Ynysowen Community Primary School is a successful primary school in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. The school is a Digital Pioneer School for the Welsh government and is a self-improving school. Ynysowen achieved its second NACE Challenge Award accreditation in May 2017.
Tom Hills, deputy headteacher and additional learning needs coordinator, gives an overview of the substantial work the school has done in the area of marking and feedback.
For a long time now schools have known that the feedback students receive is a vital component in moving learning forward. Some, like John Hattie, go as far as to say that it is the single most powerful modification we can make with regards to improving achievement, while the Education Endowment Foundation cites an average gain of up to eight months progress.
Couple this with the fact that marking features at or near the top of every survey conducted into teacher workload, and there are potentially huge benefits to all involved – if we get it right. And if we get it right, then we can lift the lid and remove some of the traditional glass ceilings that are in place in education, particularly for MAT learners.

“Non-negotiables” for marking and feedback

Based on this, we took the decision to review our already established good practice at Ynysowen Community Primary School. This led to us forming the following requirements as the basis for all subsequent work in this area.
We insisted that marking and feedback must:
  • Be highly valued by the pupils;
  • Be informative in terms of next steps;
  • Impact upon pupil progress;
  • Be highly valued by the staff;
  • Be manageable;
  • Put the onus on learners taking ownership and responsibility for their improvement and progress.
In order to achieve this, we set out the following non-negotiables.
  1. Every time a member of staff puts pen to paper to mark, learners will respond.
  2. When marking a body of text, marking will signpost learners to errors to correct via a coded marking system. (Code placed in the margin on the line where the error occurred.)
  3. When providing feedback by comment it will, where possible, contain an element of self-regulation, as this develops greater skills in self-evaluation or confidence to engage further on a task. Where this isn't appropriate, comments will focus on the process used in the task, or on the content of the completed work.
  4. Dedicated Improvement and Response Time (DIRT) must be used at the start of every lesson.

Impact and ongoing developments

The new coded marking was implemented in conjunction with DIRT and immediately had the desired impact of increasing pupil engagement with marking, and substantially reducing teacher workload. Within two weeks, staff reported learners beginning to use the coded mark system without prompting to self-assess and improve their work – before their teacher could mark it.
Over time, training was given to staff with regards to moving from task- and product-related comments to process and self-regulation. Initial baseline book review showed 65% of comments across KS2 were task- and product-related, 30% were related to process and only 5% self-regulation. After training, this moved to a much more balanced 40%, 35% and 25% respectively. Work is ongoing to further improve this swing.
When asked about marking and feedback, learners respond very positively. They talk with confidence about the purpose of marking and articulate clearly how it helps them move on in their learning; they love DIRT time. All teachers report a huge reduction in marking time.
This project has been the catalyst for more evidence-based reviews of practice. We have undertaken substantial work with regards to questioning and are currently taking some tentative steps in beginning to explore the area of metacognition for our older learners. Marking and feedback will be reviewed next year to look at how best to incorporate the features available in Google for Education (previously Google Apps for Education) – something the school uses extensively.

Making use of Google for Education

Google for Education offers facilities, the likes of which have never been readily available to schools in such a user-friendly way. Learners can use the apps to share their work and allow comments, so peers can suggest changes and leave feedback. This, however, need not be limited to within the classroom or even school – opening up all sorts of possibilities for school-to-school working across the world.
Then there’s Google Forms, which provides a different dimension to peer- and self-assessment. Theoretically learners could create their own form asking for feedback on specific things in their work and invite responses from people across the world.
Google Classroom makes collating learners’ work easy and quick and allows teachers to make and/or grade work and send it back to the pupil who can make alterations and re-submit. With the huge range of extensions and apps available in the Google Marketplace, this feedback could now take the form of saved audio clips – something that will make feedback even more detailed and accurate, with no time cost.
For those who prefer to use a pen to mark, there are now apps that allow the use of a stylus to physically mark pupils’ digital work. This is then converted to a .pdf and stored alongside the original work.
Given that Google for Education is continually updating and adding new features, the feedback functionality stands to get better and better, which can only be a good thing!
Tom is an award-winning teacher who has been working in primary education for 11 years. He led a project to place free mathematical reasoning resources in the hands of all primary teachers, blogs about games-based learning (follow him on Twitter @MrTomHills) and recently led the publishing of the new bilingual #DigitalCompetence/#CymhwyseddDigidol magazine from DCF Cymru.
Monday, June 19, 2017