Independent Learning week 4: Marking and Feedback

In outlining some of the problems with contemporary assessment at the Festival of Education 2016, Daisy Christodoulou noted that the concept of assessment for learning has in many cases, merely become assessment of learning. This summative approach has focussed on things like students simply knowing what grade they are working at and being able to reference abstract exam board criteria without any real practical sense of how to move forward. Valerie Shute defines effective feedback as not just a diagnostic tool but rather as an ongoing conversation primarily focussed on improvement:

In seeking to help students become more independent and have more ownership of their progress, we might pause to consider the difference between marking and feedback, and whether they are the same thing at all. In some cases, marking a a set of books can mean a huge amount of effort with little reward in terms of students knowing how to progress. In addition, the opportunity cost of marking several sets of books in this way is worth looking at in light of recent concerns about teacher workload. 

Students need to know where they are going wrong but by simply identifying the deficiencies within a piece of work and linking improvement to abstract assessment criteria not linked to actual examples, students are are not active stakeholders in their own improvement and can become frustrated. Feedback should ultimately be productive but as Douglas Reeves reminds us, sometimes this process is not so much a medical as a postmortem.

Furthermore, although research on feedback shows that it is one of the most fruitful ways of enabling student progress, not all feedback is the same and some of it can even have an adverse effect. The Education Endowment Foundation notes that:

Feedback studies tend to show very high effects on learning. However, it also has a very high range of effects and some studies show that feedback can have negative effects and make things worse.

In terms of thinking about independent learning and engendering students to take a more proactive role in their own progress, it is worth considering Dylan Wiliam’s assertion that this process is more effective when students are working just as hard, if not harder than the teacher:

The first fundamental principle of effective classroom feedback is that feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor.” 

In that sense, we might consider the use of exemplars in encouraging students to take a more metacognitive approach to their own work. A lot of research has shown that students often receive a piece of marked work and simply look at the grade without considering how to improve. One way of addressing that issue and facilitating more independence might be structuring a feedback lesson after an assessment where students have time to properly reflect on their own work against exemplars and common errors pointed out by their teacher. That process might look like this:

1. Mark work correcting any errors making a note of common misconceptions.

2. Give students the best three examples of that particular task from the class. 

3. Explain common misconceptions to the class.

4. Give students time to evaluate the exemplars and reflect on their own work.

5. Students write down ways to improve with concrete examples from exemplars.

6. Teacher reviews the students reflection to inform future planning. 

This excellent example from Denise Brown features a form where students complete a range of tasks based on a assessment. After looking at how well their answer fulfils assessment criteria, students then look at the best examples of that task from the class and complete the following tasks:

Now, compare your answer to the exemplar response

Exemplar response mark out of 20:……….

Your mark out of 20:………..

Choose TWO examples that worked better* than your essay, and use the language from the assessment grid to say why and how (e.g. ‘Technical term “X” is relevant and supported by an integrated quotation’):

Example 1:

How this works well:

Example 2:

How this works well:

Now, apply what you have learned about better* writing to RE-WRITE ONE PARAGRAPH from your own essay:

Of course, a vitally important aspect of marking work is not just that the student knows how to improve, but also to provide the teacher with vital information in order to inform future planning. However in moving towards a more independent learning environment we might consider the notion that students should have a more proactive role in the process of feedback where they can see their work as being something fluid within a continuum of progress rather than as a fixed point on a scale. As one colleague eloquently put it, when receiving a piece of marked work, students should be looking in a mirror rather than at a painted picture.


More reading:

Marking is not the same as feedback

Is marking the enemy of feedback?


Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and Classroom Learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1) pp. 7-71.

Reeves, D. B. (2008). Leading to change: Effective Grading Practices. Educational
Leadership, 65(5), 85-87.

Wiliam, D.B.(2011). Embedded Formative Assessment. Solution Tree Press: Bloomington, In.