Skip to main content

On giving written feedback

Evidence from reputable sources such as John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam has led schools and teachers to place an increased emphasis on feedback than in the past. Effective, timely feedback is said to be one way to maximise your students' progress. One unfortunate consequence of this emphasis is that schools have sometimes insisted on teachers providing detailed written feedback and targets on students' work in a very prescribed and back-covering fashion. This is time-consuming, as the recent DfE workload report noted and not a requirement of Ofsted.

A further consequence I have picked up is that, because marking and feedback has become so prescribed and detailed (including the use of colour coding, 'two stars and a wish', etc) it becomes, in some cases, less frequent. It has to; there are only so many hours in a day. To my mind, frequent, lighter feedback is more effective. If you set homework at the right level to a Y9 class, it should take no more than about an hour to mark 30 books. You could do that once a week, maybe once a fortnight.

So my approach to this was to ensure pupils did plenty of homework, much of it marked by me, but that the feedback was traditionally brief. I felt, and still do, that the most important part of the process of homework and feedback, was the fact that the students actually did the work. Marking and feedback are mainly there to ensure that students care enough about their work and do it punctually and carefully.

Given the choice between (1) setting lots of work and marking it lightly and (2) setting less work and marking it in detail, with lengthy comment at the end or in the margin, I would unhesitatingly choose option (1).

Now, some second language learning researchers claim that corrective marking makes no difference to acquisition. (It's actually quite hard to prove.) I would not go that far, but I do think its importance is exaggerated. I repeat: the key thing is that the students did the work, i.e. recycled the language, got more comprehensible input, thought about the grammatical forms, used a dictionary, and so on.

Nevertheless, I believe some feedback is useful and tend to go along with the approach touted by the Michaela free school, whereby the English teacher, for example, makes a few notes about common recurring issues and deals with them to the whole class. This seems to be efficient, if less personalised. As far as I can make out, the work is read, a brief mark or remark added, but little if any detailed comment. Much work can also be peer-marked, then briefly checked when the books are collected in next (a good argument for exercises books over file paper, by the way). Many teachers have adopted this approach over the years.

One feeling I had about all this was that going through work with students was, frankly, just a bit boring for them and for me. Rather than do this, I wanted to move on to the next activity. I wanted to do something stimulating and communicative in the target language in the limited time we had available. I think (hope?) I had a sense of what they found useful and what they found boring - call it "affective and cognitive empathy" if you like. We talk about this in our book.

I hope that the DfE report is read by school leaders and that those who insist on "gold-plated" feedback systems consider other priorities.


Popular posts from this blog

Tell stories


How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…