Skip to main content

On giving written feedback

Evidence from reputable sources such as John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam has led schools and teachers to place an increased emphasis on feedback than in the past. Effective, timely feedback is said to be one way to maximise your students' progress. One unfortunate consequence of this emphasis is that schools have sometimes insisted on teachers providing detailed written feedback and targets on students' work in a very prescribed and back-covering fashion. This is time-consuming, as the recent DfE workload report noted and not a requirement of Ofsted.

A further consequence I have picked up is that, because marking and feedback has become so prescribed and detailed (including the use of colour coding, 'two stars and a wish', etc) it becomes, in some cases, less frequent. It has to; there are only so many hours in a day. To my mind, frequent, lighter feedback is more effective. If you set homework at the right level to a Y9 class, it should take no more than about an hour to mark 30 books. You could do that once a week, maybe once a fortnight.

So my approach to this was to ensure pupils did plenty of homework, much of it marked by me, but that the feedback was traditionally brief. I felt, and still do, that the most important part of the process of homework and feedback, was the fact that the students actually did the work. Marking and feedback are mainly there to ensure that students care enough about their work and do it punctually and carefully.

Given the choice between (1) setting lots of work and marking it lightly and (2) setting less work and marking it in detail, with lengthy comment at the end or in the margin, I would unhesitatingly choose option (1).

Now, some second language learning researchers claim that corrective marking makes no difference to acquisition. (It's actually quite hard to prove.) I would not go that far, but I do think its importance is exaggerated. I repeat: the key thing is that the students did the work, i.e. recycled the language, got more comprehensible input, thought about the grammatical forms, used a dictionary, and so on.

Nevertheless, I believe some feedback is useful and tend to go along with the approach touted by the Michaela free school, whereby the English teacher, for example, makes a few notes about common recurring issues and deals with them to the whole class. This seems to be efficient, if less personalised. As far as I can make out, the work is read, a brief mark or remark added, but little if any detailed comment. Much work can also be peer-marked, then briefly checked when the books are collected in next (a good argument for exercises books over file paper, by the way). Many teachers have adopted this approach over the years.

One feeling I had about all this was that going through work with students was, frankly, just a bit boring for them and for me. Rather than do this, I wanted to move on to the next activity. I wanted to do something stimulating and communicative in the target language in the limited time we had available. I think (hope?) I had a sense of what they found useful and what they found boring - call it "affective and cognitive empathy" if you like. We talk about this in our book.

I hope that the DfE report is read by school leaders and that those who insist on "gold-plated" feedback systems consider other priorities.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


English 

_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for frenchteacher.net three separate PowerPoint presentations using the same set of 20 pictures (sports). A very good way for you to save time is to reuse the same resource in a number of different ways.

I chose 20 clear, simple, clear and copyright-free images from pixabay.com to produce three presentations on present tense (beginners), near future (post beginner) and perfect tense (post-beginner/low intermediate). Here is one of them:





Below is how I would have taught using this presentation - it won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially of you are not big on choral repetition and PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), but I'll justify my choice in the plan at each stage. For some readers this will be standard practice.

1. Explain in English that you are going to teach the class how to talk about and understand people talking about sport. By the end of the lesson they will be able to say and understand 20 different sport…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…