Teaching & Learning

Signposting progress

ProgressIt’s a word that is beginning to grate on teacher- “progress”. We know our students make progress, we see it over the year that we teach them, and if they’re with us in our subject for GCSE & A-Level, we can really see how they develop- both in their subject specific skills and in those that are more transferable.

Yet now we need to showcase “progress” in a 20 minute period if we are to please “the powers that be”. How can this be done? We’ve done some work recently on this, and one method has proven useful to me recently- a “progress line”.

Put simply, it’s a line where students place either post-it notes, numbers or any means of identifying themselves to demonstrate their understanding in reference to the learning goals. I have a velcro line across my front wall, and numbered discs that represent student desks. As a part of a checkpoint, students stick their number in the appropriate place on the progress line, signposting where their understanding of the topic/ability to master the skills demonstrated in the specific learning goal. It’s what we call a “kinaesthetic moment”, and helps students to evaluate the progress they’re making. It also highlights those who have either low or high opinions of themselves!

Making marking easy & engaging

CodeCarrying on with the focus on marking, I’ve finally begun to develop some strategies I’ve been playing with in the back of my mind. I’ve had numerous conversations with teachers about the use of “coded marking”, and most seem to agree that it would be a good idea- so now I’m finally trying it out!

We already use codes for literacy marking (“sp” for spelling, “c” for capital letters, underlined portions to identify a lack of clear expression), so students are becoming familiar with deciphering code in their exercise books in order to understand how they make progress.

I’ve now extended this use in two ways thus far- firstly, in everyday marking of class work. It may not be an assessed piece of work, but students still need to know whether they are working at the level/grade they need to on a daily basis. Simply using a “+/=/-” code lets students know if their class work is at their target level, with comments where appropriate, and makes tracking progress of students incredibly easy.

I’ve also begun using coded marking in assessments/exam questions too. Students go straight to the level/grade too often, and don’t read our ‘all-important’ comments on how to improve. Holding back the result until the feedback has been analysed helps here!  Instead of writing out that feedback time after time however, I simply write numbered or lettered codes. The code is displayed on the board, and students write their feedback either on their work, or on a record sheet where they can look at their progress and track it too.

I’ve found this to be a bit of a revelation in terms of marking. Combined with the “verbal feedback” stamp, I signpost progress & track it better than ever before. Students theoretically focus more on how they improve, rather than  on just the result, and I save a tremendous amount of time, which I can devote to lesson planning & other responsibilities.

Signposting “verbal feedback”

Marking... but not in red!So just before Christmas I stumbled upon a brilliant idea. If you’re anything like me, whilst you acknowledge the importance of marking books & giving feedback, you find it time-consuming and sometimes lack the motivation to keep working on what appears to be a never ending pile. We give verbal feedback to our students all the time, whether it is content, skills or literacy focused. So, a Guardian article suggested that we attempt to combine the two, and finally, after waiting a while for the order to be placed, our “verbal feedback” stamps have arrived!

Very simply, it’s a stamp that says “verbal feedback given”. As you walk around your class looking over student’s work, you stamp their work whenever you give a student a tip or an instruction on how to improve their work, asking them to write next to the stamp what that tip/instruction is. Then, you try to return to their work later in the lesson to see if they’ve taken on your advice- it’s really that easy! Also, if they’ve done great work, then stamp it and tell them so, perhaps even add a praise sticker to their books. It might not be a new idea, but I think it’s a great one!

What’s so great about this strategy is that (a) it gives students immediate feedback, (b) it means you’ve already marked the piece of work they’ve been working on and (c) you’ve signposted to those who may scrutinise student’s classwork that you formatively assess work regularly and give feedback to students on how to improve. It’s also led me to consider other ways in which I can improve the quality and efficiency of my marking, such as Richard Kennet’s “10-a-day” resolution or coded marking- I may blog about them again soon!


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