Whole Class Feedback

I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a while, wanting to have “completed” this enquiry before I share. However, remote teaching has put a bit of a spanner in the works so I need to consider how I’m going to pivot the enquiry to fit into current circumstances. Professor Kate Wall, from the University of Strathclyde, tweeted this a few weeks ago:

I think this rings true with a lot of us. This has been playing on my mind, the reasons I started this enquiry are still there but the possible solutions have had to change. Therefore, think of this as a mid-enquiry update – a work in progress!

Why Whole Class Feedback?

I’ve been interested in Whole Class Feedback (WCF) since my probation year, particularly as a way to reduce workload and increase attainment in taught writing lessons. I’ve read about it, talked about it, retweeted many examples of it but never really tried it in my own practice. Why not?

In my probation year, I thought about focusing on Whole Class Feedback for my practitioner enquiry project but I decided it wasn’t suitable for my P2 class because they needed more personalised feedback. Last year in P6, I considered it again but knew my more-experienced stage partner valued two-stars and a wish. I trust her judgement and experience so I tried a similar approach. We used success criteria slips with traffic-lights for self-assessment, peer-assessment and teacher assessment plus wrote two stars and a wish on all (most!) pieces of writing. As an early career teacher with a tendency to overthink how I word written feedback, I found this very time consuming. When we moved to remote teaching, I tried to replicate it but quickly dropped the teacher traffic-light and gave verbal feedback using Read&Write by Texthelp.

This year, I’m enjoying being in the same stage for a second year and feel this has given me more confidence to try another approach. Also, when we were teaching in-person, restrictions meant we had to quarantine jotters for 72 hours before marking and then another 72 hours before returning to the learners. It seemed like the perfect time to find another way!

In term 1 of this school year, the children self-assessed their work and then left their jotters open on their desks while they went for break so I could pop around and take a photograph of their writing with an iPad. This way, I could read through their work so I knew what we, as a class, needed to work on. I had attempted to add these photographs to an individual Google Slides deck for each child with two stars and a wish. I also intended to share these slides with parents (as parental engagement forms part of my Google Innovator Project). Unsurprisingly, this approach became overly time consuming and with only one Chromebooks slot per week, it wasn’t the most straightforward way of sharing the feedback with the learners.

On the first day of the October break, my Depute Head Teacher (and former probation mentor) forwarded a Tweet to me all about Whole Class Feedback. It was like alarm bells going off and my husband wondered why I was hyper all of a sudden. This is what it feels like when you discover your itch (as the Education Scotland Teacher Leadership Programme (TLP) has taught me)! And so began my next practitioner enquiry…

Ask the kids…

Despite the effectiveness of surveys often being up for discussion, I decided it was a good way to quickly gauge what the learners thought. I wondered if they had noticed the changes I’d made to the way their writing was marked. I asked them what feedback they had received before, and what they thought was the best:

Forms response chart. Question title: Before COVID restrictions, what feedback did your teachers give you in your jotters? (Think about P4 and P5). Number of responses: 28 responses.
Forms response chart. Question title: Which feedback do you think is most helpful for you to improve your writing?. Number of responses: 28 responses.

Overwhelmingly, they shared that they felt that written comments, spelling corrections, and success criteria slips were most helpful to them, with most (75%) stating that they used written comments to improve their work. More interesting though, were some of their responses to open questions about how their teachers give feedback and how their teachers can help them improve:

QuestionSample of Learners’ Responses
What does the teacher’s feedback tell you?– That I am good at writing
– My teacher’s feedback tells me that I can do better
– Usually I make a few mistakes but it is usually fine. It is nice to see what my teacher thinks.
– What I have done well or improved in a piece of work and what I need to improve on.
– It tells me what I need to improve on and what I can do to make my work more interesting.
– To practise some spelling words
– That I need to work on what I have done wrong and what I need to improve
– If i did it right or wrong
– What i did well, what I need to work on and, if got everything right, a  nice and supportive message
– It tells me one or more things I did well, and what I can improve on.
– It tells you how to improve and what you have done well.
– What you need to correct and what you have done well.
What comments are most helpful?– The most helpful comments are the ones that say well done but try and do this better.
– Ones that tell me how to improve
– When my teacher tells me what I did wrong.
– Comments that explain more about things I have accomplished and things that I need to work on.
– Amazing!!! Keep up the good work.
– The most helpful comments is spelling corrections
– The comments that are most helpful are the spelling comments and the ones where you tell me how I can improve.
– Comments that are clear
– The correction comments are most helpful.
– The comments that are most helpful are positive and negative because they tell you what you are doing well at and what you need to improve.
– Ones that encourage you as well as help to correct your work
– Where I have made mistakes and where I can improve.
– Ones I know that I need to improve on
What comments are least helpful?– Comments that say that your work is good or great
– The least helpful are Well done!
– The ones that tell me to improve but do not say how
– “Take your time”
– When my teacher says I made a mistake but doesn’t tell me what I did wrong.
– Comments that just say things like: Well done! or Very good!
– Check on your spelling”
– I think the highlight ones are the least helpful
– I think the highlighting words.
– “Well done” comments.
– The least helpful comments are when they say:Good job or well done
– Try again
– Ones that only tell you what you haven’t done and don’t include what you have done.

