The whole topic of feedback and AFL is littered with interpretations and arguments.This post is my first attempt to clarify my own very much still developing thinking and reflects my work with my own students. What I do know is that I want to move away from the idea that good AFL is a simple formula response that I see much too often in students work, simplistically “do this to improve your work” great if the teacher is building in opportunities for student to “do this” and the teacher has a dialogue with the student to make sure that they understand what the “this” is! and while I welcome this as an improvement to past feedback such as “make your work neater” I believe it is only the beginning of how we begin to involve students in a dialogue about their work.
At the moment I think that dialogue produces an opportunity for testing and challenging a students understanding of where they are with their work and creates a situation where they can review, develop, ammend their work with a real understanding of why they are doing it.
The skill of the teacher is to tailor the dialogue to the needs of the individual student, a more complex and challenging dialogue for the most able students using lots of questioning to develop and challenge the students to express their belief in their work, the extended dialogue helps the teacher to use their expert knowledge to suggest small developments (nudges) that will help the student move their work on. It is inevitable that some students struggle with this developing dialogue and take time to understand the process, so being too challenging with them will only damage their confidence in their work so a slightly more controlled dialogue is required.
It is important that the dialogue challenges the teacher as much as the student which is why excellent subject knowledge and confidence is very important to making this kind of dialogue effective. In this way the process of discussion starts to become coconstructed learning. Certainly with my most able A* GCSE and A level students my views about student work and what they need to do to develop it can change quite radically during the dialogue as they explain why they are working in the way they are. They are also able to resist my attempts to nudge them in a direction they dont want to go in but this requires real belief and confidence in the work so maybe they are right.
I have resisted at any point in this short article referring to assessment criteria and referencing students to assessment criteria as a part of the dialogue. If all our discussion with students is based around assessment criteria it prevents us establishing the wider knowledge, engagement and importantly trust in us as subject experts potentially leaving our teaching very sterile and lacking in creativity.
I dont disagree with the assessment referenced approach to AFL and if I am very concerned that a student has moved widely of the plot I will very firmly bring them back with more directed dialogue.
In general though my colleagues and I try and construct our courses to ensure that students at both GCSE and A level are always working inside the exam assessment criteria and importantly that the assessment criteria have been taught to them at the beginning of the course.