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5 Ways to Improve Feedback in Primary School

It’s time to ditch the old style of ‘marking’ and instead focus on new methods that offer more in terms of progress and time efficiency, says Sophie MacNeill...

  • 5 Ways to Improve Feedback in Primary School

Ask any teacher what their least favourite parts of the job are and I’ll wager five Pritt Sticks (with lids) that marking makes the top three. Which is a shame really, since marking is often a large part of the feedback process in schools, and we know that feedback (done effectively), is one practice that can have the greatest impact on pupil progress.

What if we could stop with the old ‘marking’ and instead focus on building more of a feedback culture that is effective in terms of pupil progress, yet also efficient in terms of teacher time?

That’s what many schools have done in adopting the ‘no more marking’ approach.

But even if a large-scale overhaul of policy and the adoption of ‘conferencing’ style feedback isn’t on the cards in your school, there are still things you can do in your classroom to improve feedback while also lessening workload.

1 | Put the pupils in the driving seat

The feedback process is central to learning – understanding what our patterns of errors are, what are strengths are and so on.

Effective feedback fits within the ‘learning culture’ of the classroom and enables pupils to develop a greater independent awareness of tendencies and strategies for improving; this is instrumental in the building of their self-efficacy and the avoidance of a learned helplessness when it comes to making progress.

So for some quick tweaks to current ‘marking’ or feedback practices, just get the pupils to do as much as possible prior to the books arriving on your desk.

If you use a variant on the ‘what went well/things to improve’ in relation to success criteria (SC) with pink/green highlighting, stars and wishes and so on, just try getting the pupils to do the process first, as part of or following, their edit/improve stage.

They can highlight the best examples of successes from the SC (instead of just ticking off next to the SC) and draw the attention of the teacher to the areas they felt stuck on or think they didn’t achieve quite as well.

They could, for example, stick a yellow box around particular areas or indicate on the SC that they would like extra input/feedback on this. It’s more empowering than waiting for a teacher to offer validation.

The teacher then can agree with the self-validation of successes or add to them, and deal with the areas where the pupil has suggested they need support or feedback, adding other next steps if necessary (but all of this could be done verbally and need not be written).

2 | Make pupils think

Dylan William says that “to be effective, feedback should cause thinking to take place”. Sometimes our marking requires limited work on the part of the pupil and, as a result, the time invested by us has less impact on progress.

This is particularly noticeable where the pupil response to the marking happens in subsequent lessons when the child is less invested in that piece of work or has no chance to immediately make use of the learning point.

Getting the pupils to do the legwork can be achieved in the ways outlined throughout this article, but there are quick and easy wins to be had, too.

For example, if school policy is that key spelling corrections are given and copied out a few times (and for whatever reason that may be preferable to pupils finding the correct spelling from a dictionary or word mat), how about just adding an extra cognitive step for the pupil by writing the word out three times – once correctly and twice incorrectly – so the pupil has to identify the correct spelling prior to copying it out?

Alternatively, indicate vaguely where an error is (dots at the bottom of a page in maths to indicate a couple of mistakes, or signalling there is an error in a paragraph, and so on) and get the pupils to ‘seek and destroy’ the errors rather than being shown where they are.

Or perhaps deliver feedback to the whole class (with notes of strengths or areas for improvement on the board) and get pupils to work out which points apply to them and act on the feedback (talk partners can help out and advise). Codes could be used for pupils who you think may need extra support with this.

3 | Give in-the-moment feedback

Shirley Clarke and others suggest that this should be where the lion’s share of feedback should be given since it is where it can have the most impact.

It is effective in supporting pupil progress because it makes the feedback loop shorter – pupil gets feedback, acts on it, practises using it – and within the context of the learning at hand.

During a lesson teachers are always engaged in feedback that is ‘in the moment’. We’re always on the move, often with pen in hand, offering advice, identifying and clearing up misconceptions or errors as we go.

This sort of over-the-shoulder ‘live’ feedback is part and parcel of the formative assessment woven into our daily teaching practice.

It’s a great opportunity to deploy some ‘seek and destroy’ dots/symbols and get the pupils reviewing and correcting while they are working. As we know from countless studies, feedback is more effective when it is given at the time since it can be acted on and implemented immediately.

4 | Make it part of the lesson

For a whole-class ‘in the moment’ feedback opportunity, you can’t really beat a stop-gap/mini-break mid-lesson: stop pupils after they’ve been working for a bit and ask them to check what they’ve done so far against the SC or a particular focus (full stops or spelling of key words and so on).

They can do this independently or with their talk partner, making edits/corrections, before you get them to carry on.

This is great for picking up secretarial errors or refocusing on the SC. And, if the next time you stop them you ask them to see whether they have managed to avoid the error from earlier, it can allow for some hugely motivating satisfaction.

As a development of this, the stop-gap can incorporate use of the visualiser and the opportunity to collectively offer feedback (on randomly selected work), compare back with the model and so on.

5 | Develop collaborative feedback

Follow in the example of Ron Berger (the guy who brought us Austin’s Butterfly) and facilitate pupils to be responsible for offering feedback.

This isn’t standard peer assessment/feedback or swapping books. Instead, it’s about building a ‘collaborative improvement’ approach.

Here the pupils retain control and ownership of their work at all times.

They read their work to their talk partner (or have it read to them) and verbally receive advice/feedback in relation to the SC that they then can choose to implement (or not… it is their work after all!).

When doing this, a quick little tip is to get the pupils to place the work they are looking at on top of their partner’s so there is no temptation for the partner to be distracted by their own work.

Pupils may need support in this (suggested feedback phrases and guidance of what to look for, resources to refer to, and so on), but once they have this method perfected, it is very effective and reduces teacher workload enormously.


Sophie MacNeill is an assessment adviser with Herts for Learning. She has an interest in trying to find ways to use classroom practice to create empowered independent learners with strong growth mindsets.

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