Posts tagged ‘Homework’

Sharing Good Practice: Marking for Feedback and Improvement

We had one of the best, if not The Best department meeting last night. There was one item on the agenda, which lasted for the whole hour: marking for feedback and improvement. And the reason why it was the best was that we spent the hour looking at all sorts of examples of our own practice, identifying the good practice and discussing how we could improve. The collaborative approach meant we could share the difficulties we found, and suggest ways together of overcoming these, so that our feedback became productive for pupils improvement.  The photos shown on here are just mine, but attempt to cover the areas of discussion we had.  I know I haven’t got it right yet, so by the end of the meeting, had an armful of strategies to try.

The school policy is for a comment mark using (what went well, even better if, comment), and in maths the regularity of this is once a fortnight in years 7-9 and once a week in years 10-11.  Assessment feedback is included in the comment marking, and most of our team use home work as a comment mark, with occasional class work being comment marked.  Using home work creates its own issues with pupils not completing it, or handing in late etc, but the focus here is purely on the feedback and improvement.

IMG_5449The biggest thing we noticed was that in a good chunk of the samples, the teacher was working harder than the pupil, or the amount of teacher feedback compared to pupil response.  We were doing our best to give quality feedback, but the resulting effort of the pupil was minimal and meant our feedback wasn’t doing it’s job in helping pupils improve.  So as well as dealing with the pupils’ effort, we went on to discuss methods of giving concise and effective feedback.  We discussed giving target or question codes, and then projecting the questions for each code for the pupils to complete, as suggested by @shaun_allison in his blog classteaching and in his book with @atharby Making Every Lesson Count (great book – I’m really enjoying reading). A second idea was to use @Missbsresources Dirt Bank, and start creating our own to share, where pupils have a guided question, followed by a similar question without scaffold.  Again, these could be projected, or printed out for the pupils. This would also help with the pupils who immediately put up their hand to say they don’t understand, and give some of the responsibility back to them to read through and think about what they are doing.


The quality of the improvement comment by the pupil was discussed. Clearly saying that they were going revise a topic by a certain method does not mean they actually will, so did we follow up?  And then there were the pupils who didn’t even complete the .com (could this have been because they were absent) and how do we follow up with this? It was discussed about training pupils how to use the process, and this must involve both modelling to them and providing examples and good improvement work.


We talked about our assessment feedback sheets, and who should write the http://www.  Normally, the teacher does, but as we give the pupils the question level analysis, should pupils be scrutinising the objectives and picking out what went well themselves, rather than the teacher repeating writing them out.



For home work marking, an idea from a teach meet was to have a printed out list of the objectives you were assessing, and to tick those that went well, again to save the teaching keep writing them out, thus giving more time to focus on the even better if.



There was the question of signposting the .com as well. We do use green pens for this, but there were several examples where it wasn’t clear where the .com was, for example when a green pen hadn’t been used and improvement work was on the initial piece and not underneath.


We looked at examples where improvement work had been highlighted to guide pupils to what they need to improve, with guidance in the ebi. There were also examples where the ebi might just have been a question number, but when you look at that question, further guidance was given at that point, rather than in the official ebi part.

Another part of the discussion we had was when was the best time in the lesson to do the feedback and the .com.  I’ve always done it at the start of the lesson, but it does cause an issue of getting drawn out and having to provide further work for those that complete it, before we’ve even begun the lesson.  The argument for using the start of the lesson is that pupils need the feedback and improvement time before they can move onto the next part of the learning. We have agreed to try the .com at the end of the lesson instead. I’m still getting my head round how this will work with the flow of learning, for example when feeding back on an assessment, I wouldn’t like to start the new topic first, then return to the previous topic to do some improvement work. However, the idea is to improve the focus of the response, and having a limited amount of time should spur pupils on, especially if it is before a break or lunch time!

So we ended up with a list of good practice in an attempt to improve how pupils respond to our feedback. It may seem really obvious to other teachers, but it gives a boundary of consistency across the department:

  • When marking, go back to previous .com to ensure follow-up
  • In ebis, highlight when pupils are being told what to do in their .com e.g. correct Q2 etc.
  • Ensure students signpost in .com when they have done follow-up work elsewhere.
  • Put a selection of questions on board and use a code in pupil’s book so they then complete the correct question in their book.
  • Follow-up questions to complete as part of .com
  • Make sure work is dated (either start of piece of work or in the feedback).
  • Use 10 mins at end of lesson for .coms to increase pace and ensure completion to high enough quality before they pack away.
  • Use mini post-its in books where .coms are not completed so pupils can be kept behind to do so.
  • Give detentions were pupils refuse to complete .coms.


