Let’s be honest, however much you enjoy teaching, English teachers are rarely thrilled by a huge pile of marking and English teachers inevitably have one of the biggest workloads of all curriculum areas. I’m sure we’ve all felt the rising dread as a student delightedly declares that they have written a brilliant story proudly citing the eighteen page length as an endorsement of its brilliance. Even with carefully constructed success criteria, crafted models and an insistence on proofreading, feedback will often frustratingly focus on students’ failure to utilise these steps in the writing process.
Feedback isn’t always merely a necessary evil though. When we’ve taught something really well, of course there a sense of joy in seeing students demonstrate what they’ve learned. Traditionally, this is followed up with a comment highlighting strengths and areas for development but does the act of writing a lengthy summative comment at the end of their work really maximise the impact we are going to have on a student’s next piece of writing? Consider this comment:
You’ve used a really wide vocabulary here and included a good range of devices. Next time you need to proof read your work more carefully to spot errors with commas. I’d also like to see you build more clear links between your paragraphs
Thirty odd comments like this (along with some helpful annotation and literacy error marking)are a significant investment of our time but is there really any impact here? Surely the student was aware that they had deliberately crafted their vocabulary and included devices that had been meticulously covered in the lesson. Telling students that they have done what you asked them to do doesn’t feel like a particularly useful step. The targets are potentially useful but is this a student that misunderstands commas or just hasn’t bothered to put them in? Similarly, do they have a range of techniques for cohesion between ideas, if not, this target isn’t going to have any real influence on their next piece of work. Of course this might be followed up with a conversation, additional teaching or some other well crafted follow up activity, but if it isn’t, perhaps a different approach would save time and have more impact on developing the individual child as a writer.
The following principles are crucial for maximising the impact of feedback:
- Feedback should be more work for students than us.
- Feedback strategies have to help students improve their work – if there’s no impact, we shouldn’t be doing it.
- We must refuse to accept work that doesn’t reflect real effort.
- A wide range of formative strategies are good for students and teachers
So what are the alternatives? Below are twenty approaches to summative comments and fifteen reflective activities that encourage students to engage and respond with the work they have produced and the work of their peers.