Purposeful Feedback


Tonight’s 15 minute forum was led by our Director of maths, Emma Mason and Director of science, Steph Temple.  As a school, we want to make sure that our feedback is fit for purpose within each subject.  It needs to make students think and do something as a result and be manageable for teachers – as summed up by Dylan Wiliam above.  Emma and Steph shared how they are doing this in their subjects.

DIRTy Homework in Maths

Emma started off by discussing how they use DIRT (Directed Improvement & Reflection Time) in maths.  Homeworks in maths have the following features:

feedback1Most importantly, they already have the improvement targets printed on them (T1, T2 and T3) and a box for students to tick when they have done their corrections.  When marking homeworks, the maths department use the following guidelines to make sure their comments are formative:

  • They are a stepping stone to answering the question correctly.
  • They highlight mistakes – but make the student think why it is wrong.
  • They might model part of the answer.
  • They highlight a part of the answer that is particularly good – and say why.
  • they don’t give the answer.

So for example:

feedback2This models how to solve the problem, but then expects the students to do the next one.

feedback4This highlights the key piece of information from the question, that the students may have missed.

feedback5This poses a question to the student, to help them think about the problem.

feedback8This models a key step in the solution, that the student then finishes off.

feedback10Again, this poses a question for the student to consider, to prompt their thinking.

Emma then highlighted some strategies she uses to make her homework marking more efficient:

  • Go through and write out all of the correct answers, before marking.
  • Do the marking first and then go back and add the specific targets.
  • Use the pre-prepared targets on the homework sheets.
  • Work to a homework timetable that suits you and your classes – helps you/them to remember and staggers the marking.

Once students have completed the homework, they have a DIRT lesson.  Emma displays the targets on the board, before the work is handed back:

feedback12As she calls the register, she then calls their target e.g. ‘John, T1’ and the student writes out their target from the board.  they are then given back their homework.

An important part of the process is Emma then discussing and modelling solutions to other questions, that are related to these targets – so the students are supported with doing, what they couldn’t do before.  Without this step, there is no point in doing the DIRT activity (if they couldn’t do it at home, why without any further input, would they be able to do it now?)

Depending on their target, they will then have to do a specific question;

feedback13And then be given the answers to check:


The teacher will also have extension questions to hand, so students are not left waiting when they finish.

Some tips for doing DIRT like this effectively:

  • Give out the targets before the marked homework – otherwise students are more interested in the mark than the targets.
  • Use a timer, so it doesn’t take too long – but give them enough time to do it well.
  • Model a few questions that contain common misconceptions/ mistakes beforehand.
  • Take photos of excellent pieces of work and share them at the start – set the standard of expectation.
  • Share the mark scheme, so students know where/why they are getting marks.


High Standards of Presentation & Live marking in Science

The science department wanted to focus on students taking more pride in the presentation of their work this year – as another way of reinforcing our commitment to improving student effort.  To support this, Steph put together a presentation that was shown to every class, by every teacher in science at the start of the year.

This is like giving students feedback on their work, before they’ve done it – to prevent them getting it wrong in the first place!  The slides that have been shown to students follow:


This has had a significant impact – the general presentation of student work has improved dramatically and as a result, students appear to have a much greater sense of pride in their work.  This will be reinforced by showing the presentation at the start of every term.

Live Marking

To support this growing pride in their work, the science team are focusing on ‘live marking’.  Rather than struggling home with Ikea bags of books, spending hours ticking and writing comments on books, that students rarely look at (let alone do anything with), they have changed their approach.

In each lesson, when it’s appropriate to do so, the teacher will take a look at the work of some students and write a comment for students to respond to.  They won’t try to do every student, every lesson, but focus on maybe 6 or 7 students each lesson – quality over quantity.  The expectation is that the students will then respond.

The marking can take a number of forms:


  • In this example, the teacher has corrected a spelling of a key scientific word, that the student then has to copy it out, with the correct spelling.

marking science

  • In this example, the teacher has written a simple question to develop their thinking, that the student has then responded to.
  • An alternative approach is the teacher simply underlining a mistake, that the student then has to think about – what was the mistake and what do they need to do to get it better?
  • We also use it as an opportunity to reinforce our high expectations in terms of presentation – maybe a little unfashionable, but very important!
  • It can be used to ‘unstick’ students who are struggling to get started.  For example, if students are asked to  write a paragraph about ‘pathogens and body defences’, when faced with a blank page they can struggle to get started.  However, you can start them off with a sentence starter e.g. ‘Pathogens are microorganisms that cause disease. the two main types are….’  This can often be enough to get them started.

Some observations/ thoughts so far about live marking:

  • It doesn’t replace verbal feedback, which is obviously a key part of effective teaching.  However, it is an important way of selectively highlighting some key improvement points that need to be addressed.
  • It’s in the context of what they are doing there and then, in that lesson.  So they can respond immediately and improve their work.
  • In the words of Dylan Wiliam, it is more work for the recipient than the donor. When we ask a student to improve their work, they might say ‘Ok I will’, but often don’t.  The fact that it is written as a question that they have to respond to, makes it more likely that they will.
  • It makes you talk to students about their individual work – something that doesn’t happen when you are marking in your lounge, whilst watching Masterchef!  This allows you to really understand why they are going wrong, perhaps even model it and make sure they are in a position to move on.
  • It’s an ideal way of ensuring personalised challenge for all.  For example, you can look at the written responses of high attaining students, and pose them a difficult question to develop their thinking.
  • It’s a visual reminder for you to go back and check they have responded to your feedback.  In the busy classroom it’s not always easy to remember who to go back and check, following verbal feedback.
  • When it comes to revision, it’s a good reminder about what they struggled with in that lesson.  They can then spend a bit more time on it.
  • Students appear to find it motivating – they can see an instant and tangible improvement in their work.
  • It’s manageable and sustainable for staff – buy a stock of Bic 4 ink pens, as they attach perfectly to staff lanyards!  A good reminder for staff!

MELCfeedbackThese are two subject-specific examples, that appear to work in these subjects.  It’s worth remembering that when it comes to feedback, like most of our six pedagogical principles, it’s not a one size fits all approach.  Subjects need to find what works best for them, practise it, refine it and then embed it.  That’s the journey we’re on.

This entry was posted in 15 Minute Forums, General Teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Purposeful Feedback

  1. Pingback: Feedback in Maths | Teaching and Learning TGES

  2. Pingback: That was 2015… | Class Teaching

  3. Pingback: Time to reflect | Class Teaching

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