How to use Whole Class Feedback to obliterate work load and improve student retention

For a long time, teachers and leaders have wrestled with the problem of marking. We’ve known for a while now that despite its impact on teacher workload the evidence to support comment-based marking is rather flimsy, and Joe Kirby’s hornets and butterflies model rams home the need for smarter policies: ones that deliver effective feedback without being workload intensive:

Image credit: https://pragmaticreform.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/marking-is-a-hornet/

When we built Carousel, we wanted to utilise an approach that was gaining popularity called Whole Class Feedback (WCF). In short, this involves looking at and engaging with student work, but not necessarily giving individualised written feedback. Instead, you would take the class’s work as a whole, and try and identify a few key messages to help your students progress:

Marking

Written comment in every book

Teacher communicates individual targets to every student

Students make improvements based on their work only

WCF

Very few (if any) written comments

Teacher communicates targets to the whole group

Students make improvements based on the work of the class as a whole

In order to be a workload butterfly, we therefore set ourselves a number of aims when making the WCF tool:

  1. Cut teacher workload
  2. Deliver meaningful feedback
  3. Give students opportunity for a second (and third) go at retrieval practice
  4. Raise student accountability
  5. Integrate classwork with homework

The way it works is very simple (click here for a 3 minute video explainer). Whilst marking student work (a very quick job), just check the box next to responses that you find interesting or want to discuss at a class level, e.g. the spelling mistakes here:

When you are done marking the quiz, you open up the feedback screen. The first thing you see are the questions that had the lowest overall score:

This screen is then the starter in the next lesson, ready for the students to complete as they come in. A set speech I often use looks a bit like this:

These questions are extremely important to me. I can’t really control what you do at home and I don’t know if you are doing your homework properly or you are being lazy and putting in the minimum effort possible. All I can do is use classwork to try and figure out what’s going on with your homework. So you getting these questions right is really important to me, because if you get them wrong, it shows that you got them wrong at home, shrugged your shoulders and said “yeah that’s ok actually.” Well, it’s not ok. It’s not ok to get stuff wrong if I’ve given you the answers. It’s not ok to walk away and say “I don’t need this knowledge.” You do need it. And I won’t accept anything less than the best from this class…

I might give this speech to the same class a few times in subsequent lessons too, and I always make sure students can explain back to me why it’s important that they get these ones right, and how upset I will be if they don’t. This allows me to show students how important the work is, how much I care about it, how I am looking at their responses and how it feeds directly into classwork. They can’t think of homework as just some boring bolt on that they have to do because it is school policy and they’ll get in trouble if they don’t do it. They need to see the homework as valuable and meaningful, and one of the most powerful ways of demonstrating that is through the “what you found hardest” area. Using the WCF tool like this therefore allows me to give students an extra opportunity for retrieval practice, but also the chance for me to continue building the culture and work ethic of the class.

If you scroll down, you’ll see the next section, which looks like this:

Earlier on, we put a tick next to responses that we found interesting. Those responses are now pulled through into this area. Ordinarily, I will go one by one, and will start by displaying incorrect answers:

Unlike a traditional starter, students don’t do this silently and in their book. Instead, I will use these responses as a springboard for class conversations, often kicked off by simply asking “why is this wrong?” or “why do you think the student marked it as right, even though it’s wrong?” (as is the case with the second answer above).

Again, this allows me to show students that I check their work, that it’s important to me and that it feeds into classwork. If there was a particularly common error, I might want to do a bit of reteaching and some student practice, or it might just be a discussion point, or I might try and feed it into subsequent work or resourcing.

In the table below, I’ve put the kinds of mistake that I might put in the “what I found interesting” section and a brief script of how I might deal with them:

Screenshot of table. Please contact hello@carousel-learning.com to receive a text-reader friendly copy of these contents. Sorry!

(For a previous blog post on stamping out Googling answers, see here)

Of course, you will have to adapt for your classes and subjects, but the above should give you an idea of the type of thing you could say and how powerful an approach that focuses not on individualised marking, but on the way you interact with the whole group and drive up their ethic and culture.

To return to our aims and how you should think about WCF:

Screenshot of table. Please contact hello@carousel-learning.com to receive a text-reader friendly copy of these contents. Sorry!

With all the above taken into account, we could conclude that WCF is a most definitely a workload butterfly: low on effort, high on impact.

Cool things to read about marking and WCF:

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Carousel Learning

Carousel is a retrieval practice and online quizzing tool that helps students to embed knowledge in their long-term memory.