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Feedback to Feed Forward

A couple of weeks ago, the focus of our school INSET day was on Feedback. Phil Stock (@joeybagstock), our Assistant Headteacher of Professional Development and Language challenged us as a staff body to consider what we perceive to be the most effective method(s) of feedback, both within and outside the classroom. Following a hearty breakfast, we were gifted a rare hour of our time dedicated solely to reading. Phil had recommended a number of blog posts by a range of different writers within the educational sphere and encouraged us to choose a selection from the menu provided.

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I suppose it was a bit of a risk to kick off a day of training with an hour of silence and solitude, but I loved it. If you’re any kind of educationalist who has spent some time in a school environment, you’ll know how incredibly rare it is to find time in the school day to make room for this kind of personal study. And yet, it’s possibly one of the most important things we really should be doing to develop our knowledge on key principles of teaching and learning. We were invited to read up to 5-6 blog posts or articles within the hour and then reunite later to share findings and consider the potential positive impact these ideas could have within our own classrooms.

The purpose of this post is simply to share my notes on the posts I read (and found to be very worthwhile), as well as offering a simple ‘Top 10’ list I wrote as a result, to share with members of staff I lead who teach lower set Y7 groups. These points are in no way exclusive to SEN, but have been designed around the effective strategies I know to work within my own intervention classroom.
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Blog Posts
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Planning

Let’s build it in, not add it on: Andy Tharby (@atharby) 

  • Most useful feedback happens while students are working, not after
  • Should be indistinguishable from other elements of a lesson such as explanation and questioning
  • Feedback from and to students informs every decision we make
  • A balance is required between the challenge of a high level of “correctness” without creation of a dependency culture

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Presentation

improving the basics: Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) http://wp.me/p2qGQb-15J

  • Devote time to drafting and redrafting – Austin’s butterfly
  • Maintain higher expectations, and praise for progress/achievement
  • Students just need to know what the standards are and how to reach them
  • Very much about shift of attitude

Frequency

Making time for feedback: ASCD http://tinyurl.com/8jdyysv

  • Work smarter, not harder
  • Focus on errors, not mistakes
  • We recognise simple mistakes by students when we know them – it shows as uncharacteristic
  • Mistakes are ones we can correct using our knowledge
  • Errors are ones we make because we do not possess the necessary knowledge to correct
  • “Correcting errors typically results in new understanding and improved performance; moreover, once teachers implement this practice, students rarely make those errors again.”
  • 4 main error categories:
  1. Factual errors
  2. Procedural errors
  3. Transformation errors – incorrect application to new situations
    e.g. biology and bicycle – not knowing difference between bi and bio roots
  4. Misconception errors
  • Should look for patterns in student errors to be able to target specific areas rather than reteach a whole concept or unit
  • Distinguish between global and targeted errors
  • Use prompts and cues to shift the learner’s attention

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Focus

Have we got feedback backwards?: Alex Quigley (@HuntingEnglish) http://tinyurl.com/oos78r4

  • Time spent on marking isn’t equal to the impact it has on learning – onus is on the teacher in this model, not student
  • DIRT – Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time – onus moves to student to reflect and respond to feedback, making changes to their work
  • More time spent responding to feedback that marking
  • Feedback vs. feeding forward – should impact future learning
  • Symbols, not comments
  • Dot round to signal error but student must work it out
  • Assess in colour – colour code
  • Self assessment before teacher assessment
  • One to one
  • Active process – oral feedback just as effective

Dialogue

Improving peer feedback with gallery critique: David Didau (@LearningSpy) http://tinyurl.com/pttamzl
I didn’t make notes on this as I had already read it extensively for a workshop I had previously led on peer assessment, but I would highly recommend it.

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As a result of these brilliant, really gritty, content-packed pieces of writing, I was able to draw ten key points from these to share with colleagues.

For me, the most successful methods of feedback I’ve seen to have the most positive impact in the classroom are those listed below. One beautiful thing about teaching intervention groups is the way in which it is possible for me to reach every student within one lesson. To have the opportunity to get round to each of them and offer targeted, one to one support with their work right there and then is invaluable in their learning journey. It is wholly possible to apply many of these below to the mainstream classroom, though as with most pedagogical approaches, it would take some thought around how to implement them.
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EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK: My ‘Top 10’

  1. Effective feedback often happens most DURING lessons, not after
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  2. LA sets will not benefit from long streams of marked written comments
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  3. Symbols over work, work best – be careful not to give them the answer
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  4. Concentrate on errors, not Remember:
    A mistake = incorrect due to tiredness/one-off mistake that can be corrected with own knowledge
    An error = a common pattern of errors made due to the learner not possessing the knowledge to correct themselves
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  5. DIRT (Dedicated Improvement & Reflection Time) – Build time into lessons for valuable drafting & redrafting focus sessions
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  6. Model high quality work – show outstanding examples and feedback as a group
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  7. 1:1 conversations – be specific, giving high quality feedback
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  8. Self-efficacy (praise of tasks/achievement) vs. self-confidence (praise of ego) – see Dylan Wiliam: http://www.journeytoexcellence.org.uk/videos/expertspeakers/selfefficacydylanwiliam.asp
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  9. Make peer/self- assessment valuable … model what effective feedback looks like
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  10. Maintain highest expectations and don’t accept less than their best

The Dyslexia-Friendly Classroom: One Student’s Wish List

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Have you ever had one of those unexpectedly heartwarming conversations with a student before? You know – the kind that you’re really not expecting, but when it comes it hits a nerve and makes you want to reflect on it/ act on it/ share it with someone? I had one of those this week and felt it was far too important to keep to myself.