With week 3 of the #MTBoS blogging challenge we are thinking about questioning.  And this did get me thinking, as verbally I know how I question pupils, but with written questions, whether it is class work, home learning or assessment, I hadn’t reflected much on the process.  Yet as I got thinking about it, I realise I do have my particular ways, developed through experience and doing my best to read around other teacher’s practice and experience, as well as latest education news.betterquestions

Starting with verbal questioning, it’s fairly staright forward to me. I want to find out what pupils know, facts and processes, and why they know that. When working through a problem whole class, I direct questios to pupils, and different pupils will get different questions from me, depending where they are in the learning process. I might ask one pupil a closed question to see whether they can recall certain aspects, whereas another pupil I might want to elicit further understanding from them.  My favourite question is probably “why?”.

Onto classwork, I begin with the objective of the lesson and what I want students to be able to do by the end with their learning. I don’t often make up my own questions – quick practice questions I will do, but the deeper, thoughtful questions I search around my usual haunts until I find the questions which suit. We have electronic text books, so I may select questions from these, or use websites such as Don Steward’s Median, Resourceaholic, Teachitmaths (subscription) or Mathspad (subscription), and not forgetting TES resources.

I also keep in mind the SOLO taxonomy, so that the questions I give the students can develop from single knowledge questions, bringing in extra skills, through to problem solving questions, which may link to other areas of mathPlotting Graphss. Take area of shapes, for example.  Questions would start with practising using the formula to find the area of the shape, then it might be finding a length, given the area, fidning the area of compound shapes, developing through to a problem solving question, which involves other areas of maths, for example fractions.  I use a bronze, silver, gold, platinum system to identify the level of difficulty in the questions.  Bronze would start with the basics we covered in whole class work, and each new section would involve something extra the pupils would have to think about. I often give a minimum number of questions to answer from each section, depending on whether it is a totally new topic to the group or not.  The Plotting graphs example attached starts with the basic y = mx + c graphs that we worked through as a class, and develops into different forms of the equation, where pupils have to think about what the equation is saying.

Measures HLFor home learning, I section my questions into the three areas of the new curriculum, fluency (I call it skills practice on the home learning), reasoning and problem solving.  There are more questions on the fluency section, as a primary focus, but I think it’s important that students are exposed to the reasoning and problem solving questions. My question choices are by no means perfect, and the reasoning and problem solving do cross over, but it’s a starting point I am developing from.  The example is a home learning for Metric and Imperial Measures.  For reasoning questions, one of @mrbartonmaths diagnostic-questions is good for pupils to explain their choice from the multiple answers on offer. These questions are carefully set by Mr Barton to help reveal misconceptions.

Finally, when it comes to assessments, for KS3 (11-13 yr olds), we have bought into a scheme that provides the assessments. With the quick change over of the curriculum, and no permanent head of department, it seemed best to start from something already written, and tweak as we go along.  And oh how I’ve tweaked.  I’m a devil for looking through assessments and thinking, that’s not what I want! I believe our end of unit assessments (a 20-30 minute assessment every 2 weeks), should be assessing what the pupils have learnt.  At a previous #mathsconf, I attended a session on assessment by @kris_boulton, which was very informative, particularly about defining the domain of what your teaching – the assessment should then cover, as much as possible, this domain.  Although teaching should focus on the domain, it isn’t restricted, so can go further.   Assessment goes in the same categorise as the home learning for me, but not explicitly split into sections. There needs to be some knowledge and skills questions, and there also needs to be the questions that use the skills in more implicit ways.

I think I have changed all my spellings of questioning, as I’m very much inclined to put a double n into the word! Please forgive any I missed!




Home Learning

For the past 3 and a half terms I’ve been thinking far more deeply about home learning. Three reasons for this; firstly we have no set structure for home learning in maths at my school, except for it to be set on a periodic basis (differing for KS3 and 4) and it is assumed it will be comment marked. Then, I was receiving very poor quality home learning, if any, from some groups, which I needed to deal with.  Finally, my son started in year 2 last September and was given weekly numeracy and literacy homework, which started many a conversation with fellow parents of year 2, conversations which are still going into year 3.

I have read overviews of Hatties research, particularly from @guruheadteacher here.  It makes sense to me regarding the impact of homework on different age groups, and reinforced my own personal opinion that homework in primary school isn’t necessary.

Last year I experimented with different types of home learning. Not great for consistency for the pupils, but it did give me ideas of what worked well and I could take forward. My own philosophy in home learning is that it must be able to be done independently and I must be able to give a specific reason for setting that home learning.  The difficulty with the assumption that the home learning would be comment marked was that those who didn’t hand it in didn’t get feedback, and so couldn’t make improvements in their understanding and work.

Before I get to what I have ended up with this year, below is a summary of what I tried.

Topic Exercise

This is made up of a question on each area of the topic we had covered since the last home learning. It would include a problem solving question and a literacy question where possible.  I’d put in challenge questions, which weren’t compulsory, and include past exam questions for GCSE groups.

