Marking and feedback are not the same

Feedback is, we’re told, the most powerfully important invention in which a teacher can engage, but marking students’ books can be mind-numbingly tedious drudgery. Because of this tension, many schools have introduced strict marking policies and work scrutiny schedules to make sure that teachers don’t shirk this crucial responsibility. But, the more I think about it, the more convinced I am becoming that marking and feedback are two quite separate things.

Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines marking thusly:

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 07.47.46And here are two different definitions for feedback:

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 07.49.52

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 07.50.00

Obviously, this doesn’t prove anything other than that in the public mind, marking and feedback are considered to be different. But potentially, this distinction could be important because while there are mountains of research findings supporting the giving and receipt of feedback to support students’ learning, there appears to have been little or no research specifically into the effects and impact of teachers marking students work. However, the growing weight of evidence in favour of feedback has been used to justify the ever-increasing demands on teachers to mark children’s work. Clearly, in the minds of educators, marking and feedback have become synonymous.

In 2011, I wrote this:

I know that marking students’ books helps to ensure that they care about the work they produce. I also know that providing formative feedback is the most important intervention that I, as a teacher, can have on my students; there is nothing I can do that will have more impact on their success than good old fashioned comment based marking.

I still think I was right about the positive impact on presentation and effort of reading students’ work, but why did I feel so certain of the efficacy of comment based marking? How did I know it made so much impact? The truth is, I didn’t – it just ‘felt right’.

While there’s no doubt that marking and feedback are connected, they are not the same. In some parts of the world – Japan for instance – teachers do very little marking but that’s not to say students are not getting feedback. From my own experience, I’m pretty sure it’s possible to make marks in students’ books without providing anything in the way of useful feedback and of course lots of thinking (some of it disastrous) has been done to try to prevent this from happening. Ask any group of teachers if their marking load has increased dramatically in past five years and they’ll fall over themselves to let you know just how much impact marking has on their lives, but what impact does it have on students’ outcomes? The answer is, we just don’t know.

There’s a widespread belief, largely unexamined, that by marking students’ work we are providing the kind of feedback they need in order to be successful and make progress. This assumption may be erroneous. I’ve come to the conclusion that probably the most compelling reason to read students’ work is for the teacher to get feedback from their students about how well they appear to be learning. This is a process entirely within the teacher’s control; we know precisely how much impact this process has on our teaching, what we can never know is whether this benefit transfers to the student. Once we’ve read through students’ responses, whether we then make marks in response is, to a large extent, missing the point.

I’m certainly not the only one to have noticed this curious phenomenon. Earlier in the year, the EEF announced it would undertake a review of the evidence on marking. In it they say,

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) intends to commission a review of the current evidence on approaches to written marking commonly used in English primary and secondary schools to provide feedback to pupils. The review will assess the costs (primarily related to time) and benefits of a range of approaches to marking, with a particular focus on pupils from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

This is welcome news, but somewhat alarmingly they then go on to say, “It is anticipated that the review draw on some pieces of research currently synthesised within the “Feedback” section of the Teaching and Learning Toolkit.” I’m sure my concern is unwarranted and the review team will carefully pick through all the available research on feedback to work out how much of it is directly concerned with the effects of marking, but unless this kind of systematic unpicking is done such a synthesis may end up being less than helpful.

The review is due to be published in late 2015 so we’ll just have to wait and see what they come up with, but in the meantime, if anyone is aware of any specific research into the effects and efficacy of marking then I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks in advance.

As so often happens my best posts have already been written by someone else. In this case, Toby French and Michael Tidd have both written similar posts which are very much worth reading. 

23 Responses to Marking and feedback are not the same

  1. If you have the chance, when you are in Bryanston, try to observe or discuss Correction Periods; we are the only school in the UK (I think) offering the Dalton Plan. This means that a lot of our feedback on work is given one-to-one, orally. Some marking is also done with the student. I enjoyed this piece David, and also your interview in this week’s Schools Week. Hope you are well.

  2. Traditionally, marking has been done with several audiences in mind — the school leadership, the inspectorate, parents and (often almost an afterthought) the student, who, it’s accepted, takes notice of a grade or a ‘well done’ or ‘see me’, but fails to absorb any actual teaching points.The whole farrago is a prodigious waste of valuable time.
    Feedback, though, is something else. Here, technology scores by enabling teachers and students to be in constant collaborative contact as their work develops. Last year, at a conference, I heard Anna Dwyer, Assistant Head at St John the Baptist School in Woking, who explained how they were using one-to-one tablets to replace exercise books and remove from teachers the drudgery of ploughing through piles of marking. The fundamental point, she said, is that what matters is high quality feedback, teacher to student, peer-to-peer. She allayed some audience doubts by explaining that Ofsted understand the approach, and the school is ranked ‘Outstanding’ in all areas.

