Marking: Are you talking to yourself?

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Whilst visiting @rmhurren and @_Miss_Moss_ at their school we started to discuss how we feedback to students when we mark work.

Many teachers write questions in the margin or on work and never give the time or space for a student to answer it. We are literally talking to ourselves!

I was doing this with some year 8 work shown below…

edited picture of questionsWhere is the student supposed to answer me?!

And then I started to think. How will he answer these questions? There is no space and it will end up as one big mess. So I decided that for every student I would write them a small set of questions that would extend their writing. These were personalised and mostly referred to the criteria for the assessment they were completing but not all. They were differentiated to help the student move to at least the next level in their work. Once I had read their work thus far I wrote a level in my mark book as to where I thought it was at that point.

Here are some examples so you can see how I laid out my questions:

qus1qus3qus2

For one girl, her writing had already ‘hit’ her target grade so I decided to try something different. I asked her a question that I knew she didn’t know the answer for.

qu4

This meant that she had to find out for herself and then embed this in her work. Of course she did this with ease.

The next lesson that I saw the students, they had the whole lesson to:

  • finish their original writing -1st draft (started in the first assessment lesson)
  • answer the questions – additions to 1st draft
  • Combine it all into their whole piece of written work ‘final draft’

They printed these off:

finished 1finished 2finished 3

Students had the opportunity to reflect on their own work:

self1self2

Some do this better than others. Using the criteria to decide their level.

Finally I marked them again.

teacher 1teacher2teacher3

16 out of the 19 students for whom I wrote questions for, improved their level. In some cases, hugely. See my markbook to see the differences:

markbook 1

Please ignore the colours – that relates to something else in my markbook!

For the 4 students who didn’t achieve their target grade they came to a support session and I could then work with them individually to improve their work yet again. I could really focus on what they needed to do. They knew what they should’ve done and instantly improved their work yet again.

However, I have some as yet undecided thoughts on this method:

  • When do you stop? I marked their work and then found myself writing more questions in the feedback that I won’t give them time to answer. Should I have bothered?
  • I have one year 8 class I trialled this with. My colleague has 10 year 8 classes. Is it possible to do this for all students in all classes?
  • Was my teaching towards the first draft inadequate in the first place to enable them to achieve? If my teaching was more targeted and clear would I have had to have written these questions?
  • Should I be asking questions for all students like I did for the girl who had already achieved her grade? Things they have to find out ‘themselves’ and then embed it into their work?
  • Should I have given a whole lesson to answer the questions and re-draft it all together? Did it need to all be put together?
  • Should I have held the support session for those that didn’t achieve? Should it be open to all?
  • Should I be getting students to work towards levels so intensely?
  • Does everything I write in feedback have to relate to levels?

Any thoughts on these questions or the process very much welcomed.

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Why I am not a Headteacher

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I was ‘lucky’ enough to become a Head of Department in my NQT year. This moved quickly to being in charge of ITT for a large school with a high proportion of instructors, GTPs and NQTs. And then to being an assistant principal. This all happened in the first 5 years of teaching.

It would have been so easy to carry on ‘up the ladder’. In fact I did go for a Deputy interview but withdrew on the second day. Whilst speaking to the Head to tell her I was withdrawing she said ‘can I ask why?’ My answer was simple ‘ On September the 1st, if you’re not there, I will be in charge of the school’.

That was such a scary prospect. There was no way I could have done that. (As an aside, I heard that indeed in the first term that year she was seconded elsewhere and my fear would have come true!)

So why don’t I want to climb the ladder?

1. I love teaching.

I’m not saying Headteachers don’t.I’m saying I want it to be the ‘majority’ of my work.

2. I don’t have the skills to deal with some of the ridiculous situations that Heads have to deal with.

In my career I’ve seen some real humdingers. All respect to those Headteachers who have dealt with them in the way they felt was appropriate.

3. I say what I think

This wouldn’t go down well with staff.

4. I like to be in control

My management skills are not developed enough to delegate everything. I’d probably have no partner, friends or family left.

5. I like people coming to me to ask for advice

You may argue a Headteacher has an ‘open door’ policy. Not quite the same thing as having people coming to you with small things or just a quick sharing of ideas. A quick bit of support goes a long way.

So this all led to me becoming an AST. What a shame the role is coming to an end. It is perfect for me. I would urge any Headteacher who can see this in some of their current ASTs to keep them doing what they do best; Teaching, leading their own whole school projects and just ‘being there’ for staff on a daily basis.

‘I’d like to see them teach an outstanding lesson’ – Teacher responses to observation

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‘I bet they can’t teach an outstanding lesson’

Comments like this are starting to annoy me. It seems to be a reaction to anyone that observes, for whom teaching isn’t an everyday occurrence.

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The problem is, comments like these don’t get us anywhere.

