How do you turn book monitoring into a developmental exercise?

William (1998), Hattie (2008) and EEF (2018) all identified feedback as one of the key influencers on student attainment. Do note I say feedback not marking. I whole-heartedly believe that the quality of feedback and students responding to it is the single most impactful thing in teaching. How do you monitor it though? How do you avoid book looks being all about teacher marking and performative box ticking and make it about the impact? You look for it.

In my previous blog I mentioned our latest book look. Here I would like to reflect on the book look journey I have been on with my faculty over the last couple of years. First of all, a bit of semantics: are you the book look or work scrutiny kind of person, dear Reader? Words matter. Any monitoring must be developmental and non-judgemental. Obviously, if concerns are spotted then they must be addressed through the appropriate school procedures but the starting point should always be about staff development.

In September 2019 when I took over the faculty, knowing from my predecessor that feedback needed attention as it was inconsistent across the faculty, I delivered training to my team on what good feedback looks like sharing some examples of books. I wanted to ensure we all had a clear idea what to aim for. The main focus was instilling the importance of students responding to feedback as opposed to teachers marking loads. My mantra was for every minute you spend marking, your students should spend at least 5 minutes improving their work.

With this in mind, we discussed what we wanted to see in books such as examples of peer and self assessment, marking for SPaG since most of our students are EAL learners and most importantly, students responding to teacher feedback. We developed a feedback form which focused on those areas and started doing book looks every three weeks, each monitoring period focused on a different year group. I and my deputies would pop into lessons, look at a few books and talk to the students about their work in the books. It was meant to be student-informed and easy on the teachers in terms of workload. The teacher would then receive a feedback form with suggestions or questions to reflect on in order to develop their feedback practice further. For those who needed more support, we suggested trying out specific strategies while those at the expert level were given reflection questions. Whenever we spotted an example of good practice, we would either take a photo of it and share it or ask the teacher to talk about their strategy in the faculty briefing.

As time went on the quality of feedback has improved and the teachers were seeing the impact of students acting on their targets with books showing students making progress over time. In response to this positive change, we chose to rewrite the form changing the focus from the teachers to the students. Afterall, we wanted the students to be doing the majority of the work. We also thought hard about making this as developmental for the teachers. We considered different ideas and decided to invite staff to join us on the book look.

We are lucky enough that as a faculty we are free on Wednesday P1 so I invited everyone to join us for this optional book look. I was pleasantly surprised that almost all teachers chose to attend. Staff brought their books in and worked in pairs, reflecting on the questions on form and completing it for their partner. We also asked them to pick out examples of best practice and anything else they liked about the books. This format allowed the teachers to reflect on their thinking behind feedback in conversation with a peer. For example, someone pointed out that a piece completed by the students showed considerable improvement because prior to the task, the teacher reminded students of their areas for development based on their prior work and showed them models they looked at previously. Although there was no marking directly before the piece, students were improving their work based on feedback. Without the teacher narrative, this would have been missed. 

After 10 minutes of looking at each other’s books, we all stood around a big table and shared the effective practice we found. Some staff liked the success criteria tick sheets breaking down literary analysis into microskills, others pointed out great strategies used by teachers to hold students to account such as making them improve work in a different colour pen while someone else pointed out the very easy strategy  of students writing their previous target above their next piece to ensure they remembered to act on it. All books were different and showed off the individual style of each teacher but also all books showed students making heaps of progress. The whole process took no more than 20 minutes but the buzz in the room and enthusiasm it generated was tangible for the rest of the week. Staff felt inspired and reassured they had autonomy to feed back however they wanted as long as the students were making progress over time.

References

Black, P. and Wiliam, D., 1998. Inside the black box. London: School of Education, King’s College London.

Education Endowment Foundation (2018), Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit. London: Education Endowment Foundation. DOI: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit

Hattie, John. 2012. Visible learning for teachers: maximizing impact on learning. Harvard (18th ed.).

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