Marking and debates around it are in vogue at the moment especially after Ofsted latest clarification about lesson observations and what they expect on marking.
However, I’ve always been a firm believer like many in education that high quality marking and feedback are hugely important to learning. Yet, I know I’ve been guilty of wanting to take responsibility for feedback and I’ve neglected the power of both peer assessment and in particular the impact of self-assessment.
With my Sixth Form groups this year I’ve been trialling a new way of students completing practice questions for their Home Learning. I’d become concerned that students were sometimes simply completing practice questions because they knew they had to and were rushing to get just something done rather than focusing on their best. If they truly reflected on their work themselves they would concede it was not their best work or something they had tried hard enough on. They were being extrinsically motivated by handing in a piece of work rather than intrinsically motivated by the chance to learn by going through the process of completing a practice question. I was also concerned in reading some of my students work that this rush to simply get things done meant they were not engaging with the questions properly or breaking down the questions to consider what they truly mean.
Whilst working with a Science teacher last week I came across a lovely acronym of BUSY which helps focus students on reading the question properly. I think they themselves discovered it on TES. I like this acronym because the very word Busy implies hard work, grit, determination and effort. The B stands for ‘boxing’ the command words so students focus on what they have to do. The U stands for underline so students have to underline key words which is especially important when considering things such as data parameters. The S stands for scribbling a plan. I like the word scribble because it implies a free flow of creative ideas in the planning process which is often important for students to reflect and think. Then the Y stands for You’re ready to write a brilliant essay. Hopefully, this acronym will focus students on thinking about what to do.
The self assessment sheet (pictured above) requires students to re-read and mark their own essays before handing it in. Crucially, when setting this up with students I explained why I wanted them to do this. I shared that they often knew if they were handing in ‘sub-standard’ work. I explained that my feedback could only be useful if I was marking what represented their best effort. Otherwise, my feedback would simply tell them to work harder which they would have known before they handed it in. If they truly put in their best effort then I could really give them diagnostic feedback which would challenge them and move them on in their learning. Importantly, re-reading their work would help crystallise their thinking but also hold them to account more for the quality of their own work. I think this is a simple but potentially powerful device to embed for my students to make them work towards even higher expectations. Importantly, as they have to give themselves a mark it will force them into reading and make more use of the level descriptors and success criteria for every piece of work. The proof was in the pudding. Having shared with my class this new idea and why I was doing it one student refused to hand in her essay which was due for that lesson. Their reason? They knew their work was sub-standard and this had prompted them to redo and refine their essay so they could hand in their best possible piece of work. If this small tweak gets my students to achieve and aim for their very best for every piece of work then the quality of my feedback and their understanding will improve exponentially.