There are no shortcuts or golden tickets. Get teaching right first. [Sir John Dunford]
Education is not just for the elite. It is for everyone regardless of the circumstances into which they are born. In order to ensure students are every background get the same opportunities as everyone else, teachers have to pay meticulous attention to disadvantaged students for it’s those students who stand to gain the most from effective teaching and learning.
‘Get teaching right’ or ‘quality first teaching’ gets mentioned a lot when talking about ‘closing the gap’ between disadvantaged students and their peers but what does this actually mean? Saying these things repeatedly is not overly useful – it doesn’t encourage teachers to change their teaching habits or reflect on their practice. Should teachers be doing things differently for disadvantaged students in lessons day to day? Probably not, but disadvantaged students should be at the top of a teachers thought process when teaching as it’s these students who stand to gain the most from teaching that increases subject knowledge and provides lots of opportunities to bring that information to mind.
What does it mean to be disadvantaged?
Dr Nicholls has a great insight into disadvantaged students here. He talks about the need to disrupt the loop of unequal outcomes for disadvantaged students and has come up with a list (this does not assume all disadvantaged students are affected by these things) that highlights some of the key factors that may identify a young person as disadvantaged…
Another significant factor that relates to learning is that disadvantaged students tend to arrive at secondary school (and primary school) with a lower number of words in their vocabulary and a distinct lack of cultural knowledge (compared to their peers) which restricts their understanding and delays their progress. Joe Kirby makes a great argument for scientific based curriculum design here that would certainly help close the knowledge gap for disadvantaged students.
What can teachers do day to day?
Routines. A lack of routine can disrupt the start of a lesson, waste time handing out books, lead to confusion and a general misunderstanding of expectations in a classroom, all of which will affect learning for students. Consider:
- How will students enter your classroom and what will they need to do upon being seated? For example what if the expectation was that students had 30 seconds to enter and get seated and then immediately completed a short quiz of 4 or 5 questions that tested their knowledge of lesson content from last week, last month, last term and last year? The accumulative effect of this interleaved approach on learning could increase a students knowledge over time whilst providing a smooth start to the lesson that focuses on learning from the outset.
- Also consider your routines/expectations for:
- getting students to be silent.
- TRY: ‘3,2,1, eye contact’ and explain to students that once you get to 1 all students should have eye contact with you. This is a great way of getting students attention. Be persistent, habits don’t form over night.
- questioning and how students should respond [see below].
- handing out books / resources – what’s the most time efficient way to do this? Are students trained in this so that it becomes automatic? Every second counts!
- circulating the room whilst students are working? Do you check in on disadvantaged students first?
- working environment during a task – what is the default noise level? Purposeful, directed talk amongst students is useful for developing understanding but when this is not part of the task do students need to talk? A noisy classroom makes it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time.
- getting students to be silent.
Directed questioning. No reasonable person would expect a teacher to know every disadvantaged student that they teach (especially with large cohorts) so use your annotated seating plan.
- Don’t be afraid to have your seating plan in your hand whilst questioning and use it to ensure disadvantaged students get questioned regularly. I’ve seen teachers use this strategy in my own school to great effect.
- Use the no opt out strategy from TLAC – don’t allow any students (let alone disadvantaged to simply say ‘I don’t know.’ Give them wait time, let them look over their notes before attempting answer. Circle back to them to ensure they have understood.
- Use ‘no hands up’ when questioning. This blog from the Learning Scientists highlights the negative affect ‘raising hands’ can have on student performance… Asking students to raise their hand to signal their achievement (when they knew an answer) highlights differences in performance between students, making it more visible. This can lead to students in lower social classes, or with lower familiarity with a task, to perform even worse than they would have.
Frequent quizzing. As already stated this is a great routine for getting students into a class and settled whilst also benefitting their learning. As Joe Kirby suggests in his blog, we have over 100 years of scientific studies that frequent testing is the best way to disrupt the curve of forgetting. The best thing about low stakes quizzing is that teachers don’t need to grade, track or spend hours marking them. They can be self-marked by students as teachers explain the answers and knowledge gaps can be addressed immediately.
- TRY: For the next six weeks instead of your planned starters try quizzing students at the beginning of each lesson using the ‘last week, last month, last term’ approach. What do you notice about their learning? What if students were quizzed at the beginning of every lesson, every day, every term? Would that help balance out the knowledge deficit?