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I was teaching a 1:1 session on Wednesday, working with a year 8 girl who has severe dyslexia. While ‘Kelly’ is making good progress with her literacy and it is obvious to see she can now read far more independently than when she joined us a year ago, inevitably the gap between her and her peers is still wide and, sadly, it continues to grow. Perhaps surprisingly, the sadness in this for me is not the fact that Kelly is ‘behind’ most of her peers. Nor is it that she is having to work so hard in order to keep up. What I believe to be the saddest thing about Kelly’s situation is the fact that this is not how it has to be.

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In the quite brief but almost-epiphanic conversation I had with Kelly, she revealed a number of ‘wishes’ she had in relation to her learning experience. She gave such an impassioned speech, I couldn’t not write it down.

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Kelly’s ‘Top 5’ Wish List

1. “I wish I could get a piece of homework that I could complete entirely on my own without help from my Mum.”

2. “I wish I could show I understand in a way that doesn’t need me to write loads.”

3. “I wish I could just have a print out of the lesson PPT next to me, so I can use the time to process the information rather than copy loads of words I can’t read from the board.”

4. “I wish I didn’t have to copy out tables/charts but get blank examples instead so I could fill them out and show I know what to do.”

5. “I wish my teacher wouldn’t ask me to read out loud.”

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(I should say at this point… wherever I refer to “Kelly’s teachers” I don’t mean ‘all‘ but ‘some’. I also intend the word ‘teachers’ to mean teachers generally – across the profession, in a number of schools.)

Kelly is very bright. Her verbal recall is pretty impressive, her understanding of concepts and ideas across the different curriculum subjects is good and her emotional intelligence is high. She has the ability to relate to people incredibly well – on a deeper level than many other students I’ve come into contact with – and can express how she feels eloquently. All that said, she is not showing progress in many of her lessons and crucially, in her end of unit graded assessments.

This leads us to assume the position of an enquiring young child in that all-important developmental phase where they relentlessly follow a series of steps, asking that essential (if a little annoying) question:

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So let’s use it.

FACT: Kelly isn’t showing progress.

But…why?

REASON 1: Because she isn’t being given the opportunities to do so.

But…why?

REASON 2: Because Kelly’s teachers aren’t providing differentiated work for her.

But…why?

Now, I realise I’m putting this out there without huge amounts of investigative research, but through observations and conversations, I’m quite confident of the following two points…

A) I’m quite certain that the lack of differentiation in some (not all!) mainstream classrooms is NOT because Kelly’s teachers are lazy. I know the hours that teachers work. I am one! I see the time and effort given to planning lessons, both within my own school and in others.

B) I’m also sure that Kelly’s teachers aren’t so mean and cold-hearted that they’d refuse her requests for help, should she pluck up the courage to ask.

No. What I think is more likely to be the case (and am pretty sure is common across many primary and secondary schools), is this:

REASON 3: Kelly’s teachers don’t necessarily know the best ways to support her.

In this profession with time as precious as it is, as a mainstream teacher we may hear the word ‘dyslexia’ and, not knowing enough about it, can almost mentally pass the responsibility of that child’s progress onto the SEN department, because “they’ll surely know how to provide for Kelly best, and will support her with the work she clearly can’t do on her own. Right…?”

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WRONG.

The word dyslexia takes it’s root meaning from two Greek words:

Dys = ‘difficulty’

Lexia = ‘words’

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Kelly has a problem with words – with reading, writing and spelling – FACT. But, Kelly has potential for great success too – FACT. Kelly can understand. Ask Kelly to respond verbally, and she’s got it. Ask her to draw it, to act it, to explain it and she meets the lesson objectives. However, ask her to write her answer down … fail.

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Don’t get me wrong. I realise I’m simplifying the situation. Believe me, more than most I’m fully aware of the fact that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ nature with our students. I’m not so naive to believe that every student with literacy difficulties could easily match the ability of their peers if it wasn’t for the reading and writing aspect. Some students positioned on the spectrum of dyslexia are also low-ability in some subjects and would not be able to grasp some of the concepts taught in a mainstream classroom. I’m not professing that it’s as simple as handing out a mindmap and shouting ‘abracadabra!‘ and instantly the ability gap is miraculously closed.

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What I do believe, however, is that there are some incredibly simple but powerful ways in which we can support students in the mainstream classroom, making the learning far more accessible.

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Give Kelly a template to show her understanding rather than demand that she copies out the table like everyone else, and she’ll show you what she can do.

Give her a device, an app, a programme to work on instead of asking her to write every single word by hand and she’ll be able to prove she knows what’s going on.

Give her a flash of colour on a PPT slide instead of black and white and she’ll be able to follow along without losing interest so quickly.

Don’t demand that she reads aloud in front of her peers and she won’t kick off like she normally does.
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The document below is definitely not designed to be an exhaustive list or a miracle cure for students with literacy difficulties in your classroom. However, it may be a handy visual reminder to help you create a more dyslexia-friendly classroom.

PREVIEW: The un’4’gettables in a dyslexia-friendly classroom

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CLICK TO DOWNLOAD: The un’4’gettables in a dyslexia-friendly classroom

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