Assessment and Feedback

How do we know if pupils are learning? We assess them. How do they know how to improve? We give them feedback. Simple, surely? Written by Assistant Rector, Robin Macpherson.

Sadly, it’s not. In fact, assessing pupils so that they can make progress, and providing feedback that has impact, are two of the toughest skills in teaching. They are areas that constantly need to be revisited and refined and there are many common mistakes that can be made without realising it. Our group of teachers on the assessment and feedback strand spent a day reading and debating their classroom practice to explore what we are doing well, and what we can be better at.

The two articles that were read consisted of an interview with Dylan Wiliam and Daisy Christodoulou, and a research paper by Barak Rosenshine called “The Principles of instruction”. This lead to a question and answer session, and a collaborative lesson planning exercise, to see how we can apply what we have learned. The day finished with a brilliant presentation and debate with Kate Jones (@87history), author of ‘Love to Teach’.

We covered a lot of ground, and ideally would have had another week to debate all the issues, but one of the main talking points was Dylan Wiliam’s ‘Four Quarters Marking’ model. Dylan spent time looking at the cost and impact of written feedback. He came to the conclusion that in England, £2.5 billion is spent per year on feedback that makes very little difference to pupil progress. Why? Well put simply, written marking has very little effect. Pupils look at a grade and decide (in a flash) whether their work was any good or not, and ignore the comments. Even if they do read the comments, do they offer precise guidance on how to improve? Nebulous comments like “add more analysis” are of little value. If pupils knew how to do this, they would have done it in the first place. Finally, even if comments are looked at, and are precise, have pupils had the chance to respond and practise based on them?

This is where Dylan’s model comes in. Rather than mark every piece of work using the standard methods, this approach offers a mixed diet that creates opportunities for pupils to engage with feedback and respond:

With this approach, pupils assess half of their own work with the teacher monitoring the process. This has the benefit of teaching pupils how to judge work so that they can identify strengths and weaknesses. The teacher marks half of the work, but mixing up standard marking (good for summative, non-diagnostic assessment) and can offer whole class feedback on the rest. This creates opportunities to respond to the work, or as Dylan advises, turning it into detective work.

When it comes to assessment and feedback there are no silver bullets, but there are ways to improve. The teachers in this group will revisit the themes from today in January and will share examples of their practice based on classroom experience. Watch this space for more.