The Critical Thinking teacher in me thinks it is going into the realms of ‘Ad Hominem’ (attacking the arguer instead of their ‘argument’), which is flawed logic. In many cases it is based on the assumption that this person cannot achieve an ‘outstanding’ lesson themselves, and therefore the judgement they make on the lesson isn’t valid. And finally, ‘Tu Quoque’ is implied to justify a low grade from the observed (basing ones actions on those of another) i.e it’s ok that I got a 4 because they can’t get a 1.

None of these provide solid reasoning why a particular person shouldn’t observe them.

The question is ‘Does it matter?’

  • Does an observer have to be able to teach perfectly themselves in order to evaluate the performance of someone else?
  • If so, how could this work?
  • Should they have to ‘prove’ it to the person being observed?
  • Does this apply to ALL people who observe lessons? Internal and external?

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Firstly, it would seem that teachers want someone credible to watch them and evaluate their teaching (interesting to note a Twitter conversation this morning about students observing, but that’s a whole different blog in itself!). They want to know that what this person is saying they are saying because they know it and have experienced it for themselves.

I mostly agree with this however do believe that there are professionals who have the knowledge about teaching and learning to support and advise but don’t necessarily teach (or have relatively recently taught) outstanding lessons. Think about the advisors, consultants and ‘famous’ educational speakers schools invite in to speak on INSET days. When did they last have full ownership of a class and be responsible for the classes performance and outcomes? But schools still pay them thousands of pounds because what they ‘say’ is knowledgable, comes from experience and rings true. They might not have actually taught for years but we give them credibility for this enhanced expertise.

So if people insist that the person watching them is an outstanding practitioner, how would this ever work?

Internal observations

This would seem to be the easiest to fulfil. A school would have the rule:

‘You can’t observe any other teacher unless you have been observed teaching an outstanding lesson in the past X weeks/months’.

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Let’s think about the practicalities of this.

A highly respected colleague of mine, suggested that SLT should have an ‘open door’ policy on their lessons and that these should be models of good practice. All SLT therefore would have to be outstanding teachers. Shouldn’t be a problem, but what about those that don’t teach? Some Heads do not teach. Would you make them teach a random lesson? Does that count? Surely cynics would then say ‘Its easy to pull off ONE lesson, how about teaching a full timetable?’. In fact this is the same for all SLT. Many teachers claim the reason that they do not teach consistently outstanding lessons is due to the pressures of time. Doing a ‘one off’ lesson isn’t enough to prove you are an outstanding teacher over time.

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But it’s not just SLT that teach. What about all the observations for trainees, NQTs, PM, peer and departmental? These could only be done by outstanding teachers. Some schools would be fine. Others would probably not get any observations done at all!

External observers

The big problem.

How can practising Ofsted inspectors ‘prove’ they are an outstanding practitioner?

I believe that the Ofsted agencies are looking for new recruits who are currently working in a school. Note, currently working in a school, not currently teaching! Maybe this recruitment could balance teacher’s desires to have someone who seems more credible watching them.

It is also very interesting to note that @kennygfrederick told me that these agencies will not accept SLT applicants that have worked in a school which has been in a category. This is fascinating (another blog!) but I’m not sure if it is an effective solution to making inspectors more credible. Some of the best practitioners are drafted into schools that are inadequate so to tar them seems incredibly unfair. Just because someone works in a successful school does not necessarily make them credible in observation, especially if their responsibility in school isn’t directly linked to observations.

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In a discussion with @RoyWatson-Davis, we highlighted that ASTs and Excellent teachers seem to have the perfect credentials for observing. The problem is, that if you start taking out the best teachers from schools to observe and inspect, what happens to the overall standards in schools? The whole point of an AST was to stay in the classroom.

Would we have enough Ofsted inspectors if we put in measures to ensure they are outstanding practitioners? How would we ‘test’ them? Is a ‘one off’ outstanding acceptable or do they need to get an outstanding once a week or once a month? It seems that to actually implement this would be incredibly laborious.

Does it matter?

If we look to other professions and practices that may involve some form of observation it would seem not.

alex ferguson

Can Alex Ferguson play football for 90 mins, scoring goals and/or defending his half? Probably not, but he knows what a good player ‘looks like’. He knows what makes a good player, the skills required and how to develop these in an individual. He has the expertise and credibility needed and so it doesn’t matter if he can’t actually play himself. His observational skills are so refined he can probably pick out the small things that players do that make them an overall good or bad player.

I’m not sure this situation is completely analogous but gives some support to the suggestion that maybe someone that observes does not need to be outstanding themselves or at least doesn’t have to show it, to be credible.

The solution?

The problem is, I don’t think the people who use these phrases really care if the observer can teach an outstanding lesson or not. It’s used as a defensive phrase. Even if an observer were to turn up with copies of their own outstanding lesson observations I still think they’d make a different reason to criticise their credibility.

Essentially it comes down to people not liking observations and this comes from bad experiences, almost certainly where ‘outstanding’ hasn’t been achieved or the observer has caused stress or upset.

So my solution is, if you’re working in a school and you organise observations bear in mind that observers should be credible in teaching and learning in some way.

As to Ofsted, the same applies with everything else they do, you just have to ‘put up’ with it.