Effective Feedback – PAIR marking

Effective written feedback – PAIR marking


I don’t remember much of the marking from my school days; but one ‘grade’ does stick in my head – I once got a D+ for a piece of work in geography. I was gutted, I worked hard in geography and Mr Machin, my teacher, seemed pretty decent or “sound” as I might have said then.

So why does this piece of marking stick so vividly in my head? Well, for one reason it damaged my fragile teenage ego (But really that’s just tough!) but the other reason is simple; there was no explanation for it – I didn’t know why the grade was so low and I didn’t know how to improve it. It was poor marking!


I’ve read a few blogs about marking and the first point I note is that marking really should be called feedback. The purpose of marking is to give feedback to learners to help them assess their progress and make improvements.

 Prof. John Hattie highlights the importance of feedback in his book ‘Visible Learning’ and the Sutton Trust ‘Teacher Toolkit’ corroborates this evidence. The key to feedback though is to get it right. Poor feedback doesn’t help learners and wastes the time of the teacher who writes it.


So what does ‘effective’ feedback (in the guise of marking) look like?

I’ve introduce PAIR marking at my school. PAIR is an acronym, not to be put into books, but as a guide to structure effective feedback.


The P stands for:

PRAISE – this is the most ineffective aspect of marking I see. ‘Good work,’ Well done,’ and ‘Brilliant’ are vague terms that offer no useful feedback to learners. There are some who argue that effective feedback has no room for praise, and to a point, I’m sympathetic to that view. However, praise can be highly effective when it acknowledges personal attributes. To justify this I would point to the work of Carol Dweck who explains that praising for effort and tenacity develops a growth mindset; a belief that you can get ‘brighter.’ Praising the thinking behind the learning can also acknowledge the mental effort afforded to the task.


The A stands for:

ASSESS assessment of the learning (not the task) is critical if the learner is to use the marking to gauge their progress. It is essential that the feedback is accurate and explains reasons behind it; for example – This is effective writing BECAUSE… is better than scribbling  ‘Great writing.’


The I stands for:

IMPROVE – This aspect of PAIR marking presents the student with an opportunity to improve their learning. The teacher offers guidance about improvement so that the student can reach the next step. Phrases such as ‘your next step is,’ and ‘to improve…,’ provide useful starters. I often pose questions to pupils, encouraging them to think about their learning and how they might improve it. Questions are particularly powerful for learners who find it difficult to reflect on their learning by themselves. Short ‘improvement’ tasks to address weaknesses/misconceptions can also be set to be completed at the start of the next lesson. Improvement can be explicit (e.g. ‘to improve…’) or implicit, where a question is posed to promote further thought.


The R stands for:

RESPOND – This is a great strategy to make feedback ‘Stick!’ The chance for the pupils to have their say! Pupils can respond in a number of ways; a signature to acknowledge they’ve read feedback; answer a question posed by the teacher; complete the short ‘improvement’ task; agree or disagree or maybe just a personal response. When pupils respond to marking this creates a learning ‘dialogue’ between the teacher and the learner; highly effective AfL!


What does pair marking look like?

Here is an excellent example of PAIR marking I saw in an English book the other day:


         Great resilience today. As a reader I was ‘hooked in’ because you varied the sentence starters. To improve vary the length of sentences.

‘How can I ‘PAIR’ mark every piece of work?’ 

A very sensible question and that’s never the expectation. I would recommend that 1/3 pieces of work should have every aspect of PAIR marking and for the others pieces use ‘PAR.’

My final piece of advice about marking is to keep it short, precise and meaningful as in the example above.


The Thought Weavers



The Mini-Plenary – Friend or Foe?

It wasn’t until a couple of years into my teaching career that I’d heard of a ‘mini-plenary.’ According to the local authority my lessons should have one. When I asked what that might ‘look like’ in the classroom I was given a garbled response about checking progress half way through the lesson.

“But what if I know that the children are doing just fine – why would I want to stop them?” I asked. The reply was short and sweet and straight to the point; “Because Ofsted want them!”

