Marking: 5 ways to engage students through feedback

Getting students to engage with feedback is a tough but rewarding learning curve, says Mark Beetlestone

Marking: five ways to get the most out of it

It’s no secret that workload tops the list of “most common teacher complaints”. At times, it can seem like an insurmountable task: one which seems to eat hours from your evenings and weekends. We’ve all heard the common cries in the staff room: “I can’t believe the amount of marking I have to do!” or “I have no idea where all this marking has come from, I was on top of it yesterday!”

Still, you take time to toil over the work your students submit. You pore over their every word, you highlight any misspellings and offer constructive criticism. You punch the air in delight when you realise that the lightbulb has switched on and something must have been going in during those lessons.

You cry in despair after marking 10 essays in a row with the same mistakes made, already working on a plan for making those lessons better. You try your best to phrase the negatives in a way which they will be able to deal with, hopefully fostering a resilient and forward-looking mentality. You want your students to be able to deal with the negatives that life throws them – one day, they’ll be out in the real world and facing real-world criticism… and we know what that feels like.


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Once marked and diligently recorded, you give the work back like a parent giving presents to their children on Christmas Day. You beg your students to read through the feedback carefully. You want them to devour your work the same way you devoured theirs. You wish for your feedback to resonate so deeply within them that their next piece of work shows evidence of taking on board all of the guidance you have given them. You expect your students to receive the work with an overwhelming sense of joy and pride, eager to read the feedback which you have crafted for them.

'A tough but rewarding learning curve'

In reality, a cursory glance at the overall comment or final grade is all they’ll take away before wanting to move on to the next thing.

This, unsurprisingly, can leave you feeling a little deflated.

Surely there has to be another way? Surely there has to be a reward for your efforts? How can we overcome that deflated feeling when our efforts seem to fall by the wayside?

Getting students to engage with feedback is a tough but rewarding learning curve. Making the feedback mean something to them and getting them to buy into a reflective feedback process is part of an almost dark-art like craft.

From my experience, making the experience a more individualised and personal experience for students is the key to the process. Your students should ideally be in a constant cycle of "learn, do, apply, reflect”: they should be constantly evaluating their own learning and just using your feedback as another tool for reflection.

I’m not professing to be an educational expert and I’m not here to evangelise anything groundbreaking, but here are my top five pointers for getting the most out of the marking/feedback cycle:

  1. Make a list of outstanding marking in order of priority. Stick to this list. When you find the time to do your marking, use the list as a reference point for where to start and where you plan on carrying on from next time. 
  2. Write the feedback as if the student was sitting next to you. Does your feedback always have to be formal? If it isn’t part of a formative assessment then you could increase student buy-in by using in-jokes, colloquialisms and terms of reference which they will get. Don’t be afraid – the number one priority is student engagement. Grab that where you can.
  3. Aim to spend time asking each student individually to reflect once they have received some feedback. It could be a simple task such as writing down one thing they will aim to improve next time. Ensuring they understand the feedback is key.
  4. If you're a fan of mastery, ensure that you track and monitor progress properly so that you can plan future lessons to pivot around weak areas until mastery is demonstrated.
  5. Demonstrate how the feedback gained from a previous piece of work can help slingshot them into success in the future. By referring back to feedback, teachers can hit those weak areas and celebrate the strength in the diversity of the learners they are faced with.

Sometimes, this might seem like blue-sky thinking, a pipe-dream almost, especially when you have 30 essays due in for marking tomorrow…

Mark Beetlestone is a curriculum area lead at Fareham College

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