used, and a description of the Hattie and Timperley model, can be found here (feedback-in-schools-john-hattie).

I am very grateful to Tracey, my co-presenter, as she was the intellectual drive and researcher behind this work, but also because she is teaching us as leaders to become acolytes of the work of Peter Johnston, especially through his two books Opening Minds and Choice Words, which are wonderful short reads that revolutionise the way we interact with children, and place good (and godly, probably) constraints on the sort of language that really advances, deepens and builds openness to learning among children. The power of Johnston’s work seems to me to enable us to make the important link between two key aspects of our school’s theory of learning – the giving and receiving of feedback on one hand, and the exploration of dialogic teaching on the other (my take on dialogic teaching is nearly 5 years old now and can be found here). To be able to use our skills at the “word and sentence level” with children is the height of intentional thought and craftsmanship and it was no surprise that when we asked teachers to summarise in a single word or phrase what they had got from the morning, many said “noticing” – a key skill in our use of language that enables children to develop their thinking and learning without any value judgment being placed on them or their work.

To summarise the morning, then:

  • Review: teacher marking continues to be of high quality, with many opportunities for children to respond and thus for the learning conversation to take place in books at the end of a piece of work; many opportunities for self- and peer assessment; and high quality compliance with our agreed expectations of the way we mark. There are obvious opportunities for more consistency between year groups, consistency between the way we mark maths and English, opportunities for more child-teacher interaction, and plenty of opportunities for streamlining our practice to help make it less burdensome. Some of these were addressed by letting teachers and TAs examine each other’s marking practice in books, and then sharing these around the school through a jig-sawing activity.
  • Definitions: The feedback definitions that stuck in our minds from the morning were twofold:

    Feedback is the purposeful, interactive learning conversation centred on a pupil’s knowledge, understanding or work/task.

    The purpose of feedback is to improve conceptual understanding or increase strategic options while developing stamina, resilience and motivation – expanding the vision of what is possible and how to get there. Perhaps we should call it feedforward rather than feedback. (Peter Johnston)

    There is obviously much more in this area to define (the work of Valerie Shute, 2008 is also very helpful in providing an expanded definition of feedback that “mops up all the corners”), but the first is a good working definition and the Johnston quote reminds us of the purpose of what we do.

  • Mistakes and errors: The difference between these was aired – mistakes resulting from carelessness or lack of application by the child; errors resulting from misconceptions and things learnt wrongly. We challenged teachers to be able to use the right sort of feedback to children to address these different areas, and to ask these three questions when marking work, to help judge the response they should give: Does this material need to be RELEARNED or RETAUGHT? Does this child need MORE (focused) PRACTICE? Does this child need to go DEEPER/ move FORWARD in their learning?
  • hattie-timplerley-2007Model for Feedback: unashamedly we have used the Hattie and Timperley model, now 10 years old, but it is such a wide-ranging and useful tool that it will become the basis of a new feedback and marking policy. Here is the model in pictoral form.
  • Success and success criteria: it was important for us to define clearly for teachers again the difference between product and process success criteria. This graphic illustrates how we need to think of them, and we looked at the subtlety that what might be a product criterion during one lesson, closely linked to the learning intention for that lesson, might be just one of the steps to success (process criterion) in a lesson in the same subject a week later.

success-criteriaThis all constitutes a very short summary of what we learnt in the way of the theoretical background, and the second half of the morning was given over to exploring four ways that we might really impact much more richly on the children’s learning, and the visibility of the learning process in the class.

The four practical ways forward were as follows:

1-and-23-and-4Obviously, the first we do already, and do well – but a useful reminder of the sort of prompts that have impact was shared, and plenty of examples from my review of written feedback and marking that I did last November, were available.

The second was a cursory exploration of something we want to re-develop later in the term, but Peter Johnston’s work on noticing and causal process statements will have a lot of power for us in our classroom talk.

Key work marking – where a single word or short phrase is used by the teacher during the lesson as a reminder prompt for action by the student before the end of that lesson – has already proved to be powerful in those classes that have begun to use it.

Gallery critique, based on the work of  Ron Berger, has been used at Christ the Sower for a while, but not universally and this was a chance to watch Austin’s Butterfly for those who had not seen it and learn the essential protocol to be used when carrying out gallery critique. It is one of the most powerful means of peer assessment that exist in primary settings and has particular application in art, music, PE and technology, though by no means confined to those.

Through my learning walks, I am looking forward to seeing these in action in classes. I was delighted with the response of the teaching team (32 of us were present for the training) and will look for a chance to roll this training out to other TAs who do not attend on INSET days. Thanks to all concerned, and especially to Tracey for the work that made this such a successful exercise.


About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher by profession, now working as an educational researcher, in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011. My work looks to make education effective for the whole child and keeps a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, amateur printmaker, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for children. The views on this blog are all my own.

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