Modelling. When teaching it’s important to model what great performance looks like in your subject and even more important that you model the process (meta-cognition) of how to approach problems / tasks. The EEF see meta-cognition as one of the most impactful learning strategies that especially helps disadvantaged students.
Feedback. This is another strategy which the EEF deems to have high impact on student performance. The most important thing about feedback is that students do something with, ideally acting on the teachers feedback to improve their work and consolidate or extend their understanding. How can teachers be more meticulous with their feedback for disadvantaged students?
- Marking little and often rather than a whole set of books in one go. I’m not a fan of ‘marking PP books first’ as this suggests that other student books are less important or may receive feedback that is of less quality then the books marked first – which is wrong.
- Try whole class feedback that addresses common misconceptions.
- When conducting a feedback lesson have your annotated seating plan in your hand and visit the disadvantaged students frequently to ensure they have understood and are acting upon your feedback.
Read. Encourage students to read lots. Make it part of your lessons and teaching rather than an ‘add on’. As Katie Ashford describes, a good reading lesson should follow these principles…
- In any lesson, reading should primarily be for comprehension. Pupils need to understand what they are reading, and so the teacher should pause at appropriate moments and check for understanding.
- Reading is an opportunity to improve pupils’ fluency and ability to read with expression. Teachers should therefore model good reading and ask pupils to read aloud (year 7s love this, so get them into that habit then- it’s harder as you go up the school, in my experience).
- Reading is an excellent opportunity to improve pupils’ vocabulary. Teachers should pause to explain the meaning of key words, and may want to give further examples of new words used in context.
TRY: As part of explaining a new concept give students a a passage of text to read that explains the concept (perhaps with a diagram if appropriate) to compliment your explanation. This could be read as a class or individually. If this habit is formed over a time it could help increase student vocabulary, fluency and understanding whilst enabling them to read outside of their normal experience (e.g. scientific articles, classical literature, e.t.c.).
The thing that does make a difference, not just for disadvantaged students but for all students is effective teaching and learning. The challenge for teachers is ensuring that disadvantaged students get overexposed to this every lesson as it is those students who stand to gain the most. Be bold. Be courageous. Have relentlessly high expectations of all students. Form effective habits and don’t leave anything to chance. We only get one chance to help all students access the opportunities they all deserve.
“To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages today that determine success–the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history–with a society that provides opportunities for all.” [Malcolm Gladwell]
Marking and feedback is a hot topic at the moment following further guidance from Ofsted that they don’t expect to see a particular type or frequency of marking/feedback on student work – it’s for schools to decide what is the best method to help students improve.
One of the biggest groans from any teacher will be the frequency at which they are expected to mark and give feedback (usually written comments with coloured pen responses) to students. This is generally dictated by a schools marking/feedback policy. Verbal feedback is probably the most useful type of feedback as the frequency of this is relentless on a day to day basis. But what about the frequency of assessed student work…
Should the frequency of feedback be dictated by a central policy?
A quick poll on Twitter suggests this approach is common practice. But are we wrong to adopt this approach?
What are the advantages for dictating the frequency of feedback in a policy?
- It may encourage some consistency and ensure it happens with some regularity.
- It may be easier to check that it’s happening.
What are the potential drawbacks?
- It potentially creates artificial assessment opportunities that meet the frequency (as laid out in school policy) rather than assessing and giving feedback where appropriate to aid and improve learning.
- Its a huge workload for teachers especially in subjects such as humanities where you might teach an entire year group and have to mark / provide feedback for 100s of books every few weeks. The amount of work required here is likely to diminish the effect of feedback.
- It may promote a culture of valuing the evidence of marking / feedback instead of having a broader understanding of how feedback helps students to progress their learning.
- Teachers become confused with the idea that working endless hours to evidence marking (often more than a school policy dictates) is whats requires to show they care about student learning (when it may well be holding it back).
Are we wrong about stipulating the frequency at which teachers mark and give feedback to students? Is this having a detrimental effect on workload and staff wellbeing? Should we allow teachers to mark/feedback more than a policy dictates?
What could we do instead?
What if the frequency of feedback was directed by departments at critical points during sequences of lessons where it will enable teachers to understand more about student performance and enable them to give useful feedback on student performance? This could be planned into a schemes of work by identifying in meticulous detail what will be assessed, how feedback will be communicated and when students will be given time to act on the feedback from the teacher. It might look something like this in the first instance…
Long term (reduce teacher workload increase student learning):
The long term plan above shows where assessment takes place in sequence with learning over a long period of time rather than every 3 weeks (or some other arbitrary number). This could reduce teacher workload by specifying in detail when assessment, feedback take place (teachers should do no more or less) and potentially make marking/feedback more impactful for student learning. It would give clarity of the amount of marking/feedback to teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders. The focus for development could then be on the quality/effect of the feedback on student learning rather than the amount of feedback given.
