Finding a Functional Framework for Feedback

19 March 2018

Author: Neil Miller - Teacher of Geography, Sandringham School

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the first of three full day workshops delivered by Sandringham School’s Research SchoolEffective Feedback to Maximise Progress – designed to deliver reflective and meaningful advice on how to improve the feedback offered to students of all age groups. Since entering the profession, I have found that feedback can have both positive and negative impacts, and the distinction between students following either path is often very blurry. Sometimes, in a counter-productive fashion, these negative impacts can be produced because a student is satisfied with their result/grade. Therefore, they choose to forego listening to and internalising any information they receive to help them continue trying to improve the quality of their work or their critical understanding of the subject. This is one of a multitude of frustrations that I would argue many teachers are confronted with when providing feedback.

There are many problems with providing feedback that I have personally encountered in the classroom. Some of the following issues regarding students’ interpretation and subsequent implementation of feedback provided by a classroom teacher may resonate with you: a rush to complete reflective or reactive tasks designated by yourself as quickly as possible; a lack of detail in student response; insufficient clarity of the benefits of specific feedback to the student; the inability of students to clearly remember their previous feedback rendering them unable to act upon it effectively. Further, providing students with a grade for a marked essay often renders them almost dysfunctional when it comes to listening and reacting to any  ensuing feedback – this grade is all-consuming and they ‘switch-off’, missing the most useful nuggets of information provided by the teacher – meaning that the hours spent individualising bespoke targets and comments becomes ineffectual instantaneously. These things have become a frustration in my own particular experience, mainly with KS4 and KS5, where I am sure that my responses to students (which often takes many hours of my time) would have a tangible impact if they were packaged differently, or delivered using a more nuanced method. I was looking for this day of workshops to provide some answers to these challenges, and it did not disappoint!

The workshop was chaired by the charismatic and thought-provoking Harry Fletcher-Wood from the Institute for Teaching, whose overview of his experiential journey (during his teaching years) seeking the ‘best practice’ for marking for efficient feedback was illuminating, principally his discussion of different levels of feedback. His framework for different levels of feedback, available here, provided a model to help package some of the things I had already been implementing into my marking into a more targeted format.

HFW Feedback table

He suggests that teachers should be thinking about feedback as targeting different levels of change; change to be made on a specific piece of work, change to be made that will be integrated into a similar piece of work (essay structuring or a focus on different assessment objectives could be an example here), and change based on influencing the way students regulate themselves (how to adapt their routines and habits to learn more effectively perhaps). In truth, feedback on student regulation is often administered verbally, whereas task and subject-specific change is communicated through written comments. I had realised I was already doing this, but in a slightly unstructured way. This framework has helped me to envisage the levels on which to structure feedback to students, and helped to me to more easily accept that feedback is a sequential, step-by-step journey for students that takes time and practice.

I have put this concept into practice to attempt to streamline feedback to my A level classes, beginning the process of embedding an ethos of targeting change at different levels with my students. Every essay-length piece of work since has marked using a proforma which models this framework to structure feedback for them – task-specific change, subject-specific change, and change in student regulation – to achieve better results. Also, students write their previous subject-specific target on their next ‘similar’ piece of work, in an attempt to foster a reflective process of change in them to drive improvement. ‘Feedback’ from my students suggests this has been extremely valuable to this point.

I look forward to the second of three days of workshops – Embedding effective feedback over time – in a couple of weeks’ time. I expect more great insight on the delivery of effective and manageable feedback in the classroom and beyond!

Posted on 19 March 2018
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