How do we define ‘marking’ and’feedback’ and what issues arise from each in practice? Learning and teaching that leads tobetter outcomes for students is driven by the raising of standards and theraising of the expectations of both teachers and students.
Teachers must manage”complicated and demanding situations, channelling the personal, emotional andsocial pressures of a group of 30 or more youngsters in order to help themlearn” (Black and Wiliam 1998), therefore with vigorous changes to raisestandards, approaches can become based on assumption and a need to provideevidence rather than research or proven methods of efficacy. Looking to Ofstedand government policy, it is noted that “Ofsted recognises that marking andfeedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment.However, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volumeof marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through itsassessment policy” (Ofsted, 2016). In a climate that is no doubt competitiveand saturated with data collection, analysis, and evidence of marking andfeedback, practitioners may continue with relentless marking and feedbackwithout seeking to define or truly utilise either, which is often detrimentalto teacher well-being and student progress.
Didau considers that “marking and feedback are two quite separate things” but that”in the minds of educators, marking and feedback have become synonymous” (2013).Despite the plethora of studies on marking and feedback, Hattie and Timperley’srelatively recent study (2007) points out that “few recent studies havesystematically investigated the meaning of feedback in classrooms” and Shute’s2008 study notes that “specific mechanisms relating feedback to learning arestill mostly murky”. In order to continue to raise standards in a positive andconstructive way, practitioners must move away from viewing marking as feedback for the teacher in order toknow how the student is progressing, which is merely a “transmissive process” (Nicoland Macfarlane-Dick, 2006) and not helpful for the student. Research has shownthat students enjoy receiving marks and positive comments, but they do not findthem valuable (Butler, 1988). With this data collection driven process, we see”the giving of marks and the grading function are overemphasized, while thegiving of useful advice and the learning function are underemphasized” (Blackand Wiliam, 1998). The drive towards evidencing marking and feedback has meantthat teachers are overworked and can confidently say how much their lives have been affected by the increasedvolume of marking, but as Didau points out “what impact does it have onstudents’ outcomes? The answer is, we just don’t know” (2013). Therefore, it becomes more important to definemarking and feedback as separate concepts, and to consider how they worktogether to formulate a successful “proactive, rather than reactive role ingenerating and using feedback” (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). The act of markingin many schools’ policies involves literally making a ‘mark’ on a student’spiece of work where an error has been made.
This is usually followed with agrade or percentage which reflects how well a student has performed. Thisalone, without feedback, has little or no effect on progress. Hattie andTimperly state that “Praise for task performance appears to be ineffective” (2007).When considering the effects of marking onteachers, Tomsett describes the process as “Hard work. It consumes teachers’time like a basking shark consumes plankton” and goes onto explain that in hisschool, “Our approach to assessment, where we have refocused upon formativeassessment, has gone hand in hand with our new feedback policy” (2016). Here,Tomsett acknowledges the importance of marking and feedback working together topromote positive outcomes. In the current climate, many schools are either pushing toomany assessments that result in a lot of data and little feedback, or feedbackthat is basic and merely commentary. Both, arguably, in the pursuit of evidenceand accountability.
This in turn, causes excessive teacher workloads for littlestudent progress, as Didau comments, “In England the majority of teachers seetheir marking burden as both onerous and unhelpful and it’s not unusualfor teachers to be expected to spend 3 hours plus every night wading through apile of marking” (2016). In response to this, government policy has recentlystated that: Effective marking isan essential part of the education process. At its heart, it is an interactionbetween teacher and pupil: a way of acknowledging pupils’ work, checking theoutcomes and making decisions about what teachers and pupils need to do next,with the primary aim of driving pupil progress. This can often be achievedwithout extensive written dialogue or comments (Copping, 2016).There is frequentreference to the fact that no external educational authority requires ‘deepmarking’, (Copping, 2016) however, this begs the question, how do we provideeffective marking and feedback that supports teacher workload and ensures pupils progress?In considering feedback, Hattie and Timperley define itas “information provided by an agent (e.g., teacher, peer, book, parent, self,experience) regarding aspects of one’s performance or understanding” (2007).However, the emphasis here is on “information” about “performance” whichsuggests little towards the concept of feedback facilitating a process ofimprovement, merely considering it as a “consequence to performance” – surely’marking’ as opposed to ‘feedback’.
Shute, however, defines feedback as”information communicated to the learner that is intended to modify his or herthinking or behaviour for the purpose of improving learning” (2008) which Iview as more appropriate because she notes the words “modify” and “improving”;this demonstrates the requirement of progressand better outcomes necessary for constructivefeedback and thus improvement. Kulhavy and Stock articulate the phrase”verification and elaboration” (1989) which does indeed acknowledge the aspectof how strong marking leads toconstructive and accessible feedback for students and therefore to theprogression of learning.Individual marking and feedback is certainly the most obviousand instinctual approach to improving student progress and outcomes for manypractitioners. However, this is also the most onerous approach.
