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