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Education Reading Group - February 2017

Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms by Dylan Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy

Lunchtime today saw the third meeting this academic year of the Education Reading Group. This time we were reading an extract from a chapter of Embedding Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy entitled ‘Providing feedback that moves learning forward’.

The chapter itself focuses on the effects of different kinds of feedback on student achievement and suggests a number of strategies that teachers can use to maximise the power of the feedback they provide.

The overwhelming message we all got from reading the chapter was about the importance of the relationship with have with our students and how this impacts on the feedback process. It was felt that certain forms of feedback were better for building positive relationships than others: for example, highlighting a generic feedback sheet was suggested to be less good for relationship building than personalised writing in a student exercise book.

The second most powerful message from the reading was that the only thing that really matters about feedback is the ‘kind of reaction it triggers in the recipient’ (p107). Basically, feedback that the student does not act upon is a waste of time and that the most effective form of feedback is simply feedback that students use! This led to a discussion about our whole school ReAct policy and the importance of building time into lessons to enable students to engage with our feedback and act upon it. Underscoring this was the building of routines which prioritise lesson time to act on this feedback, and Wiliam and Leahy are very clear in stating that you shouldn’t give feedback unless you allocate class time for students to respond.

The thorny issue of grades was also an integral part of the chapter. Research evidence clearly suggests that giving students grades detracts from the effectiveness of other feedback and providing comment-only feedback is most effective. However, there was a clear feeling in the group that grades do have their place and are necessary at strategic points. However, we had all experienced students focusing on a grade at the expense of written feedback!

Praise was another focus of discussion. Wiliam and Leahy point out that a number of studies have found that the most effective teachers praise less than others and they also cite Dweck’s research that found praising children’s intelligence harms both their motivation and their performance. We all felt that praise did play an important role in supporting the development of positive relationships and classroom climate. However, it was clear that praise needs to be phrased carefully.

Differences in perception about feedback between student and teacher and the impact of this was raised. The chapter refers to a book, Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Stone and Helen (2014), which points out that there are different ‘triggers’ that can affect how the recipients of feedback react to the feedback. ‘Truth triggers’ are related to the students’ perception of the accuracy of the feedback and a student is likely to reject the feedback if the student perceives it not to be true. Perception is all important!

Reflections and actions:

  1. Ensure you build time into lessons for students to respond to and act upon feedback.
  2. Be careful how you praise students.
  3. Know your students – this will help you to know their ‘triggers’ and ensure that the feedback you give them is as effective as it can be.