A Better Plan for Feedback

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In one of my most recent MSc lectures, teachers and educators were asked to reflect on the most important part of their planning: task design. We were given a variety of models to assess, discuss, and apply to our own teaching to ensure that students would end up with the most effective final result.

However, what I felt was missing was a coherent design for feedback within a task model. Task design always seemed to end with a ‘final product’ but with little guidance on where or when feedback would be best given.

So, what if we planned our feedback the same way that we planned our tasks?

At the moment, the common school of thought regarding the training of new teachers or curriculum design is heavily weighted on lesson or Task Design (including scaffolding, small burst writing, knowledge tests) rather than Feedback.  Moreover, feedback is often misconstrued as ‘marking.’  The extent of marking can also sometimes be forced to coincide with a school data capture, meaning that the information that is being registered is not always accurately or effectively positioned within process of the task.

(Before I move on, I want to clarify that I am talking specifically about feedback activities and not marking. Marking is usually an approach to ‘showcase that feedback is given,’ however, often does very little for the student. I am not encouraging hours of marking, but rather, planning to ensure that classroom feedback is timely and effectual.)

A usual plan may look something like this:

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 19.31.40

Feedback is often represented as such a small part of the lesson planning, and is commonly at the end of a cycle: ‘Finally, give students feedback’. However, this could be toxic in two ways: 1) it reduces the students’ perspective that feedback is a vital part of their learning, and 2) it does not allow students time to effectively evaluate the mistakes they may have made.

 

The Value of a Feedback Design

Imagine you are climbing a mountain. At every gradient along the way, the weather may change, the strength of the rocks may be different, and you may require a slightly different range of equipment or knowledge. In a similar way, our students may require different advice or steers when they are completing a task; different moments of feedback. If we only plan this in at the end of our tasks only, or ‘tack it on’ to a task design, it is like sending them up a mountain expecting it to stay as sunny as it was in the morning.

That is why feedback should be just as important in the task design. The two should run cohesively and coherently together. Very simply, something like this:

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 19.31.58

Our own educational bias towards task design over feedback has actually come from the history of our educational theorists. The following graph table shows exactly what areas of the classroom that particular education theorists believed were the most important for a teacher to know; there is no column for feedback and very few even consider assessment knowledge an important part of a teacher’s role.

 

Screen Shot 2019-02-28 at 21.03.32

 

So, how does feedback fit in with a task design model? Let’s look at one task design model (Anne Edwards, 2014) as an example:

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 19.42.24

 

Like so many theorists, on the surface this looks like an excellent model. But where does feedback fit in? There is no mention to where or how feedback would best fit the student in this. Imagine we added onto the model a similar process for feedback:

8. Strengthened and consolidated demonstration of grasp of key concepts and ways of enquiring. 5. Introduce key about the learning positives and mistakes through exemplars and initial work.
7. More open tasks that encourage students to evaluate their work against the entirety of the key concepts addressed. 6. Tightly structured tasks where students write/re-write introductions or conclusions – or include key concepts that have been missed.

By changing the way we look at feedback in our planning, hopefully we can change the way the students see it. As has been quoted and re-quoted, the famous Dylan Wiliam assertion:

Feedback should be more work for the students.

 

If we continue to design our schemes of work with feedback as the final ‘thing.’ it undervalues the time that students could be truly grappling with, expanding on, and improving their work.

Does this mean another ‘triple marking’?

No. If the feedback design is properly implemented into the task design, teachers may not need to give written feedback at all. Indeed, many schools are moving to the approach of this, however, it is important (as I have discussed at ResearchED National Conference, Scotland and Durham) that whole-class feedback approaches are carefully considered and planned. Stuart Kime (Evidence in Education) has also conclusively echoed these thoughts in recent research on no-marking policies.

Let’s compare and contrast a (very brief English) plan. The aim of the following task is to get students to sit a mock poetry essay after learning the material required.

Example 1: Task Design

Stage Task Objective
1

(quadrant 1)

Planning Essays Give a range of questions and get students to choose the two poems they might approach the essay with.
2

(quadrant 1)

Topic Sentences Group or peer planning of Topic Sentences so that students can map out their comparative argument points.
3

(quadrant 2)

Evidence/Devices To pick apart/dissect/mock good body paragraphs from Stage 1 knowledge.
4

(quadrant 2)

Paragraph Writing To ensure knowledge of sustained coherence between stages 1- 3. This might be done in the process of teacher led, peer developed and then independent paragraph construction.
5**

(quadrant 3)

Draft Essay To be marked and show understanding in timed conditions of sustained coherence between stages 1 – 4.
6

(quadrant 4)

Mock Exam — Formal Feedback given.

**teachers may choose to use formal written feedback.

Example 2: Task Design including Feedback Design

Stage Task Objective
1*

(quadrants 1 and 5)

Exemplar Study For students to see the ‘end goal’ or the ‘goal post’ of what a good example looks like.   This also used to encourage motivation.
2*

(quadrants 2 and 6)

Introductions To pick apart/dissect/mock good introductions.
3*

(quadrants 2 and 6)

Body Paragraphs To pick apart/dissect/mock good body paragraphs. Compare to Stage 1.
4**

(quadrants 3 and 7)

Draft Essay To ensure knowledge of sustained coherence between stages 1- 4.
5

(quadrants 4 and 8)

Mock Exam To test understanding in timed conditions of sustained coherence between stages 1 – 4.

 *ongoing oral feedback

**teachers may choose to use formal written feedback.

 

In both cases, a teacher may choose to give written feedback, however, by compartmentalising the task design and embedding a design for the feedback in Example 2, the final written marking (if needed) would require fewer comments; the earlier verbal feedback should assist to foil any basic mistakes. This approach also places far more emphasis on feedback as a vital part of learning and the student as the true master of their own success.

Our own forgetfulness to incorporate effective feedback into our task planning has come from two things 1) the overuse of a school data capture to judge progress, and 2) previous educational theory.   However, as we move more into a world that values students with high meta-cognitive awareness, genuine reflective skills, and a more ‘independent approach,’ we must be having conversations not only about the tasks we are designing but how this task incorporates an effective feedback design as well.

 

5 Key Takeaway Questions for CPD and discussion:

  1. Do you include feedback in the learning cycle, or is it for a data capture?
  2. Does your department consider feedback in their task planning?
  3. Is feedback given the time it requires to be effective?
  4. Does your school interchange ‘marking’ with ‘feedback’? How can this be clarified?
  5. What feedback methods would honestly be best for your students at that point in time?

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