Not a lot it would seem.
I have just finished marking over 75 writing portfolios each with two pieces of writing over 500 words long and needing to be scrutinized multiple times. It took me 15 hours and involved reading over 100,000 words. Was it a complete waste of my time?
Pretty much. What bothers me is the fact that so few students responded to the formative comments I had painstakingly made on previous drafts. I believed that I had written helpful comments with clear feed-forward. So why did so many students simply ignore this and resubmit their work unchanged.
When I asked students, they said:
- They didn’t understand the feedback.
- They believed they had already done enough to achieve, so didn’t need to do more.
Both responses are a cause of concern, but I’m only going to focus on the first one here. Clearly there was a mismatch between what I assumed students understood and what they actually understood. When I reflected on my practice I realised that there were reasons for this. For example, I do not always have the one-to-one conversations with students to ensure understanding of my comments. This has meant that passive/uncommitted learners have suffered because they are less inclined to seek clarification. I also recognise that even when I do catch up with students I do not always, in the heat of the moment, have the calibre of advice that I had in mind when deliberating over the piece when marking. There is obviously a need to improve the lines of communication between student and teacher. But how?
ABANDON WRITTEN FEEDBACK?
One solution might be to abandon written feedback altogether. Matt Pinkett argues in a recent TES Article that the predictable and feeble nature of written comments makes marking, in the traditional sense, pointless. He argues that spoken feedback/forward should replace written. My view is that this misses the point. It is not so much how you give feedback that is important, but rather the means of knowing whether or not it has been truly understood. Weaker, self-conscious students, in particular, are very good at nodding in all the right places during spoken feedback and can easily give the impression that they know exactly what you are talking about. The fact is, half the time they really just want you to go away. To assess true understanding can sometimes take more time than we have available in the classroom.
Moving forward it is essential that marking is done in order to help students rather than simply to placate parents or school managers. There are a number of exciting digital tools that help achieve this. KAIZENA is not the perfect solution, but I have so far been impressed by this programme’s ability to open up effective lines of communication between student and teacher. Students post their work and open up a ‘conversation’ with the teacher. The teacher is then able to comment on the student’s work by inserting audio voice recordings, written notes or links to supporting resources at relevant points in the document. Similar tools are available with Microsoft 365 and others. The real benefit of these tools is that students can seek clarification away from the classroom. This allows a particularly effective form of formative assessment to take place. Students are able to enter into a genuine dialogue with the teacher and come to a much clearer understanding about exactly what they need to do in order to improve their work. This surely, is the point of marking. My own inquiry, moving forward, is to make greater use of these assessment tools in my teaching.