The positive impact of teacher feedback on attainment, as long as students act on the feedback given to improve the quality of their work, is pretty much a given these days.
Our current Marking Policy was created at a moment in time when I needed to lay down the law. The quality of marking across the school was too variable. The law was laid down in terms of what good looked like, what was acceptable and what was not.
In the Beginning …
When we first implemented the Marking Policy I had to speak with two departments about the quality of what was being submitted, following the monitoring of samples of books. One department was the RE Department and my focus was quite specifically around Key Stage 3. This wasn’t a teacher issue. The department’s marking at A-level was then and still is exceptional. The feedback post-16 is clear, it’s linked to the two A-level Assessment Objectives and the quality of students’ responses show clear improvement, at times substantial.
The relative weakness in the feedback at Key Stage 3 stemmed from a lack of sufficient challenge in the curriculum. The tasks set didn’t demand enough of the students and so it was difficult to then provide high quality feedback or expect students to substantially raise the quality of their work. The department has radically changed their approach and it started with greater challenge and higher expectations.
I’ve been struck by the quality of their thinking and work. Their curriculum planning has been built around the use of the SOLO Taxonomy to structure their teaching and students’ learning. This has led to greater clarity in terms of the expected learning outcomes and a consistent and standardised approach to formative assessment. Thanks to Des for taking the time to share these with me.
The above graphic is an example of the formative assessment sheets the RE Team has developed. It is for a Year 8 topic on Moral Decisions. The first two questions (SOLO uni-structural and multi-structural levels) are focussed on factual content. This factual content is then built on requiring students to think at a relational level, linking together this factual content into a more complex idea or in this case two ideas. The final question requires students to apply this knowledge by generalising about how Christians make decisions in relation to the Church’s teaching and individual conscience. Once the questions have been answered the work is marked, feedback is given and students are then required to improve their work. The next step is obvious to the teacher and student in this highly structured approach.
I am struck by the beautiful simplicity of the work. Its simplicity is genius. Whilst the department are using these sheets for purely formative purposes, they could equally be used for summative assessment. As they are produced in advance of the topic being taught the teacher is clear of the expected content and standard to which it must be covered. Even without looking at their scheme of learning I have a very good idea of what they intend to teach within the topic and the likely order.
This standardised approach has now extended into Key Stage 4 and has developed as part of an assessment routine for teachers and students. Using the SOLO Taxonomy as a tool for building the curriculum and designing assessments seems to work really well in RE.
They have recently extended their assessment work to a forensic analysis of students’ mock examination papers to identify what students know, allowing them to teach to the gaps.
I spent time with the Head of Department looking at the data, at his request, for a few classes and a repeating pattern appeared across questions and classes. The students were losing most marks on the c. part of the questions. It led to an interesting discussion about whether they were less skilled in answering this part of the questions or whether they were choosing questions having looked at the first two parts (parts a & b are worth six marks in total) instead of choosing the question to answer based upon the last two parts (parts c & d are worth 14 marks). Maybe we needed to develop a new mantra for the students in RE examinations?
These discussions are rich and deep. They matter to both teachers and learners as they are levers for future learning and enhanced achievement. These are the assessment conversations which matter. I worry that too many other conversations I end up in these days have limited impact on students’ learning.
Reflections for a Leader
It’s now time to rethink our whole school marking policy approach. The policy has served its purpose and served its time. In our post level world there is great potential for assessment to become a powerful driver of Curriculum Excellence and Teacher Clarity.
I’m not particularly attached to the Marking Policy even though I was instrumental in its writing. My first presentation didn’t go down well with Heads of Departments and I was politely sent away to simplify the policy and make it more accessible. There is always a tendency or temptation towards a cognitive bias that places a disproportionately high value on things we create. It’s called the IKEA Effect and as leaders we need to avoid it. Nothing we ever do is perfect or complete and it helps to recognise and accept this. If we don’t we may spend more times clinging to our own rather mediocre creations than releasing the creative power of our staff.
The latter if powerful, the former is limiting.
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Other posts which may be of interest:
These are some of the resources developed by the RE Department available for download: