Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Dear Reader,

Have you ever finished something and had no feedback on it?  Did you enjoy the experience?

Call me a perennial teacher's pet, but I'm afraid I can't always find wholly intrinsic value in completing a piece of 'work', be it painting a picture, writing an essay or blog, or even choosing my own outfit for the day.  And from the proliferation of food porn, #OOTDs and selfies on social media, it seems I am not alone.  There's nothing more addictive than attention - any type counts - but praise is particularly Pringle-like when doled out in the bite-sized form of 'likes' or comments.

Can we compare this feeling to that of a pupil completing a piece of work in class or at home?  There are parallels.  The pupil may have some intrinsic motivation, but the reward/praise angle is usually agreed to be the most persuasive and feedback is as crucial to this as it can get.  However, the significant difference here is that usually there is only an audience of one: the teacher.  If you don't log in to check what's happening, they may as well be shouting into a vacuum. What would change if we never looked at pupil's books in between lessons (ie marked completed work)?

Well, thanks to a long career in teaching which contains several periods of being hideously overworked, I can tell you.  They soon seem to get fed up of doing it if you're not looking at it.  Learning may still occur (unless you're snoozing through the lesson as well) but attention to detail, presentation, and the general concept of you caring about what they produce soon take a downward turn.  Graffiti and notes written to each other soon crawl into the margins. Some pupils develop a beautiful talent for writing a page of work that, when scrutinised, turns out to be Taylor Swift lyrics or 'I LOVE CATS!' repeated ad nauseam.

I think, as teachers, we can all agree that books must be looked at, and as frequently as you can manage is usually best.  How to mark them in the best way so that pupils actually get the benefit of the process has been much discussed, particularly well in the case of  David Didau and Joe Kirkby via their respective blogs.  However, something that struck me of late as more glaring is the immense difference between primary and secondary in marking assessments, or good old tests as they used to be known.

I spent several years as a HoD of Maths and marked countless GCSE and SATS papers.  I studiously absorbed the markschemes, made notes on points of contentions, fought hard to give all the allowed marks, and peppered the scripts with bits of information and advice: 'nearly right, just an addition slip at the end', 'draw a line of best fit to show your method'. 'come and see me Tuesday and I bet we can sort this out in less than a minute'.  Most students returned the favour - I like to think due to a good relationship and open dialogue - but more likely because they had far too much time on their hands during the test.

However, last year I was teaching at primary level for the first time, full-time.  After the first round of assessments, during which I breathed a sigh of relief at the speed and ease with which I was able to mark them - I asked the head when to give them back to the children.

"No, we don't do that," was the reply.

I was amazed.  It seems this is fairly normal for primary-age students, certainly in KS1, and from my limited experience, all the way up to Year 5 in some cases.  Why?

The reasons I have been given range from 'the parents don't like it' to 'the children can't deal with it'.  Forgive me, but I see no difference in giving them a mental arithmetic test score, a homework grade, and a practice SATS paper percentage.  (Other than the fact that I'll then have to spend a week teaching them percentages so they'll understand it).  The scores are kept, graphed, used by teachers - but very often never given back to students.  I don't know about you, but I don't know if I'd produce my best work under those circumstances.  Oh, and there are some rather obvious parallels with being observed and never getting any feedback - something which has happened to me time and time again in my career...

1 comment:

  1. It may have been a culture in places, but I always felt the same as you. I would want to see my test results and I always show the pupils theirs.