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Feedback time at the zoo…?

3 Nov

This half-term I looked 58 Skills exercise books, 49 of them KS3 books. Now as I know that you already understand and even tolerate my usual eccentricities, you won’t be that surprised to hear that I quite enjoyed myself. Not only did the sampling show me with how how much determination KS3 tutors have thrown themselves into (at?) the Magazine production, but it also gave me a school-wide snapshot of literacy ability, in the lower school at least. We do have a lot to feel proud about – at a recent LG meeting, I asked each person around the table to write down what they liked about our students. Some of the responses included ‘enthusiasm’, ‘they are nice people to be around’, ‘always enquiring’. Some of these qualities were evident in the books that I saw – motivated and enthusiastic students producing careful, and often extended, writing. But what also struck me was the dialogue that clearly existed – ‘even’ in Skills – of constructive, helpful and personalised tutor dialogue.

This got me thinking about feedback, especially in a short 30 minute session, where students are expected to be working on and showing some progress in key literacy skills. For a start, I don’t like the word feedback. FEED. Urgh. Reminds me of spooning yoghurt into a toddler’s mouth, possibly one of the most disgusting mother-tasks ever. We ‘spoon-feed’. We go to the zoo for ‘feeding time’. We sit down to a great ‘feed’ (in Northern towns I think). It all seems rather passive to me. Let’s ‘feed them’ some praise, or criticism. It all just makes me think of … well…. MOUTHS.

Next, ‘no marking’, right? But some of the dialogue in the books that I saw was not ‘marking’. Tutors simply pointed out that ‘weston-super-mare’ needs capitals, and that a page of writing needs at least four full stops. There was no grading, no levelling. Some tutors asked questions to refocus students on literacy targets – ‘could you find a better word?’. Some tutors ended the term with a helpful target for the next term. Some students had clearly benefitted from peer-assessment. Tutors in MFL used smilies. Many other tutors gave out House Points.

This is visible feedback – but there are other ways of providing effective targets or commenting on progress during such a short session. I’ve suggested 5 below – and although no wheel has been reinvented, it might be useful to have a series of strategies all in the same place. You could also look at huntingenglish’s recent post on oral feedback here – far better and more comprehensive than anything I can come up with on a Saturday morning!

1. Medal and Mission feedback, or learner-centred feedback. 

Here, we accept the student’s present attainment however low, without blame or disapproval. Set about improving this by giving a medal for what the student can do or has done well.  Effort persistence and other good study habits can be included in the criteria. The mission is then what the student needs to do to improve.  This can be an improvement to the existing work, or a target (feed-forward task) for the next piece of work.

2. Self-assessment

I would like to provide alls students with self-assessment criteria for Literacy and Communication. You can also help students develop their own set of criteria for progress. It has been proven to encourage the reflective habit of mind essential for improvement, ensures students take responsibility for their own learning, focusses attention on criteria for success, and increases effort and persistence.

3. Motivational Toolkit

Or, in other words, stamps, stickers, smilies, House Points, Skills Postcards (available soon). Never under-estimate the power of the judiciously-awarded sticker.

4. Praise Sandwich

I used to do this all wrong. ‘That’s great! But look at this horrible handwriting! But well done!’ Now, I go for a more considered approach. ‘Well done for handing it in! Please finish it completely next time. Great improvement’.

5. Peer-assessment

Post-Its (the learning spies), iPads for photographing each other’s work, think-pair-share, Talking Chips (see KS4 resources!)…Peer-assessment, when planned well, can focus each student on specific criteria for progress and can provide an opportunity for discussion and praise – students are endearingly loathe to criticise each other (hopefully not just for fear of having their head rammed down a toilet).

These are simple strategies for our 30 minute skills sessions which also attempts to get students thinking about how to do better.  Of course in our hour-long lessons, doubles, or days of Principal Learning, we have ways of providing more developed and sustained feedback and target-setting. For further delving into the advantages of brilliant feedback you could read Jim Smith’s Lazy Progress, Zoe Elder’s Full on Learning or Black and Wiliam’s Formative Assessment.

In the end, it’s not just feeding, but more a buffet that you have prepared where your guests consider the options, assemble their own plates, maybe share with others, and ultimately feel satisfied after. That’s a bloody awful analogy. Sorry.

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Apostrophes are just commas on drugs

24 Aug

I’m not mentioning the weather. Instead, I shall point KS4 to some new Skills resources for Term 1, and an invitation to choose your tutor group reader. Just leave your request on the KS4 page and I’ll pick it up.

KS3 – MAGAZINE!  is taking shape and your handbook awaits on the Trolley of Life on your return. Though it might be a teeny bit late as Jon’s taking next week off. I’ve had words.

Have a good bank holiday break – here’s what it will look like in my head: