Creative Teacher Support

Creative, practical support and discussion for classroom teachers everywhere

Where’s the F in A?

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Last week I delivered a training session for the PGCE students at Chester University. They were taking part in a day devoted to “Raising A”. This could be achievement, attainment, pretty much anything we wanted it to be. So I went for attainment. However, my focus didn’t fit into the “A” category, I wanted to talk about the most effective intervention we make with our students: feedback. Hence, where’s the F in A. (also, see what I did there?)

The prezi from the session can be viewed here  the pdf of the slides can also be downloaded here Chester Uni Raising A Where’s the F in A .

The session started with a paired activity organised in a Kagan structure, basically a talking partners activity designed to get participants talking but also to demonstrate how structures can help to organise student talk and feedback. The discussion is of a series of true or false questions and responses are gathered by participants moving to each side of the room, one designated as true, the other as false. This is designed to show that feedback can be gathered physically or kinaesthetically by organising student movement around the room. (Obviously depending on the class, activity and time of day etc) This also means that further questioning can be targeted and potentially “higher order” in order to elicit more complex responses.

This activity was built on by two hinge questions, gathering responses through movement again. The first question is simple but is designed to show that, by separating the group, questioning can be more focused and reveal more depth in feedback. The second question, “what is feedback?”, is designed to demonstrate how to elicit justification responses from the group. Potentially ALL of the answers on this slide are correct and require each group to justify their answer in terms of why they are “more right” than the others. The key learning here is in the artistry of writing the question. The teacher has to be aware of potential misconceptions in the learning before they happen in order to plan questions which elicit feedback that informs where learners are in their learning. This can be with a simple right or wrong answer simply to determine if students have acquired what they are expected to, or do they “get” it and can we move on?

The following slides demonstrate the theoretical basis for a focus on feedback through the overarching structures of AfL, Hattie, Petty (feedforward) and the Sutton Trust. Potentially the most important point to take away from the session is point 2.3 of the AfL/APP quality standards:

“All teachers give pupils clear feedback which identifies next steps and provide opportunities in lessons for pupils to discuss and act upon the feedback.”

The second half of this statement is the most important. Students MUST be given time to address targets they are given or they are no longer formative or useful and, indeed, become a waste of the time you spent formulating them. Learning can become visible if students are provided with time.

The next activity is a group task, a diamond nine where participants are asked to sort cards which display all of the potential purposes behind giving feedback into what they determine to be key or most important (the cards can be downloaded here Feedback for different purposes cards). If time allows, a carousel allowing each group to see the others responses is useful. The key learning from this point is to elicit the fact that, no matter what the secondary purpose, all of our feedback to students, be it concerning redirection of behaviour or learning, is designed to encourage the progress and achievement of students.

A discussion of the importance and difficulty of providing oral feedback follows. A useful slide outlining the advantages of oral feedback is discussed and a further activity is engaged in in groups. A table of the potential obstacles to oral feedback provides groups with the focus for a discussion of solutions (download here Oral Feedback Obstacles Chester Uni Raising A). This tends to elicit answers which encourage the use of randomised feedback strategies such as lollipop sticks, wait and think time but also the use of post it notes to allow students to make better use of oral feedback by noting it down straight away and having it to hand in order to synthesise and use it from that point forward. The best EYFS teachers tend to carry a pad of post its and a camera in order to record pupil progress and areas that require focus. Maybe we should too.

I have changed to the old positive/specific, negative/non-specific grid from the National Strategies at this point. I have changed positive and negative to realistic at both points. This is because students value this realism. They know better than us whether or not their work is good. I totally advocate positive reinforcement but only in specific terms, students should always be told what it is that is good and what it is that isn’t.

Positive Specific Grid pos Neg removed

This activity draws the session to a close. Participants are asked to consider what the “yseet’me” was. This is the essential moral or lesson of the session. (Totally knicked from “Lassie” and, I think Billy Crystal!).

For me … “you see Timmy, when teachers give feedback to students, I think they need to have planned carefully how that will happen and how, be it verbally or in writing. I also think they need to make sure that students get quality time to work on the feedback”.

I have also included a self assessment tool for teachers and from the perspective of students to gauge the progress of our feedback giving. (It can be obtained here Feedback progress grid I hope it’s useful)


Author: Gordon Baillie

I am an Advanced Skills teacher in a large comprehensive school in the North West of the UK. Trained in Scotland, I have worked in a number of different settings in my almost fifteen years of teaching. I have been working with both my own and other local schools and their teachers to both enhance and improve learning and teaching for a number of years now. I am an experienced trainer of both trainee and experienced teachers and have contributed to both local and national conferences around learning and teaching, particularly around Assessment for Learning as well as being asked to contribute to keynote addresses around other, more generic areas of teaching. I believe that teaching and particularly learning are deeply creative pursuits and that the only way to continue to enhance them and the practice of teachers is to collaborate.

One thought on “Where’s the F in A?

  1. Pingback: Back to the Future | Creative Teacher Support

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