Category Archives: Progress

The Feedback Fiasco: Making Feedback More Manageable

Recently there has been a fast flurry of posts focusing on one thing…FEEDBACK! The debate to what extent we should mark and the frequency of this has dominated many a teachers’ mind and left us all in a flutter. Sadly, there is no clear answer and no magic trick that can categorically clarify this conundrum but, there are things that can help…

  1. Star and EBI: When my school first introduced the STAR/EBI marking policy, I was apprehensive. I found it a little patronising and constricting. However, two years down the line and I am a total convert. For me, an overly verbose English teacher, it has radically cut down my marking time by forcing me to make short and concise comments. Students have seemed to get far more from this, by simplifying the comments into just the essential information and cutting out the unnecessary waffle students are far more likely to read, engage and act on the advice give. PLUS, you get to use a stamper!!!
  2. Verbal Feedback: I like to talk which is probably why this one is a favourite. During the lesson I will travel round and give verbal feedback I stamp students work to verify this and ask them to summarise my comments or to act on it in a green pen to highlight the impact of the feedback.
  3. Margin Feedback: Often marking for me takes such a long time because I leave detail comments in the margin as well as a large comment at the end. In a way to save time, only write comments in the margin and make students right a summative comment based on what you have said. Not only does this save you some time, but, it actually ensures that students are reading the comments that you have left. Conversely, only write a summative comment and ask students to write their own margin comments based on what you have written.
  4. Nummrical Marking: Another way of saving time and avoiding repeating yourself throughout marking is to write simple comments at the end of a piece of work and put a number after each comment. Then place numbers throughout the work to correspond with the end comments so students can see where they have made those successes and areas for improvements without out you having to write out the same comment again and again and again.
  5. Checklists: Another quicker approach to marking is to make a checklist of common comments and tick and cross which features they have met, this can still be personalised by adding additional comments but it prevents you from repeatedly writing out common feedback features on loads of students’ work.
  6. Dot Marking: this is from @teachlikeachampion‘s blog, using coloured stickers, as you move round the room looking if students work, put a coloured sticker on their work if you stop an area. This forces students to look through and reflect on their own work and identify their own errors.
  7. + – = Marking: This one I love and sadly, yet again, I can’t take credit as I found it on @learningspy‘s blog. Essentially this involves marking in depth at the start of the unit, but, as students become accustomed to the assessment criteria, just add a plus, minus or equals sign to highlight if they have made progress from their last piece of work. This can also be a good way to respond to students’ improvements in light of the need for there to be a ‘conversation’ between teachers and students in their books.
  8. Peer Assessment: This is an obvious one but is one that can have little value if students are not trained and taught how to do it properly. I spend a lot of time on this with new classes and even spend time marking the feedback at times instead of the actual work. I like to use grids like the one below to help ensure students are able to give effective feedback. Peer Feedback Sheet
  9. Just Mark One: Instead of rushing through a class of 30’s looming pile of essays and giving substandard feedback, sometimes it can be best to mark just one or at least just a couple. These can then be shared with the class and discussed with the class to give a fair understanding of common successes and areas for improvements, students can then apply this by marking their own, or a peer’s work.
  10. Only Mark a Little: Where possible, focus marking on just one small section of a text (especially useful for essay based subjects) to cut down your marking time. Give in-depth feedback on one small section and then ask students to finish off the rest.

And when you’re feeling guilt ridden because you haven’t marked your books as frequently as you might have liked, remember…

“It is the nature, rather than the amount, that is critical when giving students feedback.”

Black and Wiliam (2002)


Learning Questions


Learning objectives are a staple in most classrooms, no teacher alive would dare prepare for a lesson, especially an observation, without their trusty objectives. Teachers are told from training about the value and necessity of the humble objective yet despite these illustrious claims, it is often the part of the lesson that is planned least and valued below all else. I admit to being a teacher who, until recently, felt this way.

 Despite appreciating the logic behind objectives, I had always found these to be the part of the lesson that I looked forward to least, an arduous hoop that I woefully had to jump through. I couldn’t see quantifiable evidence that students were better informed or better educated in lessons where objectives were used. As a result, I often sped through them with utter haste and indifference, making a quick and cursory query of ‘do you understand?’ before moving on as fast as a could.

For me, it felt like the Emperor’s New Clothes, everyone proclaiming their brilliance without questioning the naked man prancing before their eyes. Rarely did teachers ask and consider whether learning objectives were actually benefiting students, instead just blindly following because it was the ‘thing to do’ and to raise a question in defiance would be to open yourself up to scorn and derision. As a result of this blind, unquestioning adherence to the expectation of objectives, they became, often, valueless. All it takes for bad teaching is for good teachers to do nothing.

