During an Initial Teacher Training session that I was delivering recently, I was asked: “When is the best time to give feedback?”
I think that the teacher (to-be) who asked the question was somewhat surprised when I said: “While the student is doing the work…”
For me at least, feedback needs to be instant. It needs to be given and acted upon straight away, or it’s not having the optimum impact.
Think about it: you mark your books every two weeks, you give excellent feedback tasks to extend learning, but is your feedback as effective as it could be? Is that pupil in the same head-space as they were when they were completing that piece of work? Or is their response going to be a bolt-on that ticks a box?
What makes good feedback and why is the timing so important?
The truth is, quality reigns over quantity. Observers aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be) looking to see if every page has some teacher input on it. Instead, they should be looking at how the feedback and marking is helping students to improve.
With this in mind, your feedback needs to address a misconception in learning. The form it takes may be a question, it may be a brief correction, or it could even be verbal feedback. But this needs to be done as soon as possible. The misconception is addressed before it becomes embedded and in turn learning becomes more efficient.
How can you mark while a student is working?
It’s simple – when the pupils are working on a directed task, you can circulate and give them personal questions, tasks or comments in their books to complete. Extension tasks, synthesis questions and questions to put right misconceptions can be used depending on the task: all count as live feedback.
Even if you give them some Spag feedback, it’s directed, it’s relevant and most importantly it’s responding to the need of that student in the window of time when it will be most valuable to them.
The steps are simple:
• Read a student’s work.
• Ask them a question or give them some advice about what they have written. This may be literacy-based, testing technical knowledge, synthesis questions, hypothetical questions or simply one-word questions.
• The pupil responds to your input.
How hard is it?
If you have behavioural expectations in place and you are able to read students' work quickly, there are no barriers to you giving live feedback as your class completes a task. The main challenge for this type of marking is simply your own ability to read and synthesise a response and then give feedback.
Think about it another way: for every minute you spend giving feedback in the lesson, it’s a minute you don’t need to spend reading a student’s work in isolation outside of the classroom.
Why does it work?
It works because it is simple. The student responds instantly to their feedback, which heightens its value. Over a period of time, getting live feedback encourages a growth mindset and from experience this approach is both hugely successful and a real time saver.
Adam Riches is a specialist leader of education and lead teacher in English