As teachers, we have attended training looking at the need for feedback to be “kind, specific, and helpful” (thank you, Osiris) but I was still surprised to hear it so clearly stated by several children. There was no prompting on this from me but many of them stated that the least helpful comments are “well done” – they want the specifics! I did also ask them if they think it’s helpful to learn from other people’s mistakes to gauge how they were going to engage with WCF. The results of this are more interesting if you know the learners and their personalities.

What did I do?

Shortly after my DHT shared that tweet, I attended a CPD session by Kaley Riley focusing on WCF, mainly in secondary settings. Despite this, the session gave me lots of practical ideas and Kaley shared links to lots of research on the topic. She has also blogged about her experience of WCF and shared a template here

Inspired by this event, I created a WCF template that I could use with my primary learners during taught writing lessons, somewhere I could jot down common errors or themes to be shared with learners allowing them to learn from each other. I also used this as an opportunity to share “star sentences” I’d noticed within their writing. 

Template from Slidesgo

Recognising the Education Endowment Foundation’s 2016 findings in “A Marked Improvement?” that “pupils are unlikely to benefit from marking unless some time is set aside to enable pupils to consider and respond to marking”, I decided to rejig the timetable slightly.

Throughout term 2, we effectively had three writing lessons:

  • Tuesdays – I shared the WCF slides with the children, going through what had gone well in the previous week’s writing, some “star sentences” and gave some children a shout out for going the extra mile in their writing. Then we spoke about what would make our writing even better, including some common spelling errors. The class then received their previous piece of writing back and rewrote one of the paragraphs focusing on the areas we had discussed. To finish, they wrote a personal target or focus area to carry into their next piece of writing.
  • Wednesday – Planning the next piece of writing.
  • Thursday – Writing out what we had planned the previous day. We started doing this on Chromebooks, making use of the Read&Write toolbar from TextHelp. This also meant I was able to “drop in” to their work during the lesson and give them in-the-moment feedback.

What happened?

This is the part of practitioner enquiry that I think puts educators off sharing what they have done. It is difficult to quantify the impact of this, particularly given the short time scale. However, I learned during the TLP, that ‘data’ doesn’t necessarily mean numbers and attainment scores, teacher observations are a valuable tool when reflecting on an enquiry.

As a teacher, I felt the children benefited from having this “feedback” lesson as it helped to tackle the “I’m done” sort of approach to learning, along with constantly referring to the need to edit our work and try to improve it. (This photo of Obama’s healthcare speech also helped with this!) Working within a reduced recovery curriculum allowed for this “extra” lesson, I’m not sure how I would have fit this in if we were also teaching the full curriculum. 

I also feel that the referring back to the previous week’s learning helped the children to recognise that improving their writing was an ongoing process. The success criteria slips were edited so the bottom box was there for them to fill in their individual target to help them remember to focus on an area they had highlighted from the previous week.

Whole Class Feedback, along with using rubrics in Google Classroom, was a massive timesaver for me, and my stage partner also started using this approach. The children were still getting written comments every second week as I was able to write in the comments as they were writing.

Next steps

I had planned to continue this enquiry for the whole school year and hold focus group discussions with the children to find out what they thought about Whole Class Feedback. However, we are currently back to online teaching and I’ve found that under these circumstances, the learners need individual feedback for their writing. I am using Mote to give verbal comments and continuing to use Google Classroom rubrics linked to our success criteria. However, I am still giving Whole Class Feedback for other pieces of work.

It’s still unclear how long we will be working online for so I will revisit this as things become clearer. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has made Whole Class Feedback work in a primary setting though! Any tips, please share.

Further Reading

Seven Sparks

Things that have sparked joy’ for me, this week:

  • Walking in the park on a frosty, sunny day.
  • Thinking about our new home as we pack up our belongings to move.
  • Several supportive conversations with colleagues and SLT.
  • Launching a new Professional Learning site for my colleagues.
  • Pitching a Family Learning event idea to my HT then presenting at the Parent Council meeting that evening. Looking forward to this taking place this week.
  • Candles. (This is my current favourite!)
  • Tea. Always tea.
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