Whole-class feedback: Practical tips and ideas

Written by: Adam Riches | Published:
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Giving whole-class feedback – when you address misconceptions and other issues as a collective – can have a big impact on student progress and your workload as a teacher. Adam Riches advises

Whole-class feedback is a highly effective and efficient way to ensure that your classes overcome misconceptions. Those who have adopted the approach have seen, first-hand, the impact it can have on students’ progress and, just as importantly, on teacher workload.

Whole-class feedback is something that requires a shift in mindset away from the shackles of the traditional approach to marking. Once freed, you quickly see the merits in addressing misconceptions as a collective.

However, for all its merits, whole-class feedback cannot be seen as a silver bullet. If we are not careful with our application, this approach could (and I use the modal verb tentatively here) take a turn down the dark path that we see so many educational fads go down.

Gradual watering down and too much emphasis on an approach can mean that it becomes detached and isolated from its roots. So remember that whole-class feedback is a tool which should be used in conjunction with other feedback methods – on its own, it is not enough.

So what does good whole-class feedback look like and how do we avoid it becoming a tokenistic exercise?

Identifying misconceptions

The terminal point in the whole-class feedback process is, more often than not, the sheet or resource that the class is given to help them overcome the misconception that you have identified.

How you fill in this sheet is of paramount importance. The content that is being covered needs to be accurate, tailored and relevant to the learners in that classroom.

Too many times I have seen teachers using general or common misconceptions in whole-class feedback and, in turn, the learning has not been anywhere as impactful as it might have been if the teacher had identified the specific misconceptions for that group of pupils.

To effectively identify the misconceptions, whole-class feedback must be informed by tracking, not watching. This can be supported by a simple tracking sheet to prompt you about what the misconceptions are as they arise in the lesson. This means that you can make more informed decisions about what you address there and then in class and what you leave to your whole-class feedback sheet.

It may be that you decide upon verbal whole-class feedback, especially if there is a common misconception across the whole class. The more informed you are, the more responsive you can be with the learners in front of you.

Live marking

One of the drawbacks of whole-class feedback is that individuals do not get the specific feedback they may need on their own work to progress. Although misconceptions are addressed generally, it is that close-level feedback that can be lacking.

This is why whole-class feedback should be blended with approaches such as live marking.

Live marking has (thankfully) become commonplace in many schools – by which I mean quite simply giving feedback and marking in-class while students are working.

The approach is something that I have been vehemently banging the drum about for years now. Once embedded, it strips workload right back and increases efficiency. I have written specifically about this approach in SecEd, Headteacher Update's sister magazine (see Riches, 2017).

When live marking, you are able to assess misconceptions and identify the trends across the class, meaning that you can be gathering data for your whole-class feedback sheet during the lesson.

Thanks to this dual approach, I have not had to look at books outside lessons for years: whole-class feedback helps cover the common misconceptions on an overall level and then other feedback methods help you to drill-down with individual students.

Live marking is just one example that has always worked well for me, but there are many other things you can do to get the detailed individual feedback in.

Responsive questioning

But there is a warning: having a uniform way of identifying and overcoming misconceptions can create complacency when it comes to other methods of tackling misconceptions.

What is important is that whole-class feedback approaches do not replace the high-quality, rich discussions that should happen around misconceptions as and when they arise during lessons.

An effective whole-class feedback approach relies heavily on consistency and conformity. Having well-embedded habits for learning is important, but we must not detach misconceptions from other phases of learning, especially questioning.

We must ensure that we continue to address misconceptions using our normal teaching pedagogies, including questioning; we don’t want students to get into the habit of assuming they can only reflect on what they don’t understand during certain exercises or times of the lesson.

By questioning responsively and adapting to the needs of the students in front of us, we are able to help them overcome misconceptions before the formal whole-class feedback phase. In some ways, responsive questioning could be seen as interim whole-class feedback.

Bigger picture planning

The big, big thing with whole-class feedback is that it needs to be carried out correctly. The teacher needs to teach the students to overcome the misconception and they need to track the misconceptions over time.

Tracking the misconceptions means that teachers can effectively interleave and interweave tasks to ensure that knowledge and understanding are supported and sustained to avoid the same misconceptions arising again.

The way you record this need not add to your workload – you can simply keep the sheets that you gave the class, or keep the notes you take when you are tracking during the lesson.

Avoid looking at whole-class feedback as something that is a classroom exercise done at a singular point in time. Whole-class feedback informs your future planning, it informs you about how you need to adapt your teaching, and it shows you exactly what you need to check up on in the coming lessons, weeks and months.

Yes, the primary function of whole-class feedback is to help learners overcome the misconception, but it also has a powerful secondary purpose – when coupled with effective recall planning, the likeliness of repeated misconceptions is significantly reduced.

Final words

Whole-class feedback is an exceptionally helpful approach but is one piece of the puzzle. Used in conjunction with individual level marking and embedded in the wider planning of learning, its power is amplified significantly.

  • Adam Riches is a senior leader for teaching and learning, a Specialist Leader in Education and author of Teach Smarter (Routledge, 2020). Follow him on Twitter @TeachMrRiches.

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