The Goldilocks Approach to Feedback and Marking

It might have been one of the new Principal’s more radical decisions, but she was convinced that the teacher recruitment crisis necessitated innovative and unusual solutions. There had been some disquiet amongst parents when she appointed the first woodland creature, although Miss Tiggywinkle had proven a popular choice amongst the students who had selected Textiles, but by the time the three bears took on the English department most parents tended to agree that their mix of clear explanations and threats of savage, bloody violence was just what the school needed.

Goldilocks had been preparing her Controlled Assessment on Of Mice and Men and was keen to receive some feedback on her key paragraph about the treatment of Crooks. Initially she approached Papa Bear: he liked students to feel that he was in charge and was always prompt and direct with his feedback. Goldilocks trusted his opinions and wanted to see what he thought of her efforts. When he returned the work the next lesson she read it eagerly:

Papa bear

Goldilocks blushed as she read it.  Papa Bear seemed to have really liked her work and appreciated the amount of work that she had put into her draft. But Goldilocks was an ambitious student and wanted to get the highest possible mark and, after looking at Papa Bear’s feedback, she wasn’t really all that sure what she needed to do now.  How could she make it even better?

Mama Bear might not have been as confident as her husband, but the one thing all the students agreed on was that she cared for them and would spend a long time marking their work. Goldilocks looked at her feedback from Papa Bear and thought maybe Mama Bear would give her some better ideas about what she needed to do. Making sure Papa Bear didn’t notice she crept up to Mama Bear and gave her a copy of her paragraph on Crooks.  Mama Bear promised to skip lunch and get some feedback to Goldilocks that afternoon.

On her way to registration Goldilocks picked up her work and, whilst Chicken Licken called the register and set up an experiment on gravity, she scrutinised the work Mama Bear had returned:

Mama bear

Well, thought Goldilocks, she had certainly made some very detailed comments. She had set Goldilocks some targets about what she needed to do so as soon as she got home she sat down to improve her work.

After reading the comments Goldilocks was clear about what she needed to do, but the more she thought about it the less certain she was about exactly what she needed to do.  She found some quotations, but she wasn’t really sure what ‘look at the language and form of those quotations’ really meant.

Goldilocks had one last chance.  Baby Bear was quite a young teacher and seemed to spend a lot of time working with individual students rather than watching the class like Papa Bear or chatting to individuals like Mama Bear. When she handed over her work Baby Bear said he’d look it over and get back to her with some ideas about what she could do.

The next morning Goldilocks collected the work at the start of the lesson and glanced it over:

Baby bear

At first Goldilocks was confused. Why had Baby Bear written questions on her draft? Surely that wasn’t any use to her as she needed answers about how to improve. She slammed down her pen in anger.

But Goldilocks was an eager student and really wanted to do well so she read the feedback carefully. As she read it she began to think about what Baby Bear was asking and realised that this was making her think about what she needed to do to improve her work. She thought of some quotations and started thinking about the words: why had they been chosen? Soon she realised that she felt confident about her work and knew where she was heading: the best possible grade she could manage.

She knew that, for the rest of her time in the class, she would always ask Baby Bear to look at her work.  His feedback, she thought, was always ‘just right’.

Learning and Teaching – What we are doing at Montsaye Academy

This is the introduction to our first Learning and Teaching Journal – The Montsaye Approach:

This is a great time to be a teacher. After years of graded observations and fads that suggested every lesson needed to be differentiated for every single student or that we needed to plan lessons that always incorporated the three – or even seven, eight or nine – differing learning styles we are returning to an environment where professionals are trusted to act professionally.

Ofsted has been blamed for much of the nonsense that has been purveyed as ‘advice’ over the last few years, although I think that much of this was really driven by Senior Leadership Teams trying to second guess what Ofsted wanted to see.  This month Ofsted has released an update on the Inspection Handbook for School Inspectors that says that they will:

  • Review … how Ofsted reports are written to avoid creating ‘fads’ in certain practices

This seems a pretty unequivocal invocation for teachers to do what they think is best. John Hattie, a professor of Education from New Zealand – more of him later in this bulletin – says that the most important thing for a teacher is to ‘know thy impact’: don’t do what you think is right, do that which you can prove makes a difference.

This is definitely not a suggestion that we should not have concern for what we have learnt about teaching over the last twenty years of increasing prescription, but it is a plea to keep asking ourselves WHY we are doing it not HOW we should do it. Our lessons should:

  • Have a good pace for learning
  • Allow for all learners in the class to make progress
  • Intrigue and engage from the start
  • Share in an appropriate manner the learning objectives
  • Regularly check the progress made by all students
  • Be characterised by outstanding relationships

But, of course, the way that we do this cannot be standardised and is dependent upon the students, the subject and the topic. And, of course, the teacher.