Despite my former feelings I do now value the objective, what I question is teachers blindly following crazes without seeing the value, doing so means they do it with little care and attention which turns something useful and effective into something inconsequential. It is important that teachers are reminded of the key reasons why objectives are used and are free to personalise them in their own way to ensure they are used properly. For me, that came by shifting from learning objectives to learning questions. 

David Didau of the Learning Spy blog explains, objectives are vital for two reasons:

“Firstly, they ensure that teachers are clear about the purpose of the lesson before they begin thinking about all the fun they want to pack into them. Secondly, they provide a very useful signpost against which progress can be checked”

I found many useful techniques on David Didau‘s blog on how to improve the use and delivery of objectives and these did help in making them more successful and engaging for students but frequently I still struggled to see their worth in terms of a students’ development and how they were benefiting my lessons and my learners. 

In an attempt to make learning objectives more purposeful I attempted to change these, at times, complex statements full of arbitrary and, for learners, often confusing terms like ‘analyse’ ‘understand’ evaluate’ into simple, into direct and simple questions.


By the end of the lesson:

  • All students will analyse how Curley’s wife has been presented in section 4 of ‘Of Mice and Men’
  • All students will understand why Steinbeck has presented her in this way.
  • All students will consider how the audience will view her.

I would vary my use of objectives, depending on the task I would sometimes differentiate them and, where timing proved possible, I would return to them at the end and asked students to reflect on how well they felt that they met these targets. However, I was always conscious that not all my students really engaged with what the objectives really meant and their reflections at the end were more to placate me rather than to really think about what progress they had made.


By the end of the lesson all students will be able to answer:

  • How has Curley’s wife been presented in section 4?
  • Why has Steinbeck presented her in this way?
  • How will the reader view her?

Twisting this from a statement to a question helps to simplify the content and illuminates the key message that the objective is trying to convey. Similarly it can be a greater motivator, here is a question that students’ cannot answer but they are encouraged to believe that very soon they will. By returning to the learning questions at the end and rigorously asking students these questions and probing deeper you directly prove to students that they have learnt something, that this lesson has progressed their understanding in some way and this motivates them even further.

Whether its objectives or questions, think about the value of what we are trying to do here and target that. Only when we focus on the benefits to our students and their learning, rather than conforming to educational edicts, do such vital strategies reach their full potential.

My Experiences with Relay Races


questioning students is a vital way of helping students to demonstrate their learning and is a constant skill to be tested. However asking students to answer questions is inherently boring. Fact. As a result of this I am constantly looking at ways to put a spin on formulaic questioning and come up with more creative and energetic way to identify students’ progress.

Pone of my favourite spins on questioning is rely races. Students are placed into small groups and divided into the following roles:

  • Ruler
  • Reader
  • Writer
  • Runner

Appointing roles is a good way of ensure that all students remain on task during the activity. The Ruler is the team captain and is in charge with motivating the group and keeping them on task. The reader must read out and explain the question, the Writer must consolidate the groups’ ideas and write the answer and the Runner delivers the answer to the teacher (more on that later).

Once students have been arranged into their roles they are then given a stapled pack of paper. On each sheet of paper is a question, students must then work through the pack and the first team to complete all of the questions will win a prize or some sort of reward. I know what you’re thinking, that’s far too easy! How ever, before students can move onto the next question, the Runner must take their answer to the teacher who checks it and then rips off the current sheet thus allowing students to move on to the next question.


I won’t lie to you, it gets rather hectic and chaotic, which is probably exacerbated by my  constant cajoles and and shouts of ‘my Grab moves faster than that’ and ‘call that running’. I have used this a few times and still the moat extreme reaction to this has been the student who was so excited yell ‘I CAN’T STAND THIS, I GONNA WEE MYSELF!’

Overall, this is a chaotic take on the convention questioning that massively engages students. Makes a bit of a mess though…

image image

My Experiences with Treasure Hunts


Last night on Twitter I saw a post from @ASTsupportAAli about an activity that his students had used during a student led lesson: Treasure hunts! I was instantly hooked by the idea and determined to re-plan my lesson to incorporate it. I decided to trial it with my Yr 13 Law class to revise a topic on Insanity that we had just finished before moving on to the next area of study. The class is small which made this more manageable and they’re a class I know would really love a competitive challenge like this.