These assessments could also be accumulative so that they build knowledge over time:
Short term (reduce teacher workload increase student learning):
- Verbal feedback every lesson, in the moment close to student learning – correcting common misconceptions and modelling great performance /meta-cognitive approaches to tasks.
- Rather than ‘flashy starters’ embed retrieval practice into the beginning of every lesson as routine to help build memory. Teachers can address gaps immediately (whole class feedback), re-teach and ask students to re-draft / improve work every lesson (without having to mark). This also allows you to interleave knowledge over long periods of time (the retrieval practice doesn’t necessarily have to synchronise with the main objective of the lesson).
What about the mock exams?
With the rise in the number of mock exams students sit (regular testing is not something I immediately oppose) across key stages, how would the marking and feedback of practice papers fit in? If the purpose of sitting these practice papers is to generate a grade/score then there’s no getting away from marking them. But the amount of information they yield about what students know and don’t know could provide weeks of possible feedback on different bits of knowledge which might reduce the frequency of marking. For example if year 10 sit a mock exam in the first week of term 2 and it takes 2-3 hours to mark a set of papers, provide question level analysis and input data, then that time invested should replicated in the amount of work students have to do in response to the gaps in learning identified by the mock exam. This could manifest itself as a series of homework tasks, retrieval practice starters or entire lessons (D.I.R.T.) given over to improving knowledge. The amount of feedback a teacher could give over the coming weeks could mean that they are not required to mark (written comments, e.t.c.) any further work for the rest of that term.
In summary there’s an opportunity to…
- create a system that not only increases the amount of quality feedback students receive (which will in turn progress their learning) but contribute to reducing teacher workload so that students experience more happy and energised teacher.
- clear the murky waters of ‘book scrutinies’ and have real clarity from each department about what is the best method / frequency of feedback within a specific domain of knowledge, that aids learning. This could be evaluated regularly to ensure that the type/frequency of feedback stipulated by the department is having the desired effect and ensuring that all students are improving their work.
- clarify for students, teachers, middle and senior leaders precisely when and how feedback will occur inline with what students are learning and in a way that will best serve a particular domain of knowledge.
I asked Sean Harford (Ofsted National Director of Education) via Twitter for his thoughts and this was his response…
Thanks for clarifying Sean!
Good feedback causes thinking.
If feedback is one of the most important factors in improving student work and outcomes.
If the modelling of the feedback process enables young people to develop their own self-regulation of improving work.
How does a school implement a whole school feedback policy that takes into account the many nuances of each subject?
Feedback is important. We feedback to students daily in every lesson in a variety of different ways. Part of my role this year has been to draft a feedback policy for the school so that students consistently get effective feedback across the curriculum.
Before venturing any further it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider the difference between marking and feedback (something that is often taken for granted).
Marking is very much about checking a piece of work against a set criteria. If the criteria is clear and concise this is something students should do themselves before submitting a piece of work. Providing the criteria is clear then the act of marking should open up the gaps in learning. It’s the feedback that follows to the student that can communicate how well a student has met the criteria and initiative improvements to the work. The purpose of feedback? It has to be to close the learning gaps.
In thinking about and working towards effective feedback it’s worth considering what research on the matter suggests – remembering that the research is just start of the conversation.
One of my favourite thinkers on the subject is Dylan Wiliam. From his work with Paul Black called ‘Inside the black box’ they suggested that in order for students to truly benefit from feedback students needed to know three key things:
I’ve tried to sum this up visually in the diagram below:
This is where modelling becomes a pivotal part of the feedback loop. In order for students to achieve the required ‘good performance’ it needs to be modelled to them. This could be through the use of work from previous students or live modelling of current work as students are undertaking the task. Simply providing students with a rubric is not always useful as they tend to be vague and abstract. Showing students an example of good performance and then de-constructing it with them to highlight the success criteria seems a far more valuable use of time.
Once students have a more secure understanding of what it is they are aiming for and have made an attempt, they next need to know how far away from the desired good performance they are and what they need to do in order to close this gap – the feedback.
