Jill Carter: Feedback or Rationing

Marker pen swirl blog

If I write a text of any kind and someone said to me ‘Can you develop this?’ I would ask, ‘How?’ or ‘What do you mean?’ and I would hope that they could tell me.  Yet, often, we don’t do this with students. Marking, now known more fashionably as feedback, is hard work, often undertaken last thing at night. It feels like the final hurdle, the thing we have put off because all the other demands have crowded in and pushed it to the bottom of that endless pile of things to do. Consequently, we add comments which may not really help our students, or may even mean that they give up on teacher feedback altogether.  Some students are likely to look at comments like ‘Can you develop interpretation here?’, ‘Is this enough?’ and ‘Can you expand on this?’ and simply answer ‘No.’ Are our comments there to satisfy book-lookers, Ofsted inspectors and learning walkers (who won’t really know how useful these comments are unless they are subject specialists) or are they there to actually help students?

What we need to do, if we can possibly face further self-development, is to ask ourselves what we could say to enable our students to move on. Students need specific, example-led feedback:


Before After
More detail Include details, e.g. the fog adding to the atmosphere
Develop interpretation Does this quotation suggest fear or anger?
Comment on character Does this suggest the character is a victim?
Develop analysis Why is this metaphor effective?


These comments don’t take much longer to write but they do require us to ask ourselves what we are asking of the student.  If we don’t know what to suggest, it means they are very unlikely to know what to add or how to develop their comment.


Another way to ensure that feedback is more worthwhile is to highlight a particular sentence or section of the work and remodel it as part of your feedback. Although this is a lengthier process, it is probably worth the weight of several comments:

Reading / Literature

Student comment: This makes London seem like a very depressing place.

Remodelled: Dickens’ use of this metaphor and other details such as the fog and the cold suggest that London was a very harsh place at the time, especially in winter.


Student comment: The place was dark, damp and depressing.

Remodelled: Finding myself utterly lost, I soon began to realise that this corner of the woods was a shady, eerie and spot.

Encourage students to look back through similar previous tasks when you set an assignment so that they can act on that earlier feedback – all too often we put all that work into marking but, once they have ‘done their corrections’, students never look at it again. Introduce target banks somewhere obvious (back / front of book / folder) in which they write down targets you have set them which could be applied to future work. Use the banks at parents evening and when reports are due so that all interested parties are aware of what the student needs to work on.

As we move towards the new GCSEs, where students will need to show that they can interpret texts, develop a personal response and analyse language and structure with some precision and a new kind of rigour, our feedback will become increasingly apposite to final outcomes.

If this kind of marking seems onerous, just think back to the days of coursework and Controlled Assessments!