Feedback: Holding The Grade

In my very first blog I talked about a new assessment approach we have introduced in our department – CRAFT (Condense, Reflect, Assess, Feedback and Target-driven improvement). There have been several debates on Twitter in recent weeks about giving students marks or grades when providing feedback. In our department, we provide no marks or grades for any feedback in note books, interim-formative assessments (IFAs) or summative diagnostic assessments (SDAs). Instead, students are provided with positive and specific targets that focus on closing their knowledge gap. After all, the aim of feedback is to provide students with insight that helps to improve their performance.


When students first received their IFAs and SDAs they inevitably wanted to know how many marks they had achieved out of 40 and what grade this equated to. You could see their disappointment/ frustration when I told them that the focus was on ‘what they had done well’ and ‘how could their work be improved’. However, by embedding the strategy of ‘holding the grade’ and providing positive and specific targets, students have responded well and are taking ownership of making more meaningful improvements. In the past, when providing students with a mark or grade, this ends up being the focal point and the actual suggestions for improvement end up being white noise.

We have focused on four key principles to provide effective feedback to students:

1) Affirming what they did well

2) Correcting and directing

3) Pointing out the process

4) Coaching students to independently make improvements.

Assessment Feedback

After each of our IFAs and SDAs, students are provided with DIRT time (Dedicated Improvement Reflection Time) to allow them to make bespoke improvements that will help to close the knowledge gap. In a recent article from SecEd on effective feedback practices, John Dabell outlines the importance of giving students time: ‘if we don’t give students the time to reflect on their feedback then they can’t respond effectively and constructively and implement our suggestions’. Our IFAs are out of 20 marks and SDAs are out of 40 marks, therefore in the following lesson we give students 30 minutes for IFAs and 50 minutes for SDAs to reflect and make improvements. As John Dabell explains, students can’t close the knowledge gap if we don’t give them the time and space to breathe. In these DIRT learning episodes, students are conducting focused editing using the specific targets set by the teacher, therefore we insist on silence. To reduce the amount of written feedback teachers are giving students following these assessments, we have used checklists with specific improvement tasks aligned to the questions set. This new way of assessing students is still in its infancy, but we are seeing improvements in student outcomes (teachers are internally recording marks out of 20 and 40), with students requiring less time to work on their focused editing.

Live feedback

In lessons, we have been using several strategies to provide live feedback to students. One of these strategies has been the use of ‘pink pen feedback’ where all staff are armed with a pink pen as they monitor the learning. Then at appropriate times using post-it notes, questioning and wristbands to ‘correct and direct’ any misconceptions. This has resulted in a reduction in our marking, with all marking of class note books completed in lessons, whilst IFAs and SDAs are marked outside of lessons.

Ultimately, feedback should be more work for students than teachers and ensure it provides opportunities to feed forward learning.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s