A Level Secondary

All Secondary – Improving essay feedback in the classroom!

Anyone who teaches an essay based subject will know how frustrating it is to spend hours writing comments on students’ work, only for them to look at the grade and then crumple the work up in their bag. There it will often stay along with the model answer which they will eventually lose. Although time is limited to get through the specification, I am trying to spend more time on useful essay feedback in class.

I share assessment objectives with my classes and sometimes get the students to peer assess each other’s work based on the mark schemes. However, for the longer essay questions, I find that the mark schemes are rather too vague for students to do this effectively. Instead I have listed below some very simple, but practical techniques which have worked for my students.

  1. When I give out model answers (either written by myself or a student) I ask the students to use different colour pens to highlight names; concepts and evaluation points. Sometimes I get the students to do this on their own or a classmate’s essay.
  2. While model answers can be very useful, they put too much focus on the teacher doing the work not the student. I will therefore often give out a model answer with an introduction, conclusion or paragraph missing, which the students then have to write themselves.
  3. Sometimes I give out excellent student essays to whole classes. I only do this with the student’s permission. It can give them a confidence boost, but otherwise I feel that they don’t get much in return for their hard work. In classes where there are only a small number of students working on the highest grades, I photocopy their essays and swap them with students on a similar level. This enables those on the top grades to learn from each other.
  4. While marking essays, I note down examples of students who have written good points and ask those students to read the relevant section of the essay out in whole class feedback. This works particularly well when a student has not been happy with their overall essay mark, but has done a very good introduction, conclusion, evaluative comment etc. I try to include a range of different students when doing this.
  5. When I hand back students’ essays I ask them to read what they have written again, not just my comments. Often they spot mistakes quickly for themselves and it becomes apparent that they are reading the essay for the first time! I then reinforce the suggestion that they get someone else to read their essay before they hand it in, (preferably somebody who is not studying the subject). They need to hide the question from the reader. If the reader can more or less guess the wording of the question, they can feel confident that they have answered it. If the reader knows only the topic area, the student needs to look at their essay again before submitting it.

Emily Painter
Sociology Teacher, Cadbury Sixth Form College

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