I’m writing this as I wait for the man to come and unblock my drains. Not a glamorous job by any judgement but one which I’m relieved someone else is prepared to do and one which will yield instant results. My drains are blocked. He’s been before. I’m one of his hundreds of customers. Phil empties the septic tank, rods the pipes, gets my drains smelling sweet and assumes a very droll manner as he goes about it. He turns up, does the business, gets the system back working as it should and life goes on.
Yesterday we helped a school rod its works. We were in like Phil at Tong in Bradford. The school feedback system had become gunged up with well-intentioned initiatives and false starts. It needed clearing out so it could smell sweet again. So we got in and rolled the sleeves up. It helped to have a team of twelve very capable middle leaders. We were set up to develop a more effective student feedback system and do so in less than six hours. We would get to the everyday heart of what the school was about.
Our starting point was to identify some key features of an effective feedback system. So paired discussion led to recording short one line contributions. This, our “prior understanding” is below. The red dots are the subsequent three votes cast by each member of the group on which features they thought most significant. The dots are used to direct the content of the first draft of the school feedback policy.
We then had an input to follow up the reading given out in advance of the meeting. We looked at the research showing effect sizes of different interventions, provided practical techniques from classrooms around the country, modified the ideas with common sense and added a few of our own.
We heard about the work of Marzano, Hattie, Sutton Trust, Black and William. We discussed assertive and other types of mentoring, coaching, target setting, dialogic teaching, enquiry based learning and the SOLO taxonomy. We had a short input on Critique and watched videos of Ron Berger. We were primed, had shared knowledge and were ready to go…
Our first task was to define the desirable behaviours at three levels: school, classroom and student. Groups were asked to take ten minutes to draw and label the key features of effective feedback, one group for each level. We left the products on the top of the table and then groups moved round. At the new table, the arriving group had to discuss each feature before choosing three or four and listing some recommended “delivery” strategies. For example, a school level feature might be ‘an effective whole school approach to marking’ and a strategy might be ‘to use generic response labels which can be peeled off and placed into exercise books.’
Once we had spent time generating strategies, groups moved around again. At the third and final station they had to look at the features left by the first group, the strategies recommended by the second and then decide on which strategies to prioritise for further work. They did so based on a ranking exercise using do-ability and impact. These strategies would go out for further consultation immediately following our day. The chosen strategies were:
- Process into Practice – whole school guidelines on effective feedback in different versions to appear in the staff handbook, pupil planner and on the Parent Portal
- Smarter Marker – separate sample templates which can be provide as peel off labels for generic and subject specific marking
- Literacy Passport – outline contents for a portable document to record the use of literacy skills in different subjects
- Display to Develop –standardized classroom display to prompt effective feedback routines
- Peer Protocols – prompt questions and responses for teacher, pupil and peer
As this is happening I’m busy listening in and based on what I’m hearing I’m re-drafting the school feedback policy. This is what the first draft looked like.
In order to make Process into Practice consistent with what we had discussed we shared the following seven shaping principles. Effective feedback is
- Participative: feedback involves student(s), Peer(s), teacher(s) and home
- Iterative: feedback is accessed through a succession of improvement cycles and small adjustments, drafts and re-drafts
- Understood: feedback is communicated in an accessible language and/or format
- Actionable: improvements arising from feedback and/or changes can be made immediately and with minimal effort
- Timely: feedback is delivered at the points when it is needed
- Related: feedback is connected to both subject and to whole school assessment criteria
- Owned: feedback is linked to the student’s personal aspirations, targets or goals
There are now five groups working away at producing the practical guidance and resources for staff to trial. This takes a further ninety minutes and runs over and through lunch. As we work we share progress and re-adjust this helps create a further draft of the school feedback policy.
After a mountain of bhajis, pakoras and the sort of cakes which are used to support the foundations of large buildings we finish. To conclude we ask each new group to describe
- What’s been done?
- What needs to happen next?
- What do you need to make it happen?
After a further 24 hours, some thinking space and another re-draft. The school feedback policy now reads like this
At Tong High School we have a feedback approach which is accessible to all and which:
- informs assessment
- involves cycles of self, peer and teacher evaluation
- is integral to a shared culture of learning and improvement
- is built around purposeful dialogue and time effective interventions
- actively involves students, peers and teachers in both review of progress and planning for improvement
- fosters student reciprocity, emerges from curiosity and shapes personal growth
- helps teachers and students locate and reinforce discretionary effort and strategies for improvement
- is consistent with an easily applied whole school system
- derives from evidence-based research and the context of our school
We have begun to get it smelling sweet. Phil would be proud of us.
Thanks to John Turner, Matt Perry, Hayley Duckworth, Matt Campbell, Dawn Theakston, Jack McPhail, Danielle Burns, Ross Towler, Amanda Patch, Simon Ford, Jo Philipson, Victoria Harrop, Lisa Dabrowski – great talents one and all. Thanks also to Phil who emptied my septic tank in 25 minutes for £95.