The ‘mini-plenary’ is very en-vogue at the moment, it’s a bit of an educational buzz-word (phrase) and I can’t remember the last time I made a lesson observation and didn’t see one (Or at least an attempt at one)

The problem with ‘Buzz-words’ in education is that they become so familiar to practitioners that they lose their meaning. They become the Boweneque “super, smashing, great,” feature of the educational world; said so many times the meaning is lost.

Getting back to ‘Mini-Plenaries’ then; they can be very useful. It is however, important to remember the purpose of a ‘Mini-Plenary’ is to:


  1.   Enhance the assessment of the teacher; ensuring the learning is meeting the needs of the learners
  2. Give the learners the opportunity to ask “How am I getting on?”
  3. Challenge the thinking of the learners.
  4.  Assist learners in target setting.
  5. Address whole class patterns of misunderstanding 


Too often Mini-Plenaries are for show; little thought is given to their timings, they become a show and tell session with little evaluative significance and are not intellectually demanding. Even worse, they become a trick to ‘show progress’ to an inspector every ten minutes; if we believe that pupils make progress this often and at this rate then we’re either exceptionally gifted educators or deluded.

Assessment for learning during the lesson should be ongoing; it doesn’t necessarily need a whole ‘slot’ with a ‘wizzy’ name to be useful. Assessment takes place at every stage in the lesson, whether it is with one pupil, a group or the whole class.


Effective Mini-Plenaries

The best Mini-Plenaries (for want of a better phrase) are intellectually demanding;  ask challenging questions of the pupils and ensure that when the learners get back to their task, they apply their new skills and understanding with greater authority and confidence.


 Ideas for the classroom:

  1. ‘Plenary’ questions display – great prompts for the teacher. The students will know they will be expected to respond to them as some point in the lesson – raising expectations.
  2.  Pupil led Mini-plenary – put the ‘Plenary’ questions on to key rings/cards with a ‘group’ leader who will then guide the discussion on each table.
  3. Review the success criteria – Are the prompts effective? How could we make them better?
  4. Peer assessment – students to pick one aspect of the success criteria for their partners/peers to work on.
  5. True or false statements related to the learning. Ask the pupils to move to a specified area of the classroom based on their response. Demand reasoning here!!

Mini-Plenaries are not a foe; the phrase is just over used (We suspect due to Ofsted ‘game’ playing) All of the above ideas should be part of learners’ experience in class, they don’t need a label; reflection is part of the learning process. Ultimately ‘Mini-Plenaries’ are for the benefit of the pupils, not just another box to tick on an observation form.


The Thought-Weavers

Preparing for Ofsted 2013

Last year I gave a presentation at the education show entitled ‘Preparing for Ofsted.’ I sifted through lots of Ofsted reports, founds patterns of ‘behaviours’ and looked for things inspectors seemed to be consistently asking for. I then created a slide show based on my findings.

In February 2013, Ofsted visited my school. As a result I’ve recently updated the slide show and below is the new updated version. I hope it will help you when your visit is due.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/paceanderson/preparing-for-ofsted-2013-v2&#8243; title=”Preparing for ofsted! 2013 v2″ target=”_blank”>Preparing for ofsted! 2013 v2</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/paceanderson&#8221; target=”_blank”>paceanderson</a></strong> </div>

The Though_Weavers

The Ofsted Effect

I visit many schools and talk to hundreds of professionals all of the time. Never far from the conversation is Ofsted. Ofsted worry schools to the point that the whole ethos is to please Ofsted. This is wrong because a school’s ethos should be built around its pupils.

I was listening to Mick Waters just the other week and he talked about ‘Game Theory;’ the idea that organisations adjust their practices because of the coercion of others. He gave the example of the railways. Since privatisation, the government has set train operating companies punctuality targets, in response to this the timetables have been adjusted to allow for more ‘slippage;’ the outcome is simple, journey times are longer but targets are met. A classic case of:

“Hitting the target but missing the point”

Schools are in danger of doing precisely this! The Ofsted game has led to some dubious practices; below are just a few that come to mind:

The learning objective must be shared.

We’re not saying it should never be shared, but for every lesson? Surely great learning is great learning and pupils will know this! We shouldn’t forget that learning is never ‘objective!’ It’s a personal process, it belongs to individuals and groups; it is therefore subjective!

The mini-plenary.