Dylan Wiliam also suggests training students to carry out a number of steps before submitting work (which starts the wheels in motion for self-regulation):I’ve tried this multiple times and have started to embed this into my practice, insisting students check their work against the criteria, check for spelling errors, e.t.c. before submitting the work. I have also in some cases handed work back to students to carry out these checks sending a clear message to students that they must take some responsibility in the feedback process.
John Hattie’s meta analysis into effective teaching and more precisely feedback is nicely summed up (in another of @LearningSpy’s slides) here:
The key idea to take away here is that feedback is really powerful but its impact has the potential to be both positive and negative. So how do we keep the impact positive? How do we train students and motivate them to actively seek feedback themselves and eventually self-regulate part or all of the process?
Taking into account some of the ideas from the research and then also spending time talking to teachers in my school who consistently get good outcomes, I drafted (with the help of @Teach_Physics) success criteria for effective feedback (a starting point at least) that could be used to shape a whole feedback policy.
These criteria can be applied to both verbal and written feedback. As we began to test the criteria by going through our feedback strategies we quickly found that it is difficult to argue that each is not important for closing the learning gap between current and great performance. One aspect of the criteria that we discussed at length was should a feedback strategy be created with observers in mind and be made explicitly visible to them. The answer is probably no. Feedback strategies should concern themselves with improving student awareness of great performance and closing the gap between current and great performance. Ofsted don’t dictate how feedback is given or the frequency of it, therefore as long as a feedback policy contains examples of the strategies being employed by teachers, the emphasis can be placed upon the observer to look at the policy beforehand so they know what to look for. This is an important step forward as it stops teachers creating redundant feedback strategies that have the sole purpose of pleasing an observer rather than closing the learning gap.
Drafting a whole school feedback policy.
In drafting a whole school feedback policy it’s important to take into account a few things:
- The principles of effective feedback (see success criteria) are probably the same across different curriculum areas.
- The feedback strategies employed by teachers across different curriculum areas are probably not the same.
For example if we take verbal feedback given during a PE lesson on a practical skill vs. written feedback given to a written piece of work in English, the principles of effective feedback are probably the same but the strategy to achieve this is different:
- It’s possible to challenge the student in both cases to think about and produce excellent work through verbal (probably easier with verbal feedback in a practical situation as the teacher can model it immediately) and written feedback.
- Feedback can be close to the learning – in the moment for the student in PE. The challenge for the English teacher is the turnaround of marking/feedback but there are strategies to help achieve this (code-marking for example).
- Ensuring no student opts out of the feedback (especially vulnerable groups like pupil premium) is challenging and there may be issues beyond the teachers control that impact on this, but that doesn’t mean to say we should not aspire to every student acting on feedback to improve their work and close the gap to great performance.
- Giving students time to act on feedback is paramount to effective feedback otherwise whats the point? In both situations in this example it’s possible to give students time and space to act on the feedback they receive. It may require some planning in terms of building time into a SoW, but this is a really important part of the process.
- Is it manageable for teachers? This is another challenge, but not an impossible one if the teachers (in this example) are prepared to experiment with different strategies (especially when dealing with written feedback).
This academic year we’ve moved our policy on feedback forward by setting the criteria for effective feedback (and we’re open for this to change as new ideas emerge) and then asking curriculum areas to use feedback strategies that hit the criteria and work for their subjects – Autonomy | Consistency.
Adapting a form I first read about in @HuntingEnglish’s post about whole school feedback, curriculum teams have been asked to create a policy using the template below:
This will be a working document that is quality assured and tested throughout the academic year through regular work evaluations and lesson observations. The policy also includes an appendix for each curriculum team which they will update with examples of the feedback policy in action so that observers have a clear idea of what they should before going into any classrooms. It makes supportive accountability easier as the curriculum teams have come up with their own strategies (that meet the criteria).
Here’s the first draft of the Science teams policy:
Feedback matters – lets embed it into our practice rather then bolt it on.
@LearningSpy archive on feedback – http://www.learningspy.co.uk/tag/feedback/
@HuntingEnglish – Whole school feedback – http://www.huntingenglish.com/2015/05/16/whole-school-feedback-policy/
@headguruteacher – Making feedback count – http://headguruteacher.com/2012/11/10/mak-feedback-count-close-the-gap/
@danbrinton – Fast feedback – https://belmontteach.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/fast-feedback-4/
@teachlikeachampion – Forget the rubric – use worked examples instead – http://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/dylan-wiliam-advises-forget-rubric-use-work-samples-instead/