Reflecting on … Marking and Giving Feedback Remotely

I must admit I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed with work from students when schools were shut to most students two weeks before the Easter holidays.  However I am delighted to find that I was wrong and that I have received at least some work from over 80% of my students overall, and 90% in some classes.  However this has presented a new challenge.  For years 7-10 and 12 we are setting work on a lesson-by-lesson basis in accordance to the timetable. This means that I am receiving 25+ pieces of work back from students for each lesson I would have taught.  Furthermore, many of the tools we use to assess students’ understanding in class are denied to us when they are working remotely.  No quick whole-class quizzes, instant modelling to everyone, verbal feedback or on-the-spot marking is easily arranged and peer feedback is likely to prove an administrative nightmare, if possible at all.

For anyone on a full timetable this is somewhere in the region of 500 pieces of work a fortnight, from students beavering away at home, keenly awaiting feedback on how they have done.  This would not be sustainable at the best of times, but many of us have other responsibilities and concerns at the moment and need a system that

Over Easter I have therefore been reflecting on workload-friendly marking and feedback techniques that will maintain regular contact with students, show them that their work is valued and being reviewed and have a positive impact on their progress.

It is worth remembering research has led us to 4 key principles that underpin all our subject-specific assessment policies.  These are:

  • Building a dialogue between student and teacher.
  • Ensuring students respond to feedback given in a meaningful way e.g. developing or redrafting the work.
  • Distinguishing between mistakes which students can correct themselves and misunderstandings which need reteaching.
  • Addressing literacy mistakes and misunderstandings directly.

Whilst following there are some feedback strategies that seem likely to be of particular use to us to manage this workload whilst still providing students with meaningful feedback regularly.  The ones I am finding best fit remote learning are summarised below:

 

Whole Class Feedback: works well for significant pieces of work (e.g. long written answers or projects and worksheets with multiple answers).

Whole class feedback can still work remotely if slightly adapted in delivery.  It can be a major time-saver to deliver feedback on work completed by a large number of students (20+).  This is how I approach it:

  • Read 5 or 6 submissions from a range of students (e.g. PAL, PAM, PAH, PP, male, female, SEND).  Note the common mistakes and misunderstandings which arise on a separate document.
  • Identify solutions for these. I normally plan for these to be delivered to a large number of students or the whole class at once.  For example:
  • “A large number of students have been writing “black death” instead of “Black Death”. As a major historical event we treat The Black Death as a proper noun and so please ensure that you have used capital letters for this term.”
  • Or, several students have given the definition of assimilation as “the process of taking in and fully understanding information or ideas”. This is an accurate definition of this word, and it is the first one that comes up on Google.  However, as with many words “assimilation” has several definitions and this is not the one that best fits our work on the Australian Aborigines.  If you have used this definition take another look and think carefully about which definition fits.  Replace your definition with the one that best fits the context of what we are learning.

The key here is that the feedback should be focused on solutions and give students clear actions to take if they have made mistakes and explanations to correct misconceptions.  This might involve referring them to a specific website or video that will clarify things for them.  As a result they should be able to respond to the feedback by editing their work.

  • Read through another 5 or 6 pieces of work to see if my feedback points would apply to these students.  Are there any substantive mistakes or misconceptions I haven’t covered, or students who would not be able to respond to my feedback in any way.
  • After this I read briefly through the rest of the submissions. Generally my feedback sheet will apply to most or all of the students in my class (one or two may need individual help, support, comments or advice and one or two may have completed the work so effectively they need different, extension work or to move onto the next piece).  Students can then be given the feedback in any form that suits me and the class.  This will normally be one of three ways:
  • Coded responses where I number or code the different feedback points and tell the students which apply to their work.
  • Copy-and-paste where I select one or two key points to add to the student’s document.
  • Self-assessment where students are given the whole sheet and asked to identify the comments which apply to their work.

Don’t forget this method can also be used to share positives about the work. For example:

  • The question on Captain Smith’s reasons for using Native American names for landscape features required an exercise in historical imagination, as no historian knows the answers for sure. In this case the key is applying your research to come up with a reasonable suggestion.  This question was very well handled all round.

Modelling and Answer Sheets:  works well for shorter-answer questions with clear mark-schemes where students are building or repeating a particular skill.

One way we encourage students to respond to feedback is to self-assess their work.  In class I am often in a position to share answers from other students or to model answers using a visualiser.  Using remote learning at first made this seem impossible, as we cannot realistically set up “live” lessons for most students in years 7-10.  However I am now at the stage where I have adapted my strategies to help me deliver feedback in this way.

  • After reading through 5 or 6 pieces of work from a range of students I will have a sense of what stronger and weaker answers look like for this piece of work.
  • I then adapt the responses I have had to create annotated models of different levels of answer for students. In history we are practicing a lot of 4-mark explanation paragraphs.  I will therefore take one or two of these and show students what a 1-mark, 2-mark, 3-mark or 4-mark answer looks like, annotating each to explain why it received the marks it did.
  • I then ask students to assess their own work and note the theme which arises: for example, greater use of specific facts and data as evidence, or linking clearly back to the question.
  • Dialogue is developed when they send me their self-assessed work and I read through to ensure that they are broadly correct in their mark allocation and have identified a meaningful target. Again, for most students this will be all they need, but some will then clearly need individual help and support and I will work with them more closely.

For both these strategies I use my time to read students’ work carefully and ensure that they are on the right track.  My energies then go into planning strategies and interventions to support students’ learning moving forward.  I save a lot of time annotating individual pieces of work and repeating myself when there are common patterns to students’ mistakes and misconceptions.

 

Online Quizzes and Auto-Marked Assessments

There are now a lot of different tools and programmes that do this work for you.  I find the quiz function on Show My Homework to be perfectly useful.  By setting a quiz with simple multiple-choice answers I can ensure that the work is marked, students have multiple opportunities to improve their answers and gather a quick snapshot of how well the class has understood and learned the material.  Quizzes can be reused and I can target teaching at particular questions the class have struggled with in my next activity.

 

By using a combination of these strategies instead of marking each individual piece of work that students send, I hope to ensure that the principles of impactful assessment are maintained, whilst managing the workload generated by remote learning.

In choosing whether to mark work individually or to adopt one of these strategies I reflect on the following questions, normally when setting the work:

  • Is this work likely to show a consistent pattern of mistakes and misconceptions?
  • Will this feedback method give students the opportunity to respond to the feedback by developing their skills or improving their knowledge?
  • How will I know if the student has made effective use of my generalised feedback and understood how it applies to their work?

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