Whole Class Feedback: Making the juice worth the squeeze

Whole class feedback is a technique used to replace standard written feedback in books. It has a number of advantages to written comments, including the time it takes to complete. If you go online and look for whole class feedback, WCF, sheets you find a number of proformas of various styles like below

I feel like a lot of these proformas lead people down the wrong path with regards to the most impactful aspects of feedback. I get why they were built; to support the thinking and planning of the teacher and provide a scaffold to the students. My worry is they end up focusing the teacher on the least important part of the process, the feedback.

Why feedback is not as important as you think?

Feedback is not the point of WCF. Feedback is like pouring water on sand. Yeah the sand looks different and behaves differently at the start but come back tomorrow and it’s back to normal sand. I’m pretty sure Dylan Wiliam once said “Feedbacks primary job is to change the student” If not then he probably should of because it’s the kind of thing he says. Daniel Willingham famously said “Memory is the residue of thought”. Put these two together and you come to the conclusion that our feedback needs to make the students think to change them. Students being told they need to ‘use a three part sentence’ or ‘vary their sentence starters’ is a superficial act that does little but raise awareness of the issue before moving on. If we are lucky some students will recall that next time and apply it. Some teachers will write a few simple questions that will check students understand this feedback and maybe do an example question. To me this is still not enough.

The problem lies when we see WCF as the completion of the form and the sticking of a copy of the form into the students book. The process of WCF is the aim; raising the teachers awareness of the common traits in the classes work. This information needs to be used to get the maximum improvement out of the students in the limited amount of time given to WCF in class.

So as teachers we need to do a few things, which I have made all start with the letter P:

  1. Prioritise: Find the most important one or two things that are hindering the students and only focus on them.When they get good at them we can then worry about the other things.
  2. Plan: Design structured activities that force the students to think deeply about the problem. This could be a series of questions that interrogate the concept from all directions (eg SLOP), it could be a series of carefully crafted non-examples that need correcting or a replica of a question students answered poorly (just take some tippex to the original question and change a few words credit @ruth_ashbee). 
  3. Proforma: Illustrate the feedback in the simplest way possible. Ensure you can direct the students’ attention to each part at a time. For me this is best done by exemplifying the feedback under the visualiser, so I don’t really have a proforma.

However you choose to do it, the tasks must embody the idea that the students need to think and work on the area of weakness at a challenging level and for an extended period of time to ensure the students are forced to attend to their weaknesses and have multiple attempts at improving it. This is more than the DART or DIRT things of 2013 etc.. this is a carefully planned deep practice of one or two things.

What about SPAG?

All teachers are teachers of literacy and so WCF forms often have space for spellings etc.. To me this might not be the best use of time. To highlight it needs to link to one of the big things you want to work one. Otherwise it’s just a distraction that won’t be recalled. It’s very subject specific. From a science perspective I might highlight sentence structures in methods as these can support performance but not the spelling of ‘effect or affect’ because there are probably bigger fish to fry.

In summary

WCF is a great tool, but like many tools it can have its initial intentions wander as it diffuses through the teaching profession. We are drawn to neat and pretty exemplifications of the concept and as professionals we need to ensure we go beyond the surface features. So make a proforma that works for you, as long you spend most of your time asking yourself “What are students going to do to get better at this”

That’s how you make the juice worth the squeeze

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