Leadership programme

‘Thriving’ and not just ‘surviving’ – how fast feedback can support your school community

Christopher Whittle

In September 2019, I began my teaching journey as a Teach First trainee at Churchfield Primary School. Churchfield is a three-form entry school that serves a diverse, multicultural community in Edmonton Green, North London. 69% of our children speak English as an additional language. Instantly, upon arrival, it was clear to see that this rich tapestry of different languages and cultures is one of the things that makes our school such a special place to work.

Churchfield is also unique in using an innovative, verbal feedback approach we refer to as “fast feedback”. My first few weeks of teacher training had not prepared me for this: I fully expected and had mostly come to terms with, the expectation that I would have to hunker down in my classroom to handwrite feedback in every child’s textbooks every evening, perhaps even weekends.

However, with many of our children unable to access written feedback let alone respond to it, fast feedback has been a step-change in ensuring our children make good progress. Moreover, as the feedback is verbal, it can be achieved within the school day.

So how does it work?

Feedback is the bread and butter of high quality teaching and learning. John Hattie described feedback as “the most powerful educational tool available for improving student performance (Hattie, 2009). The EEF’s Teaching and Learning toolkit (EEF, 2018), based on a summary of international evidence of teaching five to 16 year-olds, also supports the importance of effective feedback on outcomes.

Fast feedback is Churchfield’s approach to ensuring our children receive effective feedback. Often, it occurs during teacher “helicoptering”. Teachers helicopter around the classroom during lesson time giving instant feedback, keeping children on track and making them think.

Alternatively, fast feedback occurs in a pupil-teacher “conference”. Conferencing is a way of capturing a child’s understanding of learning that has taken place. Essentially, it is a way of getting inside the child’s head through a purposeful, reflective conversation. The children are encouraged to make comments on how they approached an activity, and how they feel they got on. This really supported my own teaching practice, with formative assessment, planning and the identification of key learning points and concepts to cover during the next pupil-teacher conference.

Pupils are encouraged to take ownership over their learning by journaling their reflections on the conversation that has taken place in a purple pen. Fast feedback is therefore a combination of self-assessment, reflection, and dialogue with a teacher on the child’s next steps to make further progress. The children receive a ‘I spoke to my teacher’ sticker which identifies that the child has received feedback on their learning.

Fast feedback has also made me a better teacher by helping me to pick up on pupil misconceptions straight away. This prevents the misconception from becoming embedded and ultimately much more difficult to unpick later on.

One misconception we have faced is that not marking means not looking at the children’s work at all. On the contrary, the pupil-teacher conference can only be purposeful if I have looked at the child’s book beforehand.

Fast feedback has helped me to improve my teaching practice and a more manageable workload. It’s helped me to thrive in my early teaching career, not just to merely survive.

Christopher Whittle, Churchfield Primary School

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This blog is from a school taking part in The Next Big 10, a programme for schools who are transforming education against strong headwinds

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