Focus on Feedback

Earlier this week Fran Haynes wrote a great blog on the Durrington Research School site, exploring the research evidence around effective feedback. You can read it here. This completes a series of blogs this half term on the six pedagogical principles that shape our approach to teaching here at Durrington.

In ‘What does it look like in the classroom?‘ by Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson, Dylan Wiliam makes some typically insightful comments about feedback:

“Make feedback into detective work.”

“…the major purpose of feedback should be to improve the student.”

“Just one sentence explaining to students why feedback was being given made a huge difference to their achievement.”

“I once estimated that, if you price teachers’ time appropriately, in England we spend about two and a half billion pounds a year on feedback and it has almost no effect on student achievement.”

“I think teachers should be spending twice as much time planning teaching as they do marking.”

What does this all tell us?  When feedback has a clear purpose, aimed at making students think carefully about how they can get better at what they are doing, it can be incredibly useful.  However, it needs to be measured, appropriate for the subject and not take a disproportionate amount of teacher time.  So what time efficient, but high impact feedback strategies are there that teachers can graft onto their existing practice to achieve this? Here are a few:

Highlighter Action

This is a great one for ‘making feedback into detective work‘.  As students are working on a task, look over their shoulder as they are working, armed with a highlighter pen.  If you spot a mistake, or something that could be improved, simply highlight it, say nothing and move on.

Tell students that anything you have highlighted either needs to be corrected or improved – then leave them to it.  They then have to think about what they need to do to correct it, or improve it.  At some point in the lesson, you can then check what they have done.

Live Marking


This is similar to ‘highlighter action’ as it makes students think about their work.  Again, look at their work in lesson, as they are working.  Write a question that will develop their work further and then leave them to respond to the question (see example above).  You can then return to them later in the lesson to check their response.  Can you do this every lesson, with every student?  Of course not.  The trick is to get into the habit of doing it regularly, focusing on the key learning points.

Whole Class Feedback

This is a really useful and time-efficient strategy for teachers to use.  If you are marking an assessment or a mock exam or a homework task, have a sheet of paper to hand or a copy of the marking scheme.  As you are marking the papers/work, when you notice a number of students making the same mistakes, make a note of them – or annotate the mark scheme, with the marks they are missing and why.

Next lesson, you can then talk through these common mistakes, why they made them and what they need to do differently in the future.  Students can then use this input to address the mistakes they made.

You can adapt this in a number of ways.  For example, collect in a set of exercise books, but then rather than slavishly ‘ticking and flicking’, look through the books, make notes on the common errors and then discuss these with the class next lesson.

Pre-flight checklist

This comes from Dan Brinton. The idea is very simple.  Before students start a task, give them a checklist of the main points they need to include. In the example above, this is focused on how to draw a face.  As students are completing the task,  they can use this to check their own work for these key points and improve it accordingly.  This works best when the ‘success criteria’ are very clear and easy to interpret by students.  If they are too complex and require too much ‘expert’ knowledge, it won’t work.

This can be simplified by giving students some key tier 2/3 vocabulary they should be using in their written response, before they start.  They could be given these words before they start writing their response, or after they have written their first draft to help support their redrafting.

Verbal Feedback

Never underestimate the power of just telling students what they need to do to improve their work.  Great PE, drama, music and art teachers do this all the time – so let’s all embrace this key aspect of responsive teaching.  We can make a few simple adjustments to this though, to make it more effective.  For example, once you have given the feedback, ask the students some questions to make them really think about the feedback you have given them:

  • Tell me in your own words what you need to do to improve?”
  • “How is this feedback going to improve what you are doing?”
  • “Once I go, what’s the first thing you are going to do as a result of my feedback?
  • Why have I given you this feedback?



Feedback is a key aspect of the learning process – we need to know how we can get better at what we are doing.  That said, it doesn’t have to be a workload nightmare for teachers, in order to be effective.

Further reading:

A Marked Improvement – EEF

Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking – Independent Teacher Workload Review Group.

The power of feedback – Hattie & Timperley

Posted by Shaun Allison


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