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Feedback is The Breakfast of Champions

28 november 2014

With mock exams finishing in the secondary school today, it is a crucial time of year for teachers and exam students. Not only do mock exams have to be marked but students need to have a diagnosis of what it is they did well and what it is they need to improve on.

We track each student individually from this point on, looking at what their grade has been in their mock exams and where we expect them to get to for their final grade. I have written before about how we have teachers who have designated time to intervene from this stage of the year onwards to help encourage and simply make any students who are not achieving their best, focus on key areas for improvement, whether it be a technical exam skill, to increase knowledge on course content or both.

Our academic interventions are designed to be done in a way that gives the student an organised revision timetable and some structure to plan their efforts around in the months and weeks ahead. Giving students timely feedback and help is something that happens regularly across the whole school and is a vital element in our aim for academic achievement.

Research shows that feedback is the most effective tool in a school’s varied toolkit to make rapid and effective improvements. In case you are expecting pages and pages of feedback on your children’s mocks or on their homework, it is important to remind you that feedback should be given sparingly so as not to overload students with too much information and encourage students to work out for themselves what they need to do to improve.

On a mock paper there may be lots to take in. At this time of year the pressure is on to mark the papers and give students a grade so that they know how they are doing. This also allows us to give you as parents information, by giving you feedback on progress with end of term reports before the Christmas break. Students also need some feedback before they go away for the holidays so they can work on more past papers as revision. This is a lot to do in the short two week timeframe before the end of term and therefore it is important that students keep their mocks (no matter how painful the result) so they can reflect on them over the holidays at their leisure and keep them as a tool to aid improvement from now up until the exams.

This should be the aim of all work that teachers have fedback on. The aim is to move beyond the traditional “what grade did I get?”  to the more constructive “what did I do well? “and ”what do I need to do to improve?”  Teachers of mock exam groups have been encouraged to make scans of pupils’ papers so that after the initial whirlwind of marking, report writing and end of term preparations they, like our students, also have some time to look again at the papers and diagnose in greater detail the individual work but also different components of the exam to see what was done well and what could be improved upon before May and June.

Feedback is not simply given in the traditional model of a teacher writing a set of statements on a student’s piece of work.  Modern teaching research and advice (pedagogy) encourages a variety of forms of effective feedback. In fact, using students to analyse each other’s work is particularly effective if they have been given prior guidance on what to look for in diagnosing  what makes a good answer. Doing this helps the other student and embeds in the reviewer‘s mind the key principles needed to succeed. Instant verbal feedback, either as a group, in lesson times or individually, is also really important and takes some practice and skill for students of all ages to be able to think about and use successfully. Incisive feedback in its many forms is the single most successful tool in improving any learner’s behaviour. When taking a driving lesson you do not expect to see pages full of notes at the end of the lesson telling what you need to do. In reality, the success of feedback relies on a combination of self-reflection, guidelines to help individuals improve, achievable but challenging targets and combining all of these with our education for character behaviours of persevering, collaborating and communicating if things do not instantly change.  In the same way we encourage you to ask your child “what did you learn at school today?” You might also want to add “what did you learn that you need to improve upon today?” especially if your child has just taken a mock exam.

Have a good weekend, a Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends and welcome to Sinter Klaas for our Dutch community. The Christmas decorations and music will go up around the school this weekend and, while academic work goes on, I am very much looking forward to seeing many of you at the School Pantomime, the Winter Concert next Friday night and the PTA’s Christmas Fair next Saturday.

- Chris Share, Head of Secondary

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