With all the discussion about Whole Class Feedback happening on Twitter at the moment, I thought it might be useful to share my reflections on how it has been adopted in my own school over the past year.
Towards the end of the 2016-2017 academic year, I was asked, along with a colleague, to take on some responsibility for delivering whole-school CPD. As I had had some input into designing our new whole school assessment policy, I was requested to deliver a session on marking and feedback on the first inset day back in September 2017. Our new assessment policy is fairly non-prescriptive, outlining the general principles under which departments then develop their own policies, so the idea was that this session would then lead into some department time to be used for looking at how individual departments could make best use of marking and feedback in their own subjects.
I had come across Greg Thornton’s work on Whole Class Feedback (WCF) during the year and had started trialling it with my own classes. I decided to make it the basis of my session and ask departments to consider if and how it might work for them as part of their overall marking and feedback strategy. One important factor to consider was workload, and I opened the session with an extract from Rebecca Foster’s powerful blog on feedback and teacher well-being.
“Teachers are drowning in a sea of marking. At the start of term we dip our toes into the sea of marking (got to test the temperature) and before we know it our feet have been pulled out from under us by an undercurrent we didn’t see coming. Midway through the term we’ve lost sight of land and when the holidays hit we use that time to wade our way back to shore.”
It was pretty clear that this resonated with pretty much all of us. I used the session to explain the general idea behind whole class feedback with the aid of an excellent summary sheet from Greg Thornton (see further reading, below) and shared examples found on Twitter from a range of subjects, as well as from my own classes, to show how it can work in practice. Staff then went off and discussed in their departments whether this approach to feedback might have any value to them. There was absolutely no obligation on anyone to change their marking practices, if they didn’t feel WCF would be of benefit to them personally.
Following this session, I received a series of emails from departments feeding back on their discussion and attaching versions of the original crib sheet that they had adapted for their own departments. I collated this feedback and circulated it to staff. Five departments – English, History, MFL, PE and Politics – were very enthusiastic about WCF and keen to trial it, while two – Science and Geography – had already put different workload-reducing assessment systems into place which they also shared. Individual members of staff also began to email me with comments and feedback. One teacher wrote:
“I used your idea to mark my books today and it saved me about 3 hours! I also think the pupils will get better feedback as they will learn from each other. Now I have done it once, I think I can improve by being a bit more specific at times.”
A comment from another teacher supported this:
“The crib sheets are amazing and thank you so much for sharing this with the school during the inset last week. I found it so helpful to mark and comment on one sheet. I think the resulting dirt time and feedback session will be far more productive! Also I found the whole process very quick. I have a record of things which I can keep for reference.”
After circulating all this feedback, I did nothing specifically to encourage the use of WCF within the school, apart from responding to a few members of staff who asked for further information. I was aware though, that a large number of my English department colleagues were using WCF, adapting the crib sheets to suit their own needs, and conversations with colleagues in other departments suggested the same was happening elsewhere. My pupils were also telling me that they were been given feedback that way in other subjects, and they liked the straightforwardness and consistency of it. They also love the praise box that many of us include on our sheets!
Finally, last week, a year on from the initial WCF session, I circulated a short Google form to teaching staff asking them to share their experience of WCF during the year. I was interested to find out who was still using it and how useful it had proved over the year. I was also interested in getting feedback from those who not tried it, or who had tried and dropped it. 51 teachers responded to the survey, including some who had joined the school since the original session.
There was a fairly even spread of departments, with 8 each from English and Science, 9 from Maths and 5 from MFL and between one and three from most other subjects.
The first question asked people to describe their experience of whole class marking and, as can be seen from the chart below, almost 40% (20 teachers) were using it regularly while the same number said they were using it sometimes and would like to use it more.
Of the 40 respondents who used WCF, the following chart shows what they feel its advantages are. 32 teachers pointed to a significant reduction in marking time, while 30 felt it allowed them to get a better understanding of what pupils know. 25 believed it gave pupils a better understanding of what their next steps in learning should be and 22 found it a helpful way of planning DIRT tasks. A few colleagues also added their own reasons – mainly referring to specific tasks for which they found it useful.
A further question asked about reasons for not using WCF and 13 colleagues replied to this. I had offered a range of options and, as with the previous question, also gave the option of adding a reason of their own. The results were as follows, with over half saying that they don’t know what it is or don’t know enough about it. For those who did not find it useful, one of the main reasons was that their subject did not lend itself to that type of feedback.
I will continue to use WCF with my classes and so, it appears, will many of my colleagues. It is not a panacea, and it is not going to work for every teacher, every subject or every piece of work, but, when that undercurrent of marking is sweeping us off our feet, it can be a really efficient way of delivering timely, targeted feedback that pupils can act upon.
Foster, Rebecca, On Valuable Feedback that supports teacher wellbeing https://thelearningprofession.com/2017/03/30/on-valuable-feedback-that-supports-teacher-wellbeing/
Foster, Rebecca, On Written Feedback being a fever https://thelearningprofession.com/2017/08/03/on-written-feedback-being-a-fever/
Thornton, Greg, Whole Class Feedback Handout https://mrthorntonteach.com/2017/09/10/whole-class-feedback-crib-sheet-handout/