Of course great learners need time to reflect, to think about how it might be used; a chance to ponder. However, I heard a story the other day of a class given just 1m 40s before the first mini-plenary was delivered. Pupils need time to question, discuss and just to get on with learning; they don’t need the teacher stopping them every five minutes to check progress.

The end of curiosity.

I’ve seen too many lessons in the past 5 years where the learning outcome is measured in levels. The message is clear; “no need to be curious or inquisitive, I’ve given you the outcome using an arbitrary numerical level and that’s where we’re all heading.” What happened to wonder? Wondering what the outcome might be, the chance to play, to experiment and take risks. I asked a learner in July what he needed to do to get better at maths and he replied “Get a level 5.” Earlier this year I asked a girl what she was learning in English and she replied “AF5” – she could tell I was bemused. I then asked her why and she replied “to get a level 4.” Needless to say writing for pleasure is not one of her pastimes!

Tick Box Teaching

The arrival of the ‘lesson observation grids’ has done great damage to teaching. Instead of teachers, the danger is we become technicians; just ticking the boxes as we go along and ticking as many boxes as possible when an observer is in. Of course there should be guidance, hints and tips, strategies shared and practice observed but when you’ve seen practitioners shower praise like confetti, include a dozen mini plenaries and share enough differentiated learning outcomes for the entire population you know it’s ‘Tick box Teaching.’

Teaching to the tests.

Ofsted predominantly measure a school by their ‘standards.’ Some argue this is not the case, but I’ve yet to come across a school with 100% level 4s at KS2 who’ve been put into special measures. So along comes the ‘SPaG’ test and hey presto, grammar lessons are back on the menu, the ‘how many pieces of punctuation can you fit in a sentence’ game is played and spelling tests, lots of spelling tests! Some argue that children should have this type of experience, but if they felt so strongly why weren’t they doing it last year?

If we continue down this ‘Game,’ education will lose its heart, writing will be a technical experience marked with levels, learning will become boxes to tick and teachers will become robots who simply deliver the packages of contents…And pupils…I fear for them…

So please, follow your philosophy, don’t be compliant and ensure the children in your class/school enjoy an education fit for their futures.

The Thought Weavers

The Diary of an SEN Kid!

I’m SEN – The Diary of a Low Achiever!

The following blog is a fictitious account and bears no resemblance to any person(s) living or dead. The idea for this blog came from the experiences and interactions I have had over the past 27 years working with both children and adults with Special Educational Needs Disabilities (SEND). I have worked in a variety of settings including: schools, youths groups, deaf clubs and prison (in a teaching capacity may I add)


I write with Pencil
Not in pen
There again
Nor do them
I wonder if they’re SEN?

A Day in the Life of a Special Needs Kid

Hi My name is … well it doesn’t really matter what my name is does it? I’m simply known as the Special Needs Kid, or Level 3, Under Achiever; Slow Mover, Reluctant this… Reluctant that, I even overheard someone calling me a bottom feeder once! Sad, I know!

My dad is (or was last time I saw him) a haulage contractor. He didn’t do very well at school and he told me he was taught by nuns who used to hit him with a ruler because he wrote with his left hand. It’s fair to say that neither of us really like school.

I’m in Mrs Holsgroves’s class 4F, all the groups in school have names – our class are all animals (the groups I mean not the children) I’m surrounded by pandas, giraffes, zebras, koalas and gazelles! I’m in the – wait for it – The Tigers. We’re the group that struggle and need more ‘help’ – Miss thinks that if she calls our group after the strongest and bravest animal, that’ll fool all the others kids into believing that there’s nothing wrong with us.

My group consists of Ryan B, Joe, Ebi (he’s Polish) Sophia, Ahmed (he’s known as SEN and EAL (whatever that means) – I saw it once on a list that Mrs Holsgrove had in her SEN folder, finally there’s me, Joseph Jeremiah Knight everyone calls me JJ. All of us Tigers live on the same housing estate Lime Grove. Apart from Ryan B, we are all living with a single parent.

