4 ways to work smarter, not harder, using feedback

Secondary teachers facing the huge burden of grading can free up time by focusing on quality feedback, says Louise Lewis

Louise Lewis

GCSEs and A levels 2021: How teachers can work smarter, not harder, using student feedback

For most secondary school teachers with GCSE and A-level classes, the summer term will usually bring a hike in workload, thanks to assessment marking, standardisation, moderation, meetings and data input. 

As a profession, we have worked hard in recent years to move away from this workload becoming overwhelming. With unprecedented support from the Department for Education, Ofsted, school leaders and educational authors, avoiding the doldrums brought about by excessive marking has been a huge silver lining for teachers across the UK. Until now.  


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In the current no-man’s-land, we have no exams, but need robust assessments, accountability and rigour, all while remaining free from the tarnish of unconscious, or indeed conscious, biases. 

Our duty isn’t just to Year 11 and 13, but our non-exam classes, too. We know that they thrive off good quality feedback, that it supports their progress through the intertwined domains of our curriculum.

How teachers can make the most of student feedback

When maximised, it could provide in the region of eight months' extra progress for our students, according to the Education Endowment Foundation. So how can we ensure that we are the omniscient examiners for GCSE and A-level classes whilst facilitating the needs of our younger cohorts?

1. Whole-class feedback

The principle of whole-class feedback is straightforward; you view the students’ work, record any themes, such as misconceptions, common errors and SPaG mistakes, areas to be re-taught, as well as areas to be praised. 

Rather than writing the same feedback in multiple books, it is instead delivered to the whole class, with individual support and scaffolding, where needed, to facilitate progress. This is a huge timesaver, and is still immensely beneficial to each individual student. Have a look at this superb blog for further reading on whole-class feedback. 

2. Verbal feedback

Verbal feedback is still feedback. In spite of the ideas of days gone by, feedback does not need to be written down for it to be effective. Nor does it require a strategically placed stamp to prove that you have spoken to your students. 

Regular question-and-answer sessions, cold call, no opt out, and mini-whiteboards can often be overlooked as the soft side of formative assessment. However, they are a staple of an effective classroom.

These require minimal preparation, give a holistic view of progress and can give students the immediate feedback and subsequent support they need. This is much more effective than waiting until next week for their book to be marked, and has a hugely positive impact on workload.

3. Rubrics

Whether working online or in the classroom, a well-made rubric is an essential resource to support students’ self-assessment. It may take time to train students to use them properly, but it’s worth it. This will save you valuable time in the long run and give them much-needed guidance around meeting success criteria.   

4. Online tools

If there is anything the past 12 months has taught us, it is how to make the best of online platforms to support students’ learning. And there are countless tools available for free, which all offer pre-made formative assessments. These are invaluable in providing assessment opportunities, and immediate feedback for students. 

Alongside these commercially available platforms, many educators have shared freely their resources, such as self-marking multiple-choice quizzes on Google or Microsoft forms. Do not reinvent the wheel, utilise these expertly crafted resources as they were intended.

We need to work smarter, not harder, in the coming weeks and beyond. Utilising the tools that we have at our disposal, beyond the red pen, can maintain that feedback-progress cycle for your students, whilst saving your energy for the huge task at hand.

Louise Lewis is a research lead and deputy head of science in a Yorkshire secondary school. She tweets @MissLLewis 

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