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Digital Feedback

By Andi Price @MrAndiPrice

The Future of Teaching – reducing workload and increasing pupil interaction.

Two years ago, I made the unusual, and dare I say radical decision of returning full time to the classroom. I had been a Headteacher, in different schools both in the UK and internationally for the past 13 years. Although I maintained a teaching commitment in all my roles, I became increasing frustrated with not being able to fully implement new strategies for learning I was advocating as a leader. The most effective strategy I felt I was missing out on was the onslaught of learning assisted by technology. Being a semi tech-geek, I had a huge desire to fully embed this into classroom practice and ensure accelerated learning.    

JESS Dubai

When I began at my new school, I was highly encouraged to use ‘Twitter’ as a tool for my own development. After a few months, I can firmly say I had missed out on a considerable amount of CPD prior to not using Twitter. What an endless resource of ideas and celebration of modern education it is. I have become part of many learning communities and regularly share my ideas and classroom practice. I would recommend to any teacher or trainee in joining a PLN. I would go as far to say it has changed my career.   

Back at the start of my career I suppose, like many NQTs, I was just trying to keep my head above water; basically playing the game and not really seeing the worth of extensive written feedback in books. The trend of triple marking, writing a response to a child’s piece of work, the child responding back and so on and so forth. I knew early on in my career; written feedback was going to be something highlighted to be me to improve on by senior leaders, some may say justified. Or was it?

From the beginning of my classroom career, until I would say I became a more experienced and confident practitioner, I knew I would have to back mark over the holiday period to keep up with the regular book scrutinies. This would have definitely impacted on my wellbeing and love for the profession. Even though my written feedback was not as frequent as the intense feedback policy required, my pupils would always make considerable progress. How was this if there was a lack of daily feedback in books?  

Further into in my career I have analysed this more and more. I have come to the conclusion that on the spot, short regular snippets of guidance, encouragement and further enquiry tasks are much more beneficial to the pupils than reams and reams of writing at the end of their work, which in the majority of cases, the students don’t take on board or have a positive impact. What a waste of our precious time that otherwise could be used on much more beneficial tasks for example preparing high quality resources or furthering our subject knowledge. 

Teachers who write reams, and enforce immaculate books might not be the greatest teachers! Unfortunately, I know this outdated accountability judgement process is still very much in existence. Professional practitioners are predominately judged by their books and not by the progress their pupils make. But thank goodness there does seem to be a feedback revolution taking place across the profession.  

My biggest fear going back into the classroom full time was the mile-high pile of books waiting for your attention at the end of each day. The dread of a long writing task. The writer who had written 6 side of drivel that need highlighting with yellow, green and blue highlighters. The buddy mathematician who requires numerous calculations methods corrected. The depressing amount of time spent writing further questions with THAT green pen and then pupils write a one-word answer. We have all been there!

My focus as both a leader and class teacher for the last few years has been how can we turn this immediate, purposeful, diagnostic feedback, we all give in class, so it is accessible, purposeful and can be referred back to time after time especially within the current accountability process climate. Also with an aim of raising the quality of feedback. And no, verbal feedback stamps are not the answer! As Joe Kirby writes:

Feedback is effective when it is timely (not too late after the task), frequent (not too scarce) and acted on (not ignored). Written marking often militates against this.” 

Pragmaticreform.wordpress.com 2015

I can see both sides of the coin, having been senior leadership for many years I totally understand the trepidation and fear that exists in permitting teachers to feedback through digital platforms. It is the ridiculous accountability process we are all exposed to throughout education worldwide that exacerbates this reluctance. So how can we meet in the middle? Less onerous feedback with the same amount of progress evidence. Impossible right? Not at all. 

How to begin with Digital feedback

Firstly, you need to choose a platform, although we have progressed to using a number of platforms, it is always good to start small. My preferred platform of choose is @seesaw. I choose this for its ease of use, parental access and multiple feedback options. Hardware, well surprisingly you do not need much. In fact 1 tablet or a smartphone would suffice. @Seesaw has a very simple procedure for setting up parental access. I have always had 100% take up for all students in my classes (this has been so successful over the years that we as a whole school have adopted it as our one form of communication). Uploading students work is super easy, just take pictures and away you go.

Now that you have students work uploaded, this can now be sorted into categories or folders (i.e. digital exercise books). Press a button and you can now feedback on all your English work for example. Feedback can take three forms. I firstly started typing feedback and students typed back their responses. I know what you are thinking, well this takes longer then writing in exercise books, well not if you are commenting on the same misconception in the majority of work. Copy, paste and adapt. I estimate that I saved around a third of the time I would have done by writing in exercise books. 

Next, I progressed on to verbal feedback, this was probably the most scary part of the procedure. Would students respond? Was the feedback useful/challenging? Would SLT accept this typed of feedback? Funnily enough this proved to be the most successful part of the journey with digital feedback. Student engagement improved 10 fold, SLT observed huge benefits and were witnessing considerable progress.  

Of course this feedback was accessible for scrutinises and inspection purposes. This success prompted the change to the whole school feedback policy and encouraged other staff to try out digital feedback. The whole project then snowballed with the vast majority of teachers adopting, seeing a huge reduction to their workload, parents interacting with their children’s work, praising and in some cases, using further in-depth questioning. And most importantly feedback was purposeful for the students. 

Once typed and verbal feedback has been embedded, you can then try the real game-changer, annotated feedback. This was developed in conjunction with a few of my colleagues who saw the benefit of modelling methods where students had misconceptions in mathematics.

This approach to feedback has been recognised by inspectors as being revolutionary. They commented that the collaborative approach of educators, parents and peers having the ability to view work, comment upon and further question students increased learning dramatically. Digital feedback is a leap of faith for schools however as a profession we are behind, and it is not due to the lack of hardware! I fear that it will not be parents and students that will be the ones that slow this process of moving toward this more accessible, collaborative and workload reducing feedback process. Senior leaders need to trust, trust in practitioners who have always provided quality feedback. Without doubt Digital Feedback is a ‘safer’ option for schools to adopt than ‘Whole Class Feedback’, it is considerably more personalised but still dramatically reduces teacher workload. With teachers’ workload at record levels we must revolutionise our profession before it is too late. Let the revolution begin! 

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