I developed 8 key questions to test students’ knowledge on the 3 parts of the definition and the key cases. These were:

  1. Name all 8 cases needed for this unit
  2. What is the facts and legal point in Johnson?
  3. What are the two ways D may not know the nature and quality of their act?
  4. Which of these is NOT insanity and why: Hennessy, Clarke,Quick or Johnson
  5. Name a case and describe the facts of a case that demonstrates how physical diseases can constitute insanity.
  6. What are the facts and legal point in Clarke?
  7. What is the definition of insanity?
  8. What case defined insanity and what happened in this case?

Two copies of each question were printed out on coloured card and then hidden in places around my classroom and other near by areas.

I then developed clues that would give students hints as to where all 8 of the questions were. For example…




When students came into the lesson they were placed into two equal groups of three. Both were given the first clue and told that the first team to find all the questions would be the winner and get the ‘treasure’. The first clue led them to a question hidden under some chewing gum covered desks, to enable them to get the next clue they had to return to me with the question and correctly answer it. If students got it wrong, they were sent away to find the answer and could return and try again. Only when the students had correctly answered the question, in depth, was the next clue finally relinquished.

Excitement levels quickly rose as students got closer and closer to the last question and despite this being an all female class, there was some very unladylike behavior!!! It was a roaring success with students animatedly running around the room searching for clues or Law books to help them answer the questions. Engagement aside students also commented on how it helped them to solidify their understanding of the key parts of this defence in a quick, high pressured situation which would be good preparation for their exams.


This worked well due to the small class size. I plan to try this again with younger students but, to make it more manageable, I will give different clues in different locations on different coloured paper for each group to avoid bottling necking and chaos. Conversely, I may attempt it as a whole class activity in which the clues are discussed and one person retrieves the question based on who correctly solves the clue etc.

A thoroughly enjoyable lesson idea that I cannot wait to try again. I would recommend to one and all!!

Making Progress Visible in Lessons


Progress (Noun): “Progress is the growth, development or continuous improvement in an area or skill. To progress means to advance your knowledge or understanding in some way”

It is a well established principle that in every lessons students must make progress. Though Ofsted has dropped the ‘rapid’ they still make it abundantly clear that students must develop or improve, at least in someway, in every lesson and to fail in this undertaking is to relegate us to the depths of ‘requires improvement’.  The burden, therefore, falls on us teachers to make this visible to all people who cross the threshold of our classroom. However, Ofsted and observations aside, visible progress is essential in ensuring students are encouraged and engaged. Visible progress can be motivational as students can see: where they are; how far they have come and how far they have to go and it allows students to see that there is a point to their lessons.

So, here are my top tips for making progress visible to one and all!



Students are offered 4 different short tasks (on different coloured paper) to do based on what they have just learnt or it could be as a starter based on what they learnt last lesson.

  • Students can pick which level they start off on.
  • Students can then ‘move up’ the tasks as their learning/confidence progresses.
  • This allows differentiation and marks progress by showing teacher and student what level the student is working at,

The different colours:

  • Pink: Gives the basic skills/demonstrates the basic information
  • Yellow: Allows the skill to be explored in more depth/greater complexity
  • Green: Are the more difficult, adventurous tasks
  • Purple: Are the extreme tasks that require expert knowledge. These should be very aspirational tasks that only 1-2 students are able to do.


If a student successfully completes a purple task they then become “experts” and help others around the room. Experts can be marked by: sunglasses, headbands or badges so they can be easily identified in the classroom and to highlight their success as a reward.

Progress Clock:


Place the names/photos of students on a grid on the board depending what coloured tasks they are on,  students move grids as they progress which can be a good visible motivator.


p3These are laminated sheets with a moveable arrow. Throughout the lessons students can move the arrow to which differentiated objective they have met so the teacher can measure how much progress has been made in reference to the objectives.


p5Instead of learning objectives, have learning questions i.e.

By the end of the lesson you will be able to answer:

  • How has Curley’s Wife been portrayed in this scene?
  • How has the theme of prejudice been shown in this scene?
  • How do the audience view Curley’s Wife in this scene?

Short and simple questions are much easier for students to engage with and understand what they are expected to know by the end of the lesson. To make the progress visible, ask students to attempt to answer the questions at the end of the lesson based on what they have learnt.


p6At work, the most meaningful conversations happen around the water cooler, coffee machine or photocopier. Recreate this in your classroom. Have a picture of a water cooler/ coffee machine/photocopier printed on a piece of paper with a question and then ask students to go to different questions and discuss these with peers. If your really kind, you could even provide some refreshments or treats.


p7Students are given a sheet full of questions and asked to find someone in the class who can answer one of the questions on their sheet. The teacher can listen in and ascertain what students know and it is a useful way for students to learn from their peers.


p8At the start of the year place a student’s best piece of work from last year into the front of    their exercise book to demonstrate the progress that they have made over the course of the year.  It is also useful for teachers to see the best piece of work that a student is capable of producing to ensure that they are encouraged to improve from this standard.