  3. […] How I cope with marking. Marking and feedback are not the same. […]

  4. MAB says:

    I set aside a Friday morning ‘review’ period when my yr 2 children are able to look back at their weeks work. This enables me to combine marking ( some children can’t always read marking or rubrics) and feedback with ways forward for individuals and groups. Marking is necessary because SLT, Ofsted, governors and subject leaders want to see it. At KS1, children ultimately benefit more from verbal feedback at the time they are on task. Because this is not always possible, Friday reviews are useful for all. Takes around 30 mins and the children share marking with each other too.

  5. Ephemeral321 says:

    I also view marking and feedback as distinct. A marked paper can just have a score and marks, or can include or result in feedback that is written or verbal:

    Score – informs student how they are performing academically.
    Marking – demonstrates the paper was read, with general feedback i.e. a tick above a sentence or through a paragraph can confirm what is correct; x or ? indicate areas of concern
    Feedback – written/verbal, one-way/two-way dialogue will further student understanding.

    ‘[T]he most compelling reason to read students’ work is for … [teacher] feedback: ‘checking how well they appear to be learning’. ‘[C]omment based marking’ offers one-way feedback; dialogue offers two-way feedback for student to clarify their understanding and integrate feedback.

    The teacher’s feedback provides opinion/explicit instruction/signposting on: what is clear, what is substantiated, what is confused or incorrect. I find if a student understands why they receive feedback, how to integrate it into learning, and then uses it, it will have impact.

    The LO, WALTs, etc, didn’t offer helpful feedback to my children in KS1/lower KS2. Was this because: poor methodology, inappropriate for age group, poor implementation …?

    With ‘student outcomes’ I’m not sure when assessment of impact is focused. I assume there are daily/weekly/termly low-stakes and high-stakes outcomes across each key stage; and importantly – and what seems to have been missing for my children – the ability to review previous learning outside of their current working levels i.e. in the event of problems with learning delivery or learning not being secure.

    In my view marking (time-quick per head) and feedback (time-involved per head) are part of an ongoing exchange between teacher and student within the learning process. A teacher checking (measuring) outcomes requires adequate time and space to establish if understanding is secure within each unit/key stage. Working at home with an 8yo and 11yo, receiving marked essays from my own tutor, humans can simulate understanding without actually having it. Any assessment system should be able to identify when this happens: the ultimate method I have found is through dialogue with the student about their work (1:1; tchr:class).

    Hopefully the EEF will consider such points when determining the cost-benefit ratio on marking and feedback approaches. And perhaps focus on all children in all settings.

  6. […] wrote recently about the differences between marking and feedback. In brief, and contrary to popular wisdom, they are not the same thing; feedback is universally […]

  7. Mark Blything says:

    I found myself marking my new Year 11 books for the first time and, in building to a controlled assessment, still in the ‘Explain’ phase of the cycle, I just looking to see that they were doing the work, their presentation was up to scratch and they had got all the relevant notes down. This was time consuming, and the students got nothing from it other than the fact that they knew that I cared and was checking. While feedback is often given through marking, I agree that they are not the same thing. My lessons have been full of verbal feedback. Sharing ideas on Romeo and Juliet, questioning students to justify their responses, advising them why that wouldn’t be a good point to make in their assessment and modelling how they could turn their ideas into more sophisticated and literate lines for their work, although I’m not sure this that argument would convince the SLT.

  8. […] Marking and Feedback are Not the Same.  […]

  9. […] or useful as it’s often claimed. In fact, most of it is a complete waste of time. In this post I explore the difference between marking and feedback and here I suggest that less marking might […]

  10. […] or useful as it’s often claimed. In fact, most of it is a complete waste of time. In this post I explore the difference between marking and feedback and here I suggest that less marking might […]

  11. […] should also draw attention to the fact that marking and feedback are not the same thing. The appearance of written feedback tells us little about whether feedback is being given and […]

  12. […] rather impressed by the ‘marking is different to feedback’ brigade ably led by Messrs David Didau and Toby French who have challenged over-prescriptive marking policies and the fetishisation of […]

  13. David Wees says:

    “Clearly, in the minds of educators, marking and feedback have become synonymous.”


    I was confused by the apparent use of the word marking last night to be synonymous with feedback. Here in the US, marking almost exclusively means ‘the categorization of student work to associate it with a grade usually through the process of adding checks and x’s on the student work’. There’s definitely good evidence that marking of this type only leads, in most cases, to students checking the overall grade and not doing a thing with the information the grades represent.

  14. […] over ruled but I want to set out exactly why the message published is potentially harmful. I wrote here about some of the differences between marking and feedback, and in this post I suggested that less […]

  15. […] is not marking, and David Didau has written extensively on this (see here Marking is functional, utilitarian; it needs to be done but unless students look at it and act on […]

  16. […] become more independent and have more ownership of their progress, we might pause to consider the difference between marking and feedback, and whether they are the same thing at all. In some cases, marking a a set of books can mean a huge amount of effort with little reward in […]

  17. […] three are certainly well-intentioned (although possibly misguided) and can all achieve their aims without the need for written feedback. The last of these reasons is, however, entirely nugatory. If your purpose for marking is to sate […]

Constructive feedback is always appreciated

%d bloggers like this: