How in order to help them learn” (Black and

 

How do we define ‘marking’ and
‘feedback’ and what issues arise from each in practice?

 

Learning and teaching that leads to
better outcomes for students is driven by the raising of standards and the
raising of the expectations of both teachers and students. Teachers must manage
“complicated and demanding situations, channelling the personal, emotional and
social pressures of a group of 30 or more youngsters in order to help them
learn” (Black and Wiliam 1998), therefore with vigorous changes to raise
standards, approaches can become based on assumption and a need to provide
evidence rather than research or proven methods of efficacy. Looking to Ofsted
and government policy, it is noted that “Ofsted recognises that marking and
feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment.
However, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume
of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its
assessment policy” (Ofsted, 2016). In a climate that is no doubt competitive
and saturated with data collection, analysis, and evidence of marking and
feedback, practitioners may continue with relentless marking and feedback
without seeking to define or truly utilise either, which is often detrimental
to 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’s
relatively recent study (2007) points out that “few recent studies have
systematically investigated the meaning of feedback in classrooms” and Shute’s
2008 study notes that “specific mechanisms relating feedback to learning are
still mostly murky”.

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In order to continue to raise standards in a positive and
constructive way, practitioners must move away from viewing marking as feedback for the teacher in order to
know how the student is progressing, which is merely a “transmissive process” (Nicol
and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006) and not helpful for the student. Research has shown
that students enjoy receiving marks and positive comments, but they do not find
them valuable (Butler, 1988). With this data collection driven process, we see
“the giving of marks and the grading function are overemphasized, while the
giving of useful advice and the learning function are underemphasized” (Black
and Wiliam, 1998). The drive towards evidencing marking and feedback has meant
that teachers are overworked and can confidently say how much their lives have been affected by the increased
volume of marking, but as Didau points out “what impact does it have on
students’ outcomes? The answer is, we just don’t know” (2013). Therefore, it becomes more important to define
marking and feedback as separate concepts, and to consider how they work
together to formulate a successful “proactive, rather than reactive role in
generating and using feedback” (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006).

The act of marking
in many schools’ policies involves literally making a ‘mark’ on a student’s
piece of work where an error has been made. This is usually followed with a
grade or percentage which reflects how well a student has performed. This
alone, without feedback, has little or no effect on progress. Hattie and
Timperly state that “Praise for task performance appears to be ineffective” (2007).
When considering the effects of marking on
teachers, Tomsett describes the process as “Hard work. It consumes teachers’
time like a basking shark consumes plankton” and goes onto explain that in his
school, “Our approach to assessment, where we have refocused upon formative
assessment, has gone hand in hand with our new feedback policy” (2016). Here,
Tomsett acknowledges the importance of marking and feedback working together to
promote positive outcomes.

In the current climate, many schools are either pushing too
many assessments that result in a lot of data and little feedback, or feedback
that is basic and merely commentary. Both, arguably, in the pursuit of evidence
and accountability. This in turn, causes excessive teacher workloads for little
student progress, as Didau comments, “In England the majority of teachers see
their marking burden as both onerous and unhelpful and it’s not unusual
for teachers to be expected to spend 3 hours plus every night wading through a
pile of marking” (2016). In response to this, government policy has recently
stated that:

Effective marking is
an essential part of the education process. At its heart, it is an interaction
between teacher and pupil: a way of acknowledging pupils’ work, checking the
outcomes and making decisions about what teachers and pupils need to do next,
with the primary aim of driving pupil progress. This can often be achieved
without extensive written dialogue or comments (Copping, 2016).

There is frequent
reference to the fact that no external educational authority requires ‘deep
marking’, (Copping, 2016) however, this begs the question, how do we provide
effective marking and feedback that supports teacher workload and ensures pupils progress?

In considering feedback, Hattie and Timperley define it
as “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” which
suggests little towards the concept of feedback facilitating a process of
improvement, 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 her
thinking or behaviour for the purpose of improving learning” (2008) which I
view as more appropriate because she notes the words “modify” and “improving”;
this demonstrates the requirement of progress
and better outcomes necessary for constructive
feedback and thus improvement. Kulhavy and Stock articulate the phrase
“verification and elaboration” (1989) which does indeed acknowledge the aspect
of how strong marking leads to
constructive and accessible feedback for students and therefore to the
progression of learning.

Individual marking and feedback is certainly the most obvious
and instinctual approach to improving student progress and outcomes for many
practitioners. However, this is also the most onerous approach. Teachers spend
hours writing comments, questions and targets, only for the student to take one
look at the grade and either feel demotivated or uninspired; this, together
with the lack of time available in lessons to act on feedback makes this
approach 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 is
primarily a private assignment for a teacher, when in fact writing is a very
social act with real-life consequences in the constant struggle for meaning and
value in the real world. When feedback is public, teachers do not have to tell
or write to every individual student. Instead, all students potentially benefit
from that insightful commentary (2002).

