Goldilocks Feedback.

This blog is not about Assessment for Learning. The chances are you've heard enough about AfL to last you a life time. Those of you that were teaching about 8 years ago will remember that the roll-out of AfL was very much a mixed experience depending on the local authority that you taught in. I remember being told we "must not put scores on pupil's work as it stops pupils from reading the constructive feedback that was being given." And that was it.

What we have now is the belief that giving feedback is some sort of science that requires the precision of a brain surgeon to ensure that it is delivered perfectly. There is no doubt that feedback is a very, very important part of a teachers job but I feel that it has become such a prescribed skill that teachers are now reluctant to give feedback in case the quality of it is seen to be unacceptable.

It's a bit like the way our pupils sometimes work: "Why invest time in doing something if there is a fairly good chance that it will be wrong and I'll have to do it again? Instead I'll do nothing and wait to be told exactly what I should write down?" This normal comes as a book-audit that is undertaken by departments or schools.

Teachers realise the importance of giving feedback. But when we hear - from Dylan Wiliam or John Hattie - that feedback can double the rate of learning for pupils we then have the stakes raised in the feedback game. Does just any type of feedback work? Obviously not.

1 - Feedback that is incorrect is never going to raise the achievement of our pupils.

2 - Feedback that explains that there is an error without identifying it is insufficient, unless the task to be undertaken by the pupil is to find and then correct the error.

3 - Feedback that corrects known errors for pupils is quite dis-empowering for pupils. Unless you then give some additional questions for the pupil to attempt whilst using the corrected examples for them to attempt.

I use this flowchart when giving feedback to pupils.

Imagine that you are marking a piece of work that a pupil has produced. It is based on the learning intentions (LI) and the success criteria (SC) of the last 4 lesson. Therefore the pupil has several LI and SC that they are attempting to show their understanding.

The key part is knowing what level the pupil is at. It's a bit like Goldilocks and the 3 bears. You need to get it just right. Not too easy and not too hard.

This flowchart would underpin my verbal feedback to pupils. By this repeated modelling they were soon able to develop the skill of giving themselves feedback. It also meant that when they were giving feedback to each other I expected them to converse in the same way.

The worst thing a pupil can ask a teacher to do when mistakes are made is to just give the answer. The worst thing that a teacher can do when asked for feedback is to just give the answer. My proposed level of dialogue will reveal greater understanding of the pupils learning process to the teacher whilst showing the pupil that they themselves are a part of the learning process. Learning doesn't just happen to them, it happens within themselves as a result of their own discussions and dialogues.

In case you are thinking that "that is all well and good with the top sets", let me assure you that I have used this with ALL pupils that I teach. Pupils in year 11 who have obtained a grade G and pupils in A-Level who obtained full marks. I expect them to be able to discuss their own learning with me or with their classmates. Unsurprisingly for me, they can all do it.

What does it mean for me though? Initially I have a slow period of learning with new groups as they adjust to this deeper way of learning to learn. But it doesn't take long (normally 3 lessons is all that it takes to get momentum) before the group are able to become engaged in learning in a way that other teachers who observe the group describe as advanced.

The hardest task for me is then marking 30 potentially unique pieces of work. But the feedback TO ME is unbelievable. I know what each pupil's confidence is regarding the subject, I know which pupils were not ready to move on to the next part of the learning and I also know what level of competence each pupil inhabited.

Most importantly, the pupils are learning to learn.

This is the first in a series of blogs regarding Feedback.