Mrs Holsgrove gives us different coloured paper to everyone else, Gary Cooke says it’s ’cause we’re thick we have to have ‘Special’ paper. Mrs Zainab our Teaching Assistant says it’s because it’s ‘Dyslexia Friendly’ whatever that means! We get called lots of names when the teacher can’t hear. I’m not thick I just can’t work out my spellings very quickly that’s all.

Last Christmas during our school play I was tidying the class with Catherine Pike, she’s dead clever – top group – Panda.

Mr. Lees the Y6 teacher came in and asked Catherine to look for a cloak that was needed for the school play, she looked everywhere but she couldn’t find it. He then asked me – I was really happy but before I could do anything she looked at Sir whilst pointing at me and she said:
“If I cant find it, he wont!”
Great I thought – now I’m even in the bottom group for looking and finding things !

I’m not in the play this year as I was getting fed up – I love acting and singing but because I find it difficult to read the words as fast as the others I don’t get the parts I like. Two years ago I was ‘Seaweed!’ in Under the Sea. The only bit I get to say is:
“Welcome everyone to our school assembly!”

I’m always taken out of lessons to work with Mrs Zainab and the children from the class below. I don’t like it very much as I get embarrassed because the kids from the class below laugh at me. I miss out on all the good stuff that my class are doing and I miss out big chunks of the learning because I’m out of class when the teacher gives the introduction and I find it hard to catch up. Plus Gary Cooke trips me up and calls me ‘Thicko’ when I stand up to go the ‘Rainbow Room’ with Mrs Zainab. I hate spellings, phonics, handwriting lesson they bore me.

I wish I was up the yard with my dad stripping down a Volvo. I can’t spell but I can weld. Perhaps one day they’ll have a SATs Paper on Metal Fabrication! I could talk about heating steel or burning, cutting and bending angle iron. I could tell them that they could use Propane Gas to burn metal but using an Acetylene torch is much easier.

I wonder if they know that to get great results from welding you should use a mig welder with Argon Gas and a constant wire feed. I wonder if next year they’ll have a comprehension paper on ‘Welding Aluminium?’ I’d be able to tell them to make sure that the surface of the metal is spotlessly clean before you start, as any dust particles could cause impurities in the weld.

Anyway I better stop moaning as Mrs Zainab has just walked in and I’m off for my fifteen minutes of Toe by Toe – guess where? Yeah – The Rainbow Room!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

In the best schools children like JJ thrive! The School celebrate the uniqueness of each child and sees them for what they can do rather than what they can’t”



“What’s the difference between a rut and a grave?”
Answer: The depth of the soil,
This phrase was rather eloquently coined by the American Novelist – Ellen Glasgow in the early 1900s; although it’s over a century old the sentiment is still as fresh as the day it was first written.

Those of you who are teachers will know that the job can sometimes be a series of extreme highs and lows.

The highs occur when the light flickers within the eyes of a child and they say:
“Oh I understand now!”
That ‘Bing’ moment when the imaginary light bulb appears above their head. An additional high point can be when you bump into a former student/pupil and they inform you that their chosen career path was all down to a comment or a bit of advice that you gave them when they were younger. (As you can imagine this can also work the opposite way round and become one of your low points.)

The lows are, all too, familiar to many teachers that I speak to:
An ever increasing workload.
High and sometimes unrealistic expectations of parents.
Demands from the Head Teacher and Senior Management Team.
The ever changing nature of education due to change in government.
Unsupportive colleagues.
‘The Class from Hell!’

So the question is: How can we stay out of the rut, or better still how do you get out of the rut once you have fallen in? Here are a few Thought Weaver suggestions that may help.

1. Talk to colleagues.
Many of the old sayings that our grandparents came out with still ring true today:
‘A problem shared is a problem halved.’
Perhaps if we share the problem a second time that would take care of the remaining half; therefore the problem would be dissipated. It’s always good to get the opinion of another professional whether it be in your own school or another.

2. Try some summer reading.
Some of you may think that books about education are high brow and too academic. There are many out there which are exactly that. However, if you choose wisely you’ll be in for a treat. Here are a few suggestions, they are great for a read or something you can just dip into:

GUY CLAXTON: What’s the Point of School?

This book will help practitioners to reflect on what they feel the purpose of school really is!

IAN GIBERT: Essential Motivation in the Classroom.
A book of brilliant and inspirational ideas to promote intrinsic motivation in the classroom.