 

This perspective, although valid within specific circumstances,
relies on a notion that students “potentially” benefit; here we see several
opportunities for students to ‘slip through the net’. Klugar and DeNisi, like
Monroe, acknowledge that often “Feedback Interventions produced negative – but
largely ignored – effects on performance” which has “led to a widely shared
assumption that Feedback Interventions consistently improve performance” (1996).
Arguably, this is something seen on a regular basis inside many schools, where
practitioners try out the latest and most popular approach to marking and
feedback with a significant focus on tempering teacher workload rather than
improving student progress. Whole class crib sheets being one such possible
example. Klugar and DeNisi give many examples of studies that produced suspect
results, inconclusive analyses, and “reported inequalities”. Although 20 years
old, Klugar and DeNisi’s sentiment is echoed again by Didau who outlines the
potential for detrimental effects on student progress if feedback is not given
appropriately.

 

Feedback studies tend to show very high
effects on learning. However, it also has a very high range of effects and some
studies show that feedback can have negative effects and make things
worse. It is therefore important to understand the potential benefits and
the possible limitations of the approach. (2017)

 

Klugar and DeNisi (1989) offer five arguments that outline
how feedback may be effected:

 

1.    Our
behaviour is regulated by comparisons of feedback to goals and standards

2.    We
organise these goals hierarchically

3.    We
have limited attention and can only receive certain aspects of the feedback

4.    Our
attention is only directed to the achievable parts of the hierarchy

5.    The
feedback will change where we pay our attention to, and therefore affect
our behaviour.

 

Therefore,
in order to move through these struggles, students must, as Sadler suggests,
“possess a concept of the goal being aimed for” (1989).

 

Nicol
and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) consider the powerful impact that peer marking and
feedback can have on progress. Unlike individual feedback, this approach may
also support teacher well-being and alleviate a strenuous workload. They argue
that with this “proactive” approach, using and generating feedback in this way
can 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 connections
with what is already known”. Topping outlines peer assessment as “An
arrangement for learners to consider and specify the level, value, or quality
of a product or performance of other equal-status learners” (2009). Coupled
with Sadler’s comments on the importance of exemplars that make “explicit what
is 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, is
because traditionally, teachers are accustomed to leading the class and by
relinquishing control of marking and feedback, even if it is carefully
organised and facilitated (which, clearly it must be), the process is no longer
a “transmission” as earlier stated by Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006). In the
current climate of accountability, it is perhaps no surprise that some teachers
are 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 students
the opportunity to develop important self-regulation strategies such as editing
and proofreading” (2014) which certainly supports the case for more peer
marking and feedback.

 

Whole class marking and feedback ought to be considered as a
potentially successful approach. Within the online teaching community, there is
often a dialogue which centres on marking workload. A whole class ‘crib sheet’
allows a teacher to read through work without ‘marking’ on it; instead, a
series of boxes are filled out that acknowledge each student’s work and targets
for improvement on one sheet – this is then copied and distributed. Students
then complete their given ‘D.I.R.T’ task (Directed, Independent, Reflective,
Time). Alternatively, a teacher may identify the most common mistake and guide
the class through a feedback activity that seeks to close the gap between
“current performance” and “good performance” (Sadler, 1989). Hattie and
Timperley give examples of specific targets that individual feedback may
provide, for example: ‘”You need to edit this piece of writing by attending to
the descriptors you have used so the reader is able to understand the nuances
of your meaning”‘ (2007). Here, the issue of criteria becomes apparent – how
might a student define a word like ‘nuances’ and how do we know that students understand the ‘descriptors’ we so readily
supply? With a whole class feedback approach, a teacher may guide students
through the process of improvement without these concerns. However, obvious
issues become apparent:

 

1. Not all students
will need the same feedback

2. Students who do
need the same feedback may require it at different levels of proficiency

3. Feedback becomes
a ‘transmission’ process and does not encourage independent learning

 

Evidently, as
stated earlier, “specific mechanisms are still not clear” (Shute, 2008) and
practitioners are teaching in a climate that is not yet consistently supportive
of timely and thoughtful feedback. Evans outlines in her recent study that:

 

There are claims that higher education
institutions have not been as mindful as they might of the emerging findings
from schools in order to enhance assessment feedback (Kulger and DeNisi, 1996).
Black and McCormick (2010) contended that in HE, a greater focus should be on
oral as opposed to written feedback, that greater explication is needed on
strategies to enhance independence in learning, and that greater harmony is
needed between formative and summative assessment (2013).

 

In a teaching
landscape that focuses heavily on outcomes, practitioners are pushed to action
immediate marking that often underemphasises the importance and the potential
impact that feedback can have on student progression and learning. With the new
changes at GCSE, many subjects now face 100% examination which places further pressures
on senior leadership teams to require data for constant scrutiny. Clear and
thoughtful feedback processes can lead on from well-managed and timely marking
which will “overcome this pattern of passive reception” (Black and Wiliam,
1998) which both students and teachers have become accustomed to.