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Making marking manageable in a primary class

Written By: Katy Chedzey
7 min read

In this case study, Katy Chedzey, former Deputy Headteacher in a primary school and now Head of Teaching, Learning and Assessment at the Chartered College of Teaching, explores an approach to making marking manageable in the primary classroom.

As you read this case study, reflect on how fading feedback might be used to ease marking workload. Take some time to think about what can be done and how this might influence your own practice.


Ideas around fading guidance suggest that when our pupils are novices, they benefit from explicit instruction and lots of teacher guidance, support and scaffolding, but that as they develop expertise, we should reduce the amount of guidance and support that we give them, so that they gradually take more responsibility for their own learning, and are eventually able to work independently.

Identifying the right moment to remove some of that support and enable learners to succeed independently is one of the greatest challenges for teachers who are constantly adapting and responding to what is happening in the classroom. This is the essence of what is now becoming more commonly known as responsive teaching.

Feedback is a key element of responsive teaching – it is a constant in our classrooms, but has also proven to be a huge burden to us, particularly over the last 5-10 years where ‘triple marking’ and other laborious marking policies have driven teachers out of the classroom in droves.

In recent years it’s been great to see a positive change when it comes to feedback – misconceptions that all feedback needs to be written feedback (i.e. marking) have been addressed in many schools – but not all – leading to more relaxed policies which focus on giving pupils immediate verbal feedback or using whole-class feedback which are SO much better for teacher workload.

But that leads me to wonder… how many of these policies actually consider the importance of fading feedback and why might this be an important but less-discussed element of responsive teaching?

In particular, I wonder whether many modern feedback policies might be built on inaccurate beliefs that may result in pupils becoming as ‘addicted to feedback’ as some of us teachers and school leaders apparently are! To the point that they rely too heavily on guidance given as part of teachers’ feedback and as a result never actually reach the stage where they can perform a task independently.

The following beliefs were beliefs that I myself held; they manifested in marking policies that I developed as a Deputy Headteacher, but they are beliefs I am slowly coming to question…


Belief 1

Providing pupils with immediate verbal feedback means they can act upon it immediately and will make greater progress as a result.

I think it was Dylan Wiliam who first made me reconsider this one. And I didn’t get it for a long time. I’m a KS1 teacher by trade and as a result my pupils often require a lot of verbal feedback! Moving from written marking to verbal feedback within lessons was a game-changer for me – not only did it mean that I barely did any marking outside of the lesson, bar a quick flick through the books here and there, but I also saw my pupils secure improvements in a much shorter time-frame, and it meant I could address misconceptions quickly before they were embedded. I still totally believe that verbal feedback is the way forward, and it will continue to be a key feature of my teaching.

In a podcast with Craig Barton, Dylan Wiliam discussed his ideas around feedback in which he suggested that pupils might benefit more from delayed feedback. Having seen the benefits of immediate verbal feedback in my own lessons I could not comprehend this. However… if we think of this in terms of fading feedback, I think he might actually have a point…

  • Immediate guidance within the lesson is invaluable for novice learners – it allows them to be more successful, and ensures that misconceptions are addressed rather than embedded.
  • When pupils have some degree of expertise, we should expect them to be working more independently – this means that they should take more responsibility for identifying and addressing errors themselves, rather than us handing it to them on a plate!
  • However this is not black and white – we do not move straight from giving lots of feedback to giving very little; we need to fade our feedback so that gradually pupils take more ownership.
  • Ultimately, the feedback we provide should ensure pupils think hard about whatever it is they need to work on, whilst providing just enough guidance to enable them to be successful.
  • The spacing effect tells us that leaving a space between two learning episodes tends to lead to longer-lasting learning – this is because spacing is considered to be a desirable difficulty. Similarly, we could conclude that leaving a space between pupils completing a task, receiving feedback on it, and then acting upon that feedback, will provide additional cognitive challenge for the pupil, which is likely to lead to better long-term learning. However, common sense tells us that this is more likely to be effective once pupils have some expertise in the domain – otherwise the spacing of feedback in this way would be more likely to lead to cognitive overload, having a negative effect on pupils’ success and motivation.

My conclusion: Novices benefit from immediate feedback during the early phases of learning, however, once pupils are competent, increasing the time between pupils undertaking a task and receiving feedback (which is then acted upon) provides challenge which is ultimately helpful for long-term learning and independence.


Belief 2

Feedback should be specific – it should not only tell pupils what to improve, but also how to improve. 

This is the mantra I have in my mind whenever giving feedback to pupils and has been another core idea, underpinning my schools’ feedback policies. However, in practice, this is not always the case…

  • If pupils are novices, it is likely that perhaps they do not know how to improve their work, and as such if they need to make improvements it is likely that we will need to explain how they should do so in detail – perhaps providing models and worked examples or breaking big ideas down into smaller steps. Our job is to make it explicit for each step they need to take, so that they are clear about exactly what it is they need to do.
  • As pupils develop confidence, we may fade this feedback a little – we may use questioning to guide them rather than telling them explicitly, combining steps, or providing cues which encourage them to draw upon what they already know in order to help them move forward.
  • Once pupils are competent, we need to expect them to make improvements with growing independence – our feedback is likely to offer increasingly minimal direction about how to improve, and we may even expect the pupil to identify what it is they need to improve themselves. For example, we may tell the pupil that there is an error, but not tell them what that error is; instead, we are expecting them to take responsibility and ultimately begin to monitor and self-regulate their learning with increasing independence.

My conclusion: As pupils develop expertise, we need to fade our feedback – purposefully offering our feedback based on our knowledge of what the pupil knows already, so that they engage cognitively with responding to the feedback and are required to think hard about the improvements they need to make.

Fading feedback over the year or phase

It is quite likely that how we provide feedback to our pupils will change across the course of the year (or phase), as pupils become more competent with the content of the curriculum we are delivering. When pupils encounter new ideas, they will require more feedback – and this feedback should be provided as soon as possible. However, once they have encountered ideas multiple times, engaged in substantial practice and begun to master content, we need to fade our feedback in order to provide ongoing challenge and encourage independence. It is likely then that in September our feedback will be more directive, more detailed, more frequent and more immediate, whilst by the time we reach the following July, our feedback is likely to be more sparse and instead our pupils self-monitor, self-check and take responsibility for improvements, with light guidance from us where needed.

For my final thought on fading feedback, I return to the ideas of Dylan Wiliam once more:

  1. The goal of feedback is not to change the task, but to change the learner.
  2. Effective feedback is not about creating more work for the teacher – it’s about more mental work for the learner.

If we keep these in mind, we are sure to be on the right path…


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