I don’t know about you, but I am pretty obsessed with getting feedback right. It is the most decisive factor in developing skills and enabling learners to progress. Get feedback wrong and the most stimulating, engaging lesson (that has taken you days – not hours – to produce) becomes pointless. Nobody’s got time for that!

So what does the right feedback look like?

Ultimately we need a tool that is skills related. I remember, back when I was a lad, studying a vocational-based course. It was either an RSA or City Guilds thing. One of those where you assessed in terms of ‘Performance Criteria’ with a grid that you have to meet certain benchmarks in standards, which then enable you to move forward, open up a new learning stream and a new set of criteria. It was the kind of thing that underpinned the early GNVQs. I recall spending hours with my old friend Tony Breslin, back in the 90s, developing a GCSE in Citizenship for Edexcel, where we spent hours getting the phrasing right for the pass/merit/distinction boundaries. The bottom line of course was taking the different skills (in line with Bloom’s Taxonomy) and differentiating these in an appropriate manner. I do wish that the Awarding Bodies did this more explicitly to make the lives of us Sociology teachers (especially the newbies and non-specialists) a lot less stressful in the practice of applying those fairly vague and abstract mark-schemes. With that said, its something that I have tried to achieve year on year, and would like to share an example I have developed for AS (new spec AQA) this year.

The assessment tool is one of a suite of devices that aim to achieve the following:

– enable students to understand the 3 core skill areas of KU, IA and AE. Which we have fondly come to know as AO1,
AO2a and AO2b skills.
– to communicate what these look like in student writing and how they can be effectively displayed by them.
– to support students in prioritising their actions following feedback (And appreciate the purpose of post-
feedback development activities).
– to offer a range of ideas for post-feedback development activities (things to try out).

I developed this crude matrix a while ago to help my students visualise skills in relation to grade criteria.

mark scheme literacy skills diagnostic matrix v2

Underpinning this is the idea of ‘marginal gains’. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all great journeys start with one small step (yadda yadda)! If students ‘know where they are at’, have a sense of ‘where they are going’, then the key for us is to construct a road between the two destinations. The weird thing though with this journey is that it isn’t a single path from A to B, because of the different skills. I guess it’s what sportsmen (women)have to contend with – look at boxing where you need to develop posture, varying punches for ‘attack’ but also defensive skills too. Pointless having a deadly left hook, if you constantly leave yourself exposed to incoming fire! And its just like that in developing effective skills in sociology.

This is quite a complex thing for our students to grasp early on. So let’s try and help them visualise a journey that is made up of layered pathways that do not go in one direction, but in fact weave in with others at different points on the way. In my head right now I am seeing a kind of Roger Dean painting with a twist of Michael Moorcock
text (and Planet Gong in the background)…just think of split worlds and all that jazz (ahem). I don’t know where that was all going, but I guess its the idea that before our students their improvement is not in the form of a single step forward, but one of a series of parallel steps…like tweaking a graphic equalizer for optimum groove.

So, the tool below aims to offer something towards that end.

For the 20 marker on education (which is basically an ‘assess’ question) I put this together. I have omitted reference to ‘using items’ at this stage, as that is a skill we move onto once we have nailed ‘structuring’ of assessment questions.

Yellow cold/hot copy sheets
We have used this for feedback on ‘Assess the contribution of the Functionalist view of the role of education’.
Prior to the assessment we did work on ‘yellow cold/hot copy task sheets’ to provide verbal feedback in lessons on individual paragraphs. I have attached the template of one from 2 paragraphs on Marxism here. They have a focus/sentence starter and a little concept checklist and suggestions for stuff in a paragraph. It is basic scaffolding to help them focus. I then visit each student and give verbal feedback – they note this and do a second version which I then give written feedback on. We sort of ‘build the answer’ over a few lessons. I give 10-15 mins aside for this over a period of lessons.

Marxism and Education writing frame

There are many ways to give qualitative written feedback. I personally am a great advocate of the technique used by one of my lecturers back at Leicester University, Clive Ashworth. This was a simple numbering system with numbers in the margin and at the end a feedback sheet with comments relating to those numbers. I also use track comment marking at times to have an electronic-based dialogue with my students.

The Assessment tool

It is basically a 2-sided landscape document on purple A4 paper (yes – its part of that whole Think Pink:Go Green movement…although its purple not pink!).

It look like this:

2015 New AS20 marks by grade grid ASv2

skills 1

skills 3

The 20 mark criteria has been adapted into ‘student friendly’ language with the skills or key phrasing highlighted in bold to help distinguish between levels.

The steps in using this:

Step 1 – I ask students to swap scripts and peer assess with a tick against the relevant bullet points for each
skill (they are pretty accurate at doing this).
Step 2 – I mark and circle each relevant skill from each column. I also find it useful to draw connecting arrows
between skills where needed, ie) points need expansion and list like presentation. I add the odd sentence
here too, like – ‘explain rather than state’. In the evaluation column – i found myself adding near
juxtaposition/limited contrast that ‘focus on themes’ or ‘compare views on transmitting ideas’ to nudge
them along and see how a free standing Marxist para is a different creature to one that is challenging
and focusing on elements of the functionalist claims.
Step 3 – Sheet is returned to student, along with their answer and my qualitative comments. They then have to
identify which skills they need to focus on and then select what actions they are going to pursue to
develop that skills.

The ‘Moving Forward’ sheet with developmental actions has a kind of ‘core and more’ element. Its aimed to provide them with choice and extension. We set aside time in lessons for developmental activity (or DIRT as it has become commonly known).

For KU, I am a great believer in getting students to regularly consolidate their understanding. To that end, I give them all a small yellow Vocab book. On one page they have to create a checklist of key concepts/studies and evaluation points (i’ll post something on this next week). It is mainly a checklist of essentials to be remembered and they should be able to say a sentence or 2 on anything in there, eg) Bowles and Gintis : correspondence principle/social reproduction/hidden curriculum/myth of meritocracy. In lessons we have activities using the booklets where students test each other (what 4 things are linked to Bowles and Gintis? Give me 2 examples of the hidden curriculm? etc). We also have regular 10 minute key point tests based on this. Other more important consolidation though involves mindmaps, evaluation chart and comparative analysis tables (which move beyond simple KU).

I set aside lesson time for students to focus on skills. Here I provide resources and guides on different skills areas and support on a 1 to 1 basis or work with a small group of students on a particular skill.

In future posts I will explore this more fully – especially strategies for skills development, lesson activities and the essential matter of literacy development.

Hope you all have a lovely weekend and have found something here useful. As ever, you know where I am.