Myths and Legends: Whole Class Feedback


I’ve been using whole-class feedback for 2 years now. As a school, we have moved to it as part of a new assessment trial, to be reviewed at Christmas. It goes something like this:

Each term, teachers will give feedback three times. This will include one piece of written feedback in books, using WWW/EBI. It will include one piece of whole-class feedback on the centralised form and it will include one piece of self-assessment (to which the teacher responds). Any other feedback is at the discretion of the teacher.

I have read a lot on Twitter in the past week or so which makes me think that whole-class feedback (WCF henceforth) is massively misunderstood. Some teachers are expressing reasonable concerns about it – but these are based on false premises.  I’d like to attach an example of WCF to this blog but will check with my SLT first as a matter of courtesy. An anonymised example is attached; click here for the scan. In the meantime, here are some myths I’ve seen and my clarification:

MYTH: Whole-class feedback is not personalised. Children lose out on the individual attention that comes from marking individual books.

Every child’s work is read in detail. This can be done during the time when traditional marking would take place or when the teacher moves around the room. In either situation, notes are made by the teacher on a separate sheet of paper.

MYTH: Children don’t/won’t read the feedback.

We spend about half a lesson going through the feedback (DIRT time in my school – insert your own acronym here). Students read the feedback. If they are unable to read then they are supported in doing so. If a concern is that children don’t or won’t read feedback, then perhaps the issue is the approach taken in delivering it. If it’s valued by the teacher, then it’ll be read and digested. Our children also respond and improve their work. When we start the next piece of work, they refer back to their WCF first.

MYTH: It’s unfair to have targets/sanctions associated with children’s names if the feedback is going to all.

This seems to stem from the (false) idea that WCF must involve criticism (critique?) of individual students’ work, which is shared with everybody. There’s the misguided notion that embarrassing comments and tellings-off for individuals are glued into everybody else’s books. In the approach we take, this is simply not the case. I identify 3 to 5 common areas for improvement for the group. They’re all working on the same objective so there are never more areas for improvement. Before I used WCF, I would never have more than 3 to 5 different targets for students. When I did, it was because I’d lost the overview of what I was doing and veered off piste. So, alongside each target, you can have a group of students’ names. An alternative approach, which I find to be more powerful, is to list the targets without names. The students then identify where they need to improve.

MYTH: There’s too much administration! It would just be quicker to mark the books.

The feedback can displayed on the projector; printed out (sticking in optional too!) or shared verbally. I tend to type it up onto our whole-school feedback sheet. One of my colleagues handwrites it. It doesn’t matter. Our sheet is A4 but we’ve only had a whole-school approach for one year. Last year I used to produce A5 sheets and put them through the guillotine in under 30 seconds.

When it comes to wellbeing, this is an area where SLTs can really make a difference. It lightens the load for teachers without losing the quality of feedback. It strikes me that all too often, the ones who are keen to cling on to traditional marking are predominantly the ones who no longer teach. Many humans have very short memories – if you have a reduced timetable or no longer teach, then it’s likely that you’ve lost touch with the reality of the daily workload for full-time teachers. It’s draining. It’s driving people from our profession.

MYTH: It’s no more effective than marking books.

It is more effective because it’s almost immediate, certainly at secondary. We have a two-week marking turnaround policy (this is standard – I understand that primary teachers baulk at this but remember that we’ll often see 150 different students in one day). WCF allows for a 24 hour turn-around without teacher burnout.

I am writing this without academic references. I do know that timeliness of feedback is important when it comes to impact and effectiveness. As a professional, I am happier with this method of feedback than I was with what I was doing previously. The quality of personalisation is the same (remember – they each get a personal comment and they love finding their names on the sheet) and the areas for development are far more relevant. Patterns emerge and these are represented on the WCF sheet.

I’ll aim to upload an example this week. In the meantime, thanks for reading – everybody!