  1. Give a students a set deadline i.e. 3 minutes.
  2. Within that time limit, give students a short task to do without any guidance i.e. In 3 minutes, create a simile.
  3. Create a success criteria with a point score.
  4. Students must review their task based on the success criteria and add up their points.
  5. Students are then given a further minute to improve their initial task.
  6. Students must then swap their work with a peer who will assess their work against the success criteria and give students their final score.
  7. The student who showed the most progress NOT the student with the highest score, wins a prize/merit.



Students are given a success criteria and asked to apply it to a model answer of peer’s work, by applying the success criteria and identifying parts of it, they are demonstrating that they understand it.


Picture2Ask students to show you what they have learnt in some visual way by asking students to model something out of Play Dough or foil. This is a good tactile way of students showing what they have learnt and the conversations and discussions generated from students feedbacking their models can often be very fruitful.



A fun way to review progress made is by a game of pass the parcel. When the music stops, the student must answer a question, if they get it right they can unwrap the parcel, if they get it wrong, the parcel will be passed to the next student who will now try and answer the question. It’s a really fun way of revising a topic and answering key questions.



Another fun way to review the learning is to play musical chairs, the student left standing when the music stops must answer a question. If they answer correctly, they stay in the game, if incorrect, they’re out.  All the students who are still in by the end of the game get a reward or prize.


p14This is one my favourites and the students love it too!!! Give students a stapled pack of paper. On each sheet of paper is a question. Students must, as a team, work through the whole pack of questions. However, before they can move onto the next question one student must run to the teacher to check that their answer is correct. If it is not correct, they are sent back to try again at the question until they get it right. This ensures answers are quality checked and students only move on when they demonstrate sufficient progress. The first team to finish all the questions win a prize.


p15Every student is given a pass at the start of the lesson, to enable them to leave they must answer the questions on the pass. Students hand these in to the teacher as the leave to ensure progress has been made by all.


Picture2There are power point versions of many of the best TV game shows, these can be an excellent way to see how much progress has been made in a fun and engaging way for students.



A good way of learning/ revising key terms is through games like Taboo, Pictionary and Blankety Blank. You can also play the YES/NO game where students are asked a range of quick fire questions and can only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’


Picture4Display a letter or word in each corner of the room,  ask students questions and students must run to the correct answer. The first student to get there gets a reward but question students when they have chosen their answer to ensure that they haven’t just ‘followed the crowd’


Picture5Students make a mind map at the start of a lesson/topic summarising everything they know and then continue to add to it throughout a lesson/scheme in a different colour to demonstrate progress throughout a lesson/topic.


Picture6These can either be done physically with the students standing in a line or on with a line displayed on the whiteboard. At one end of the line it is ‘understand fully’, in the middle ‘need more learning’ and at the other end ‘don’t get it!’. You can then either ask them   questions or repeat the learning objectives and ask them to stand near the phrase that is closest to how they are feeling. Alternatively students can use Post-its with the names on and place them on a line on the board.


Picture7Students write a post card to parents summarising what they have learnt in that       lesson/week it not only summarises what they have learnt but engages parents in their progress.


Picture8What’s wrong with this? Give students a piece of work/display something on the board with inaccuracies for them to identify and correct—it is good practice to also pick out what the response has done well too!



  1. Each student is given a card with a question and 4 possible answers on it.
  2. Each possible answer is designed to grasp how well students have ascertained the topic so they will be in different degrees or correctness.
  3. Independently they must select an answer.
  4. There will be four work areas allocated, students must go to the area that               corresponds to which answer they selected.
  5. The groups will then be given a differentiated task based on their ability level which will help to improve their learning even further.


Picture10Different questions or statements are passed around the room and students/groups are able to add their thoughts or responses to it. Each group will respond in a different colour so it is visible what each group understands.


Picture11Students are given a journal separate to their usual exercise book/file. Once a week they are asked to summarise what they have learnt. They can present this summary in any way they like to allow ownership over the journals. These should be marked to ensure their notes are thorough and then added to to show further progress and development throughout the course, though further additions should be done in a different colour to make progress visible.



‘What do you know now that you didn’t know at the start of the lesson?’ Students can respond to this in any way by summarising in writing, diagrams, images etc as long as it outline what they have learnt within the lesson.



Students are given a misconception grid with various statements. Students must choose whether they think it’s right or wrong and how sure they are. They must tick only one box and explain why they feel this way. This will help inform the teacher of what students know and how confident they are in this.

Enjoy making progress visible!!