Providing quality feedback in order to move students forward in their learning

One of my most popular blog posts (and one of my favourites that I share relentlessly like a git) is this one: Feedback, Feedforward and peer assessment and Project Based Learning. The reason I value that post so much is because through the years, after many, many applications of the ideas within it, I can still say with 100% confidence that the theory of ‘medals and missions’ and withholding grades for at least 24 hours genuinely works. Since staring at my new school, I have been really impressed with how enthusiastically the staff have adopted a range of strategies to ensure that students are being given quality feedback in order to move them forward in their learning.

This year I am running (with the help of one of my awesome colleagues) a series if four workshops on Dylan Wiliam’s Embedding Formative Assessment (using his two year PL program as a basis). Each term we run a one-hour workshop, providing teachers with information on a range of formative assessment strategies. The most recent session was on feedback – and one of the key ideas that really resonated with teachers was the need for feedback to be more work for the students than for the teacher (or the peers) who are giving it. The English faculty have become committed Dylan Wiliam fans since I first ran a workshop on assessment for learning using some of his strategies in Term 4 last year. Since then they have adopted the feedback before marks strategy for years 7-10, whereby students are given their written feedback on an assessment task, and asked to reflect on it BEFORE they receive their mark – with a mandatory 24 hour reflection period. To add to this, all teachers are using the Medals and Missions method of written feedback as outlined in my blog post linked above, and initially inspired by Geoff Petty. To complement this for extended responses (such as essays and narratives) teachers are using a ‘code’ system that I developed at the end of last year when marking year 11 journeys essays.

Essentially, I kept seeing students making the same mistakes (not engaging with the essay question, not providing relevant evidence, poor sentence structure, failing to include a linking sentence at the end of body paragraphs etc), so I made a list of these things, then gave each a code (e.g. SS = sentence structure Q = question). Students were then given a series of codes as their Medals or Missions – I tried not to give any more than 3 for each, and never more Missions than Medals. I added the codes throughout the students’ essays when I thought they needed to fix something up – e.g. LS (linking sentence) at the end of a body paragraph if one was missing. This made it much quicker for me to mark, and meant that the students had to do a bit of work by engaging with the document I created outlining all of the codes. Oh, and in the document I didn’t just say ‘LS = linking sentence’ I actually outlined what a linking sentence is, and gave an example of a really good linking sentence. This step is important because (as Dylan Wiliam tells us) kids get a lot of feedback ‘this is what you did wrong’ and often not much feedforward ‘this is what you need to do to improve, and this is how you can do it’. It’s been great to see the English teacher taking up this approach to feedback, and the students have responded really well – we’re at a school of very high achievers, so students are always keen to identify how they can improve. Journey Essay – Marker’s Feedback codes’ for a journeys essay, if you want to used them… just please acknowledge your source!

Being at a BYOD school, and being a recent devotee of Google Apps for Education, I have found that there are lots of ways to use technology to make students’ engagement with their Medals and Missions feedback even more effective. Firstly, I have created tables in a shared Google Document and asked students to add their name and two medals and two missions they received for an assessment. They then are partnered up with a ‘critical friend’ who had one of their missions as a medal, so they can work together to turn a mission into a medal – this is especially effective for essay-writing as we do a lot of this in English! You can see an image of what I mean below…

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 6.47.26 pm

Secondly, I have created a big table with students’ names down the left column, and then across the top added all of the essay codes (SS, LS, RT, PT, C, Q etc), and students then added a smile emoji for a medal, and an Xbox controller emoji for a mission. This super visual representation of students’ strengths and weaknesses on an essay task allows me to identify themes in their learning, and then fill any identified gaps – like in a recent essay task my year 12 students mostly had medals for their conceptual understanding, but missions for their related text paragraphs. Without me actually doing any work, I could see that there was a gap in my students’ learning – they didn’t know how to effectively connect their related texts to their prescribed text. See the image below for an example of what I mean:

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 6.23.55 pm

Anyway, I’m currently in Auckland Airport waiting for my plane to LA, so I’m going to cut this short. I hope these ideas and resources are helpful for someone!

12 thoughts on “Providing quality feedback in order to move students forward in their learning

  1. I enjoy reading your blog Bianca as I find it often helps me with developing my skills as a teacher. This post was timely as I have just finished my PDP goal setting for the year with feedback being a main goal that I wanted to focus on. I will definitely be using some of your information to improve my feedback process with the students.

  2. Thank you Bianca…I am working by stealth on encouraging more effective use of feedback. We are introducing BYOD from semester 2. Your post here is exactly what I need to help explain some of the benefits of using tech in an English classroom. You’ve provided a great example of traditional (essay writing), with effective practice (formative assessment/feedback), enhanced by use of technology. Can’t thank you enough. Safe travels!

  3. If you are providing structured feedback on writing in Google Docs, particularly in using set codes for improvement, check out the JoeZoo Express add on for Google Docs ( You can use the inbuilt banks or create your own, and give specific feedback and advice on how to rectify the error. Seems like a neater solution rather than a large comment stream on the side of a Doc.

  4. Hi Bianca,
    Thanks so much for sharing all of your ideas! I like the way that you are explicit in the feedback- making them work to improve on it themselves. Thanks for the Journey’s essay notes. I am sure that my students will find this approach as helpful as I have.
    Thank you! 🙂

  5. This is awesome Bianca. I’m experimenting with a coding system. Is there any chance I could get the Word version of your comment bank? I’m marking Mod A at the moment so the focus is different, but some of the essay skills are the same. I’d share it back with you of course!

  6. Hello,
    I stumbled on your blog while researching peer feedback and I have really enjoyed it. Thanks for your enthusiasm and generosity. You have turned me from a real sceptic on the value of IT in the educational process to an advocate in just one blog post.
    Thanks again,

  7. Pingback: Read Write Respond #005 – Read Write Collect

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