Hodder History Expert Blog

How I mark books and give feedback - Part 2
By Tony Fox
20 Nov
I have continued to investigate how I could improve feedback. At the Professional Development day we looked at five types of feedback: Organisational, Encouragement, Constructive, Challenging and Dialogic.
As mentioned in my last blog when marking I use:

·         Encouragement, giving praise and support for work done well, and awarding house points when deserved.
·         I also aim to give Constructive feedback, to show how to improve something, and how to develop historical skills.
·         I give Organisational feedback, where I correct Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG), and challenge misconceptions or factual errors.

This is done on a weekly basis, and I look for how the students correct their work. I was pleased to hear, during a parents’ evening this week, that students are making note of my constructive feedback – tangible evidence that it is working. I am now fairly confident that I am beginning to using the first three types of feedback constructively, so I am focusing on the latter two: Challenging feedback and Dialogic feedback.

We were told that Challenging feedback comments should focus the students thinking on an extension of the subject under study. I see this as a development of the constructive comment, to show how the student could improve. I found this pretty straightforward to implement, I simply continued with the constructive comment, but added a minimum of two questions afterwards. For example when I comment that, to improve 'you should aim to use evidence/examples in your sentences to support your points', I would add '? – where will you get the evidence/examples from?' or '? – how do you know this is good evidence to use here?' I am beginning to become more confident that the questions can be something the students can use to develop their skills further; to reflect on their learning. I did consider stickers or a template sheet for this, but on reflection realized that a uniform sticker or sheet would be difficult to add to the end of work in an exercise book.

I know this sounds like I was following a rigid strategy to improve my feedback; taking each of the five types of feedback in turn and 'ticking them off', but I feel that this allowed me to build firm foundations before I took on the challenge of using a type of feedback I was not confident in using. I have only been at this school since September, and thus the students are still in the process of getting used to me, and trusting me. The latter is especially challenging when one considers the unique challenges the school faces - over half of the students are children from forces families, so they move about a lot. It is understandable that they take a little extra time to develop trust, for their experience is that they establish a working relationship with a teacher, only to then leave the school and begin again in a different part of the country.

I knew that I would have to use Dialogical feedback with care. Dialogical feedback is providing questions that encourage students to reflect on their learning and respond to the teachers’ thinking, with their own comments, which develops into an ongoing conversation. I felt that to start this I would need to build upon the challenging feedback, that it was the role of the teacher to lead and guide the dialogue. I was lucky in that Alex Ford (@apf102) posted on the experimental feedback sheets on the School History discussion forum, sheets designed to accompany his ideas on the key concepts; to assess them without the NC levels. As I have also stopped grading work with NC levels I used Alex’s feedback sheets. I have altered them slightly, and added Student response and Target to the comment box, this gives the students an opportunity to respond. These feedback sheets are being used for the formal assessments we carry out at the end of each topic. They are A5, and as all assessments will be on paper, they can be attached to the assessment and stored separately to the exercise books. In the assessment introduction students are made aware of the key concept that the assessment is testing, and given guidance as to what is expected. The feedback will focus on how well the student demonstrates skill in the key concept being tested. The Challenging feedback will require a response, and the students will be given time to write their response to the feedback, with a target being agreed once the student has responded, giving the student ownership of setting the target. I feel confident that the process of agreeing a target for the development of a key concept will also develop the dialogue, a dialogue that is focused upon how the student can develop their historical skill, and also allows students to reflect on their learning.

You will notice that most of this is phrased in the future tense, this is because I am still developing this idea, it may fall flat and go horribly wrong; although I feel that this is unlikely as I have gradually built up to this. I have implemented change gradually, and only after careful planning and thought. I don’t expect instant results, the aim is to develop a dialogue with my students, through which they can reflect on how they are developing their historical skills. The development of these skills takes time, and is rarely an even process, for many of our students face challenging circumstances, and can be affected by situations out of their control. For these reasons I am setting small goals, laying down a long term evaluation of this experiment.

I must take this opportunity to state that I am only confident in taking this risk because I have the support of the SLT at my school, they are hugely supportive of anyone who evaluates their own teaching methods, and tries to develop resources and ideas that could benefit students. With this support I feel confident that my feedback could develop into a tool that could aid all my students, but we are only just beginning this journey, as Lao Tzu said 'Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.' I know this journey will take time, but I feel it is a journey worth taking, if only for the insight I will gain along the way.

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