IAN GILBERT: Why do I need a teacher when I’ve got Google?
A forward thinking book, considering the changing role of the teacher within 21st Century education

SIR JOHN JONES: The Magic Weaving Business:
Inspirational stories that help capture the essence of why we do what we do!

3. Get on Youtube and be inspired; here are few of the gems we have found!

SIR KEN ROBINSON: Changing paradigms.

SIR KEN ROBINSON: Do schools kill creativity?

NICK VUJICIC: I Love Living Life. I Am Happy.

MATT HARDING: Where the hell is Matt?

BOBBY McFERRIN: A demonstration of the power of the pentatonic

DAVID HOLMES: The Rapping Flight Attendant – Try to love your job this much!

4. Get on Twitter!
We assume that by reading this blog you are already aware of Twitter. However, if you received this link from another source, and as of yet you haven’t got a Twitter account, we strongly suggest you set one up. From our perspective it will be the best continual professional development tool you’ll ever use! It’s easily accessible 24/7, user friendly, highly informative, humorous and more importantly its FREE!

The Thought Weavers.

Personification Poems – about fences?


Following on from our previous blog – Poetry for the Totally Terrified – we’d like to share with you a great ‘practical’ idea to help you, to help the children, become more engaged within poetry. We have tried this idea with children from 7 to 17 and it works! It is also a great fun activity.

The first thing happens within the classroom. Tell the children that we (you as well) are going to write a Personification poem; ask them to read the first six letters of personification and they will soon realise that it spells ‘PERSON.’ Explain that we are going to make ‘seemingly’ inanimate objects come to life; like the toys do within the Toy Story movies.

Ask for a few suggestions of what we could use within our poem: The usual answers are pens, books, tables etc. Usually the items that they see before them. Tell them that today’s topic will be FENCES! The look of bewilderment and total confusion upon the faces of children is to be expected.

Next, take the children into the playground/yard and ask them to go and talk to the fences. You will get the usual: “But sir, fences don’t talk.” Or “This is a silly idea!” perhaps you may get “I’m calling parents because you’re loosing the plot!” Please be assured all these are natural responses.

Then explain that if they manage to hear the fences talk they will get house points, merits, extra playtime/recess etc. It is astonishing how relaxed the fences become and they begin to wax lyrically about their life and what it is like to stand there all day, watching and listening to the world going by.

In our school playground we have three very distinct fences one large, dark green, security fence that goes around the periphery of the school. Secondly a small multicoloured fence that surrounds our early years play area and finally an old wooden fence that that been there since the school first opened forty years ago.

I start with asking the children:

What do the fences hear?
What do they see?
When are they at their happiest? Loneliest?
Do they have any friends? Who are their friends?
Does your fence have a particular accent?
What are they scared of?

It’s amazing what starts to come out once the first child has spoken. ALL of the ideas below are genuine responses from different classes that we have taught over the years.

“My fence says that it hears all our secrets when we are talking to our friends!”
“She loves it when children tickle her tummy with sticks on they way to school.”
“She is scared of the fireworks on Bonfire night!”
“My fence says that the grass tickles her feet in the summer.”
“Mine says that she gets really lonely during the holidays when we’re not here.”
“My fence says that the morning rain is refreshing.”

Next it was decided that each fence had a very distinct personality and accent.
The large security fence spoke with a big, deep voice like a bouncer or a security guard and with arms outstretched says “Come on move back please, there’s nothing to see here.”

Where as the small multicoloured fence was a rather precocious show off. “Look at me and all my pretty colours I am by far the loveliest fence that anyone could ever meet!”

Finally, the old wooden fence was the wise old aunt or uncle that had seen it and heard it all. Always with a kind word and never once was disrespectful towards the other fences, realising that each one has its own place and purpose in life.

This is a great activity for a number of reasons:
A great speaking and listening activity; with the fear of getting it wrong is eradicated.
Gives the children the opportunity to show empathy.
It makes poetry real and accessible
It provides a great stimuli for writing.

Have a go – you and the children will love it and we’d really like to read some of the children’s poems when they have written them.

Cheers Lee & David
The Thought Weavers