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Effective Feedback - Why Less Is More

Updated: May 19, 2019

'Marking has evolved into an unhelpful burden for teachers, when the time it takes is not repaid in positive impact on pupils’ progress' - Ofsted, 2016

With teacher workload a constant topic of discussion, and 'unpaid overtime' seemingly continuing to rise (up to 12.5 hours according to a TUC survey last year), it's time to focus on smarter ways to tackle marking.

Some marking and feedback strategies appear to fly in the face of not just research, but common sense as well (triple marking anyone? 3 - 5 different coloured pens?). With this in mind, it's important to remember that the most important aspect of marking is how it helps students. As is neatly summarised by the Education Endowment Foundation: 'it is essential to ensure that marking is as efficient and impactful as possible.'

Below are some of the most effective and easily implemented strategies for getting the most out of marking.

Highlighting If you want a quick and accessible way to show learners their strengths and areas for development (note: not ‘weaknesses’), this could be the strategy for you. By creating a simple proforma for each question, task or success criteria, marking a full set of books can be completed in a fraction of the usual time.

The example below is for a GCSE English Language question and a teacher assesses learner work by using highlighters to show how well a learner has hit each of the success criteria. The more green, the better a learner has done. Students can quickly identify their main area of development through the amount of red/ pink. Having done this, learners then complete an extension activity.

(These resources are available here)

Smart marking

Instead of spending hour after hour writing comments underneath student work, why not try smart marking? This approach only requires a couple of letters after each piece of work and instead shares the workload with students.

To complete smart marking, a teacher reads through student work and leave letters which correspond to pre-defined targets. A smart marking grid is either circulated or displayed at the beginning of the following lesson and students write down the corresponding feedback.

The beauty of this approach is that once you have created a bank of feedback comments using the assessment criteria, they will only ever need slight alterations.

Students can also use smart marking when completing...

Self and peer assessment/ reflection

A really simple and effective way to give praise and areas of development for any work is to have learners do it. Plan time for this at the end of lessons and make sure peer assessment is done through mixed ability pairings.

If dealing with lower ability students, SEND or younger learners, prepare a bank of comments which they can choose from (as shown here). You could also discuss and build the bank of comments with learners before the task to check their understanding.

This can require some training with your classes to make sure they understand expectations, but once this is completed, students will regularly benefit from seeing the work of others and analysing their own work.

Keep it simple

We've all encountered teachers who feel they have not done a proper job unless they have written half a page of feedback for each student. The unfortunate aspect of this is that it is usually wasted time: students rarely read all of it and become instantly demoralised as they think lots of feedback means lots of mistakes.

Try giving praise and areas for development in one or two sentences only and address misconceptions or errors in teaching during following lessons.

Remember - whatever works for you, works

Whatever marking approach we take, we must always remember (as neatly summarised by the Education and Endowment Fund graphic below) - there is no one way to mark student work!

Anything we've missed? Feel free to add your thoughts to the comments below.


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