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Hodder History Expert Blog

How I mark books and give feedback - Part 1
By Tony Fox
13 Nov

Recently I have been considering how I mark books and give feedback. The school is awaiting an Ofsted inspection, so SLT are putting pressure on us all to ensure books are marked. I am marking books more frequently than usual, and this is having a detrimental effect on my feedback, as I don’t have the time, now,  to give as much, or as detailed feedback  as I would usually - I am therefore looking to improve the quality of feedback.

My new thinking on marking and feedback began to develop only this September, the spark was Alex Ford’s (@apf102) post on the School History discussion forum , with his call to arms - 'I think it is hugely important we take this opportunity to set up proper systems of assessment for KS3 so that we don't just end up with another one imposed on us. The door is open!!' I decided to take up this challenge and mark without using National Curriculum levels, and to think about how I could mark and give feedback that was specific to developing Historical skill.

As the NC changes were idiotically late, and I, like most of us, had already begun to teach KS3, hence the KS3 Scheme of work, and the embedded assessments that I had spent all summer planning, had to remain.

The scheme I had inherited had Year 7s looking at the Romans for a term, and with just one hour a week, this took up a massive part of KS3, giving a disproportionate imbalance, as well as taking up a huge part of the teaching time. Many years ago Alf Wilkinson, from the Historical Association, advised me to shape my scheme to the needs of the students, whilst also keeping within the boundaries of the NC. My school is in North Yorkshire, which, although it does have some Roman heritage, has some fantastic Norman heritage too. I therefore decided instead to focus on the Normans in the first term, with an objective of developing the concept of continuity and change.

This was where I was lucky, for I felt one could not explain the changes brought by the Normans unless one had studied pre-invasion England. My luck was twofold. Firstly our area has a rich Anglo-Saxon History, especially the language. Secondly, Gove imposed a requirement to teach pre-1066 British History in mid September this year. I had my first topic bedded down, 'What did the Normans change in England?' being the enquiry question, with an end of topic assessment requiring students to answer this.

With an assessment comes marking, grading and criteria. I had given myself the task of marking this without NC levels, so I needed to develop a different mindset for marking and feedback. The student instructions for the assessment stated that they would only be marked on how well they demonstrated the pace and extent of change. I did not correct SPaG, (more on SPaG later) or give them a grade. Each student received feedback on how well they had explained continuity and change, and what they could do better when demonstrating continuity and change in the future.

I felt more secure in my feedback as I had limited the criteria by which I was judging the work. A few students seemed confused by the fact that they received no grade, and were therefore unable to judge themselves against their peers, but I felt that each student received more individual and more beneficial feedback. I had given them constructive feedback, feedback that could be used to improve, but I was still concerned by how well students would use the feedback to improve.

The first Monday back from half term was a PD day, when the Federation got together to share good practice. Again I was lucky - the focus of one session was assessment. Another History department demonstrated their hierarchy of Assessment, and used as an example: the Year 7 assessment essay on 'Why did William win the Battle of Hastings?' As I had just done this with my Year 7s I was keen to compare ideas.  We were to look at five types of feedback: Organisational, Encouragement, Constructive, Challenging and Dialogic, and mark an essay using each type of feedback.

·         Organizational was correcting Spelling, punctuation and Grammar (SPaG), with a bit of correcting misconceptions.

·         Encouragement, was giving praise and support for work done well.

·         Constructive was showing how something is done and how to improve.

It was during this third stage, that I realised not only that the poor students’ work had been obliterated by red and green pen, but that the feedback given would be far too complex to enable students to develop, and improve.

I argued that I use these three types of feedback already, but that I would now, in future use only one type for a particular piece of work, as I had done with my 'What did the Normans change in England?' assessment. I would have a narrow range of criteria for my marking and feedback, as this would create a uniformity of assessment for me, and a more focused feedback for the students. I know this is nothing new, but it is always good to review practice and share good practice, especially if it makes marking that little bit easier.

I now have a tight focus for my marking. The times I am marking pieces for SPaG do seem to fly past. The students are not receiving targets every week, they are given time to consider my comments, when I do give constructive feedback. They get a week or two when all I do is give them encouragement, and this has helped my relationship with students. Overall I have more confidence in my feedback, as both myself and my students now have time to consider the constructive and organizational feedback, and with this time to consider comes time to act.

One last point on this, I am thinking about when should I use the different types - it would be good to give encouragement after students have acted upon constructive feedback. I am still developing my thoughts, and with this specific blog getting overly long, my further ideas, and how I use Challenging and Dialogical feedback will have to wait for another time.

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