Pros: pupils got practice of a range of of skills learnt in the topic

Cons: with such a range of questions, it’s more difficult to focus on areas where improvement could be made and more pupils would leave sections blank, rather than attempting questions, as they couldn’t remember the mathematics from a few lessons ago

Basic Skills

A set of questions based around the basic skills scheme that we use on a fortnightly basis. Questions would be set from where I’d seen difficulties and were levelled, so each pupil would have the same level as they were working on in class. Types of question would be repeated for 3-4 home learnings to allow pupils to refer to and act on feedback for the next home learning.

Pros: there was clear improvement from pupils week on week as they used feedback to inform them.

Cons: it was disconnected to what we had been learning in lessons

Takeaway Home Learning

Inspired by Ross McGills book and directed to the the takeaway home learning by my supportive Assistant Head, who has responsibility for T&L, I put together my own takeaway home learning. I didn’t want to over complicate the set up as the aim was for pupils to produce a quality piece of home learning.

Pros: more home learning was handed in, and different styles used to consolidate understanding of the skills the pupils had been learning; feedback from SEN department was that it was more accessible for their pupils.

Cons: I had put a questions choice in their, and some pupils were quickly and badly answering that section, rather than create their own takeaway home learning.

Practice questions

These were different to the topic exercises as the questions were based on what the pupils had just been learning in the last 1-2 lessons. There would be repeated questions, gradually getting more complex and the aim was to reinforce the pupils ability and memory for what they had just been learning.

Pros: pupils were using skills that had very recently learned and so the practice was consolidating this. As it was repeated practice on a smaller range of skills, it enabled more effective and focused feedback to pupils.

Cons: if a pupil had struggled with the skill in lessons, then a practice exercise was daunting and occasionally led to a pupil writing that they didn’t understand and not trying anything (although they should have come to see me!!)

Exam Papers

We are provided with past exam papers and practice papers for our Year 11 groups and some of these were to be set as home learning. Strategies such as odd questions only meant that it could be used within the 1 hour weekly home learning slot for KS4.

Pros: pupils were able to get guidance for questions they had struggled on, and use this to improve their answers, and some pupils were independent enough to use maths watch to help revise how to answer certain types of questions.

Cons: using exam papers for home learning meant that I didn’t then have them to use in lesson time, and sporadic completion of the exam papers meant that some pupils were (wilfully) missing out on a valuable resource.

Cheat Sheet

I would set this home learning if I was going to assess pupils on a particular topic the next lesson.  Pupils home learning would be to prepare a cheat sheet on that topic – what information, facts, methods etc. would they write down to take in an exam with them, if they were allowed.

Pros: it allowed pupils to write down information, and choose specifically what they thought would be useful.  They were allowed to use this sheet in their assessment, so they had something to refer if they were getting a bit stuck.  I also had a comment that they didn’t need to use their cheat sheet because they had remembered what they had put on it.

Cons: it was a poorly completed home learning, which then meant several pupils weren’t prepared for the assessment.

Prepare some work

I only used this once, so shouldn’t really make any judgements on it, but I did ask one year 10 class to prepare some work on Pythagoras. They’d covered it before in year 9 and we were about to start Trigonometry, so I thought it would be a useful home learning so they’d refreshed their memories before the lesson.

Pros: pupils came to the lesson prepared for the topic, so more lesson time could be used purposefully rather than revising.

Cons: pupils who didn’t do the preparation would need more lesson time to get them up to speed.

Home Learning for 2014-15

Following this, and in keeping with my philosophy for home learning, I’m setting two main types this year. Earlier on in the topic , I set a practice questions task in an aim to consolidate pupils learning. I have been including useful information on the worksheet to help focus pupils. The second type is a takeaway home learning piece, without the option of completing given questions. The aim of this is for pupils to revise the topic and consolidate their understanding in a style they prefer.  I did like the cheat sheet, and it worked well for pupils who actually did it, so I will be setting that sometimes instead of the takeaway home learning.

For marking, I am comment marking the practice questions with www. ebi .com, in line with our school policy. The takeaway home learning will receive a RAG123 mark (and often a short comment from me), but on these home learning due days, I set an assessed task in lesson, which I will be able to give the www. ebi .com feedback on.

The basic skills I now just do as starters for years 10 and 11, very similar to @just_maths bread and butter questions and @corbettmaths 5 a day.

I have set one part of an exam paper so far for Year 11, but saved three questions to complete in exam conditions at the start of the lesson it was due in. I’m also thinking of starting an exam paper in lesson, then setting home learning as completion of it, in a different colour pen.

So far I have seen an improvement of the quality of home learning that is produced, and that implies to me that it is more effective for the pupils completing it.