Marking has long been seen as the bane of teachers’ lives, involving hours spent reading through piles of books and composing individualised feedback for every child.
But according to data from Teacher Tapp, published in April 2022, marking is not as time-consuming as it used to be. The survey app found that, compared with 2020, almost twice as many teachers now spend less than an hour marking books each week.
This shift is largely down to the fact that many schools have caught on that there are more efficient feedback approaches than writing extensive comments in every book – and those schools are increasingly supporting staff to go their own way when it comes to marking.
Rachael Chong, a maths teacher at Greenford High School, in Middlesex, has done exactly this, developing her own feedback solution.
Seven years ago, after becoming increasingly fed up with how long her marking was taking, she turned to her brother, a computer programmer, for help. Together they developed Feed Forward, an online platform that provides automatic, personalised feedback, drawn from raw mark scores.
So, how exactly does it work?
The process starts with a specifically designed assessment, with questions that are linked to different topics: for example, the first question might be on calculating time, while the second is about probability scales.
Cutting down teachers’ feedback workload
After pupils complete the assessment, teachers record the marks for each question on a spreadsheet. The programme considers these marks, and then generates an individualised feedback sheet for each pupil.
There are two options for the format of this feedback: the simplified version (in which students receive comments about what went well, target areas for improvement and specific questions to review) or a more detailed version, which provides a complete overview of the assessment, filtering the questions into coloured categories (green, amber and red), based on how successfully the student answered them.
Teachers can choose which option is most appropriate, depending on students’ prior attainment and any additional needs. There is also an option for teachers to add a “hint” or link to a resource for each question, so that when students receive feedback, they are directed towards advice or materials that will help them to improve.
The teacher is still an important part of the process, says Chong.
“The reports give the students an understanding of what they need to work on going forward, but they are still very much reliant on the teachers giving in-depth feedback lessons as a whole class, and providing that expertise. It just replaces that written feedback step,” she explains.
More teaching and learning:
How much time does the programme really save, then? While there are other tools out there that promise to automate the entire marking process, Feed Forward still requires teachers to mark each paper and enter individual scores.
“The amount of time it takes depends on your focus. If you’re really on it, it could take a second per student to put it in, but it depends on who is inputting the data,” says Chong.
Although the reports are generated instantly, teachers generally spend around 40 minutes entering mark data into the spreadsheet, on top of marking the questions themselves, she adds.
With this in mind, Chong says it’s not something her department uses daily, or even weekly.
“We primarily use it for big assessments. Every half-term we will give each class across all the key stages a test to see how they are progressing, and use Feed Forward to offer them that personalised feedback,” she says.
There’s still a time commitment, then. But, after using Feed Forward with her department for the past seven years, Chong is positive about the impact it can have: the response from teachers has been really encouraging, she says, with colleagues acknowledging that the time spent inputting the marks is “a small amount of time to give up in comparison to how long it would have taken them to write assessment feedback similar to the quality produced by Feed Forward”.
And there’s an additional benefit: the reports help to plan future homework. Chong explains that the traffic light system or improvement section makes it clear which areas students need to work on, and they are expected to go away and evidence the steps they have taken towards this, as homework.
Before Feed Forward was introduced, some teachers weren’t providing any individualised written feedback at all, and instead using verbal whole-class feedback, says Chong.
Now, in maths, every child receives written feedback every half-term, and for students this has made a big difference.
“Students are really happy that as well as getting their paper back, they get told individually what they need to be working on going forward. Having it all printed out on a list that they can refer to really helps them to recognise their targets for improvement,” Chong says.
“The system really promotes and encourages independent learning, and the parents like to look at the reports, too.”
Adapting the system for other subjects
Although the programme is working well within her department, Chong has bigger plans for it. This year she was awarded funding by Shine, an education charity that encourages teachers to develop teaching and learning innovations.
Currently Feed Forward can only be used with the computer software at Greenford, but Chong is developing a website that will offer all schools access to the programme. She also plans to extend the advice that accompanies the reports students receive.
“I think the programme could identify three key topics that they could work on, and then provide a booklet of some hints and some key questions for them to practise,” she says. “I think that could be a really good way for students to move forward independently, and bridge that gap of understanding.”
And while Feed Forward is only used by the maths department for now, Chong sees the potential for it to be adapted to work in other subjects – although she admits this is currently a long way off.
“I know that maths is much more binary than other subjects, but I could really see it working in subjects like the humanities, too. It would just look a little different. It might be using a success criteria, instead of actual questions,” she says.
In the immediate future it will just be maths teachers, and students, who can benefit from Feed Forward. But, as artificial intelligence increasingly becomes part of the teaching and learning landscape, we’re bound to see more and more grassroots marking solutions, like this one, which can work for all subjects.