Teachers spendhours writing comments, questions and targets, only for the student to take onelook at the grade and either feel demotivated or uninspired; this, togetherwith the lack of time available in lessons to act on feedback makes thisapproach undesirable. Monroe goes so far as to suggest this type of feedback,for writing particularly, can be detrimental to students as well as teachers: Private feedback,on the other hand, reinforces young writers’ erroneous sense that writing isprimarily a private assignment for a teacher, when in fact writing is a verysocial act with real-life consequences in the constant struggle for meaning andvalue in the real world. When feedback is public, teachers do not have to tellor write to every individual student. Instead, all students potentially benefitfrom that insightful commentary (2002). This perspective, although valid within specific circumstances,relies on a notion that students “potentially” benefit; here we see severalopportunities for students to ‘slip through the net’. Klugar and DeNisi, likeMonroe, acknowledge that often “Feedback Interventions produced negative – butlargely ignored – effects on performance” which has “led to a widely sharedassumption that Feedback Interventions consistently improve performance” (1996).Arguably, this is something seen on a regular basis inside many schools, wherepractitioners try out the latest and most popular approach to marking andfeedback with a significant focus on tempering teacher workload rather thanimproving student progress. Whole class crib sheets being one such possibleexample.
Klugar and DeNisi give many examples of studies that produced suspectresults, inconclusive analyses, and “reported inequalities”. Although 20 yearsold, Klugar and DeNisi’s sentiment is echoed again by Didau who outlines thepotential for detrimental effects on student progress if feedback is not givenappropriately. Feedback studies tend to show very higheffects on learning. However, it also has a very high range of effects and somestudies show that feedback can have negative effects and make thingsworse. It is therefore important to understand the potential benefits andthe possible limitations of the approach. (2017) Klugar and DeNisi (1989) offer five arguments that outlinehow feedback may be effected: 1. Ourbehaviour is regulated by comparisons of feedback to goals and standards2. Weorganise these goals hierarchically3.
Wehave limited attention and can only receive certain aspects of the feedback4. Ourattention is only directed to the achievable parts of the hierarchy5. Thefeedback will change where we pay our attention to, and therefore affectour behaviour. Therefore,in order to move through these struggles, students must, as Sadler suggests,”possess a concept of the goal being aimed for” (1989). Nicoland Macfarlane-Dick (2006) consider the powerful impact that peer marking andfeedback can have on progress. Unlike individual feedback, this approach mayalso support teacher well-being and alleviate a strenuous workload.
They arguethat with this “proactive” approach, using and generating feedback in this waycan have “profound implications for the way in which teachers support learning”and that this can be used to “empower students as self-regulated learners”which ultimately allows students to “internalise meaning and make connectionswith what is already known”. Topping outlines peer assessment as “Anarrangement for learners to consider and specify the level, value, or qualityof a product or performance of other equal-status learners” (2009). Coupledwith Sadler’s comments on the importance of exemplars that make “explicit whatis required” (1989), peer assessment can be very valuable indeed. Despite the”substantial evidence that peer assessment can result in improvements”(Topping, 2009) many practitioners seem reluctant to use it. This, perhaps, isbecause traditionally, teachers are accustomed to leading the class and byrelinquishing control of marking and feedback, even if it is carefullyorganised and facilitated (which, clearly it must be), the process is no longera “transmission” as earlier stated by Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006). In thecurrent climate of accountability, it is perhaps no surprise that some teachersare reluctant to complete regular and planned peer assessment even if it does benefit progress.
In an article for the Guardian, Tharby comments that”by marking too regularly we create a culture of dependency, denying studentsthe opportunity to develop important self-regulation strategies such as editingand proofreading” (2014) which certainly supports the case for more peermarking and feedback. Whole class marking and feedback ought to be considered as apotentially successful approach. Within the online teaching community, there isoften a dialogue which centres on marking workload.
A whole class ‘crib sheet’allows a teacher to read through work without ‘marking’ on it; instead, aseries of boxes are filled out that acknowledge each student’s work and targetsfor improvement on one sheet – this is then copied and distributed. Studentsthen complete their given ‘D.I.R.T’ task (Directed, Independent, Reflective,Time). Alternatively, a teacher may identify the most common mistake and guidethe class through a feedback activity that seeks to close the gap between”current performance” and “good performance” (Sadler, 1989). Hattie andTimperley give examples of specific targets that individual feedback mayprovide, for example: ‘”You need to edit this piece of writing by attending tothe descriptors you have used so the reader is able to understand the nuancesof your meaning”‘ (2007).
Here, the issue of criteria becomes apparent – howmight a student define a word like ‘nuances’ and how do we know that students understand the ‘descriptors’ we so readilysupply? With a whole class feedback approach, a teacher may guide studentsthrough the process of improvement without these concerns. However, obviousissues become apparent: 1. Not all studentswill need the same feedback2. Students who doneed the same feedback may require it at different levels of proficiency3. Feedback becomesa ‘transmission’ process and does not encourage independent learning Evidently, asstated earlier, “specific mechanisms are still not clear” (Shute, 2008) andpractitioners are teaching in a climate that is not yet consistently supportiveof timely and thoughtful feedback. Evans outlines in her recent study that: There are claims that higher educationinstitutions have not been as mindful as they might of the emerging findingsfrom schools in order to enhance assessment feedback (Kulger and DeNisi, 1996).Black and McCormick (2010) contended that in HE, a greater focus should be onoral as opposed to written feedback, that greater explication is needed onstrategies to enhance independence in learning, and that greater harmony isneeded between formative and summative assessment (2013). In a teachinglandscape that focuses heavily on outcomes, practitioners are pushed to actionimmediate marking that often underemphasises the importance and the potentialimpact that feedback can have on student progression and learning.
With the newchanges at GCSE, many subjects now face 100% examination which places further pressureson senior leadership teams to require data for constant scrutiny. Clear andthoughtful feedback processes can lead on from well-managed and timely markingwhich will “overcome this pattern of passive reception” (Black and Wiliam,1998) which both students and teachers have become accustomed to.