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Friday 18 June 2021

How can we engage SEND students with feedback that allows them to move forward?

At present much is being written in the education world about providing students with meaningful feedback (that moves students forward). It is a key component of our Mangotsfield Way after all and an integral tool in instigating student progress. Numerous articles, educational research and books have been published - but how do you know which strategies will be effective for you and your classes?  At present many of us are completing KS3 and KS4 summative assessments. Have there been departmental discussions or individual reflections concerning effective approaches to the feedback stage, especially to support and engage SEND students?

On a personal level, feedback is an area I have heavily invested research time into recently. Why? It's an area I feel I still do not get quite right all the time. Throughout my teaching career I have engaged with a plethora of feedback strategies - traffic light systems, personalised comments, triple impact marking (never again!) and more recently verbal feedback, try now's and whole class feedback. Why do I feel like this is still an area for development? Observing the engagement levels of my Year 10 GCSE class last term with their try now task, I couldn't help but feel they 'went through the motions'. I was still doing more work than them for a start! Producing personalised try now tasks complete with sentence starters, modelled answers matching specific AO's, and a detailed whole class feedback grid concerning misconceptions. This was hours worth of work. Whilst some relished the opportunity to better their work, it was evident that LAPs and SEND students in particular were hugely overwhelmed. In all honesty, the approach I took was overkill.  

But what compelled me to produce so much? Again, a moment for honesty - my concerns over their learning gaps and the quality of their exam answers. With 6 SEND K students, another 7 LAPs and 5 HAPs (out of a class of 30) - it is the true definition of a mixed ability class. My response was not the right one and so, as always, it prompted me to research options for change.

From the Education Endowment Foundation Guidance Review on Feedback, published this month, some intriguing points are raised about how little evidence there is concerning which methods of feedback are most effective within specific scenarios - until now. As feedback is defined as 'information given from a teacher to a student about their performance, and aims to improve learning', interpretation of such a widely generic statement can be the first barrier when considering the alternating audiences you are hoping to engage in this process. As shown in Figure 1 above, feedback can be for whole classes, specific groups of students or even an individual. Personalisation is key. Whole class feedback is wonderful but is only effective if students are equipped with the tools to recognise which feedback is directed at them - as is quoted in the report 'are we laying the foundations for effective feedback?' This was certainly a downfall of my recent approach with Year 10.

So how do I intend on supporting SEND students in particular with feedback moving forward? Simple routines are key:

1. Where are your SEND students sitting during feedback? 
Are they ready to receive said feedback? Directing them to sit closest to you so that you can instigate one on one discussions, check in with them first, and provide reassurances is important. Obviously, under the current covid risk assessment you would have to keep a note of any temporary seating changes, but the benefits of close proximity to you can often strengthen the message.

2. What exactly do you want each student to improve? 
Consider what exactly you want each student to improve and to what depth. SEND students require clear specifics i.e. "I can see you have used one piece of evidence to support your opinion, now I need you to add a second OR now I need you to add a contrasting opinion/quote/source". 

Verbal feedback is useful, when assessing students formatively, but when more depth is required this needs to be followed-up with a written set of instructions. When formatting your try now tasks, modelled answers are often useful. This being said, my Year 10 SEND students fed back recently that this can often distract them from thinking for themselves. One even noted "You've written everything Miss, there is nothing left for me to write!". Alternatively, provide 3 short and succinct bullet points with a clear list of either knowledge, vocab or evidence that you wish them to include.

3. Do students have the tools to be reflective learners? 
As Dylan Wiliam expertly wrote in 2018, 'we need to activate students as owners of their own learning'. We need to clarify and share the purpose of feedback so that students truly value its importance. We regularly discuss with students the deeper why surrounding our curriculum choices but do we send a shared, whole school message to students that feedback is imperative if you wish to make progress? The EEF report states that 'sharing the learning intentions of a task, provides a shared understanding of the concept of quality'.

This can also include sharing anonymous examples. Provide students with a range of examples (ideally not from their class to truly support qualitative discussions). As the EEF report details, this opportunity can be used to take students on a collaborative discussion of what does and does not make a good answer - they use the phrase 'what not to write'. 

You can use these ideas to produce with individual, peer or group rubrics of success criteria and then use I do, We do, and You do to produce modelled answers or show your expert production of an answer using a visualiser. Alternatively, there are a couple of Kagan structures that can be used in this scenario. Don't forget, Kagan works on the premise of collaborative discussion. All Write Round Robin would be my choice - all voices are heard regarding 'what should be included' and all feedback recorded and shared, adding value to the contributions from SEND students and as such their awareness of its value. 

4. How soon can I realistically provide feedback? 
If it needs to be in the moment, is verbal feedback sufficient? Will SEND students truly recall and retrieve feedback that is not recorded somewhere for them to revisit? If not, then a wish list for 'what makes a good answer' is ideal. Do not over-complicate, instead consider the mark scheme and what realistically is achievable by said student. This supports the EEF's advice that 'teachers should provide opportunities for students to use feedback, not just in the moment but at a later date'. The feedback provided should be applied independently by students in later lessons. 

In addition, have you built enough time into the lesson to ensure feedback is not regarded as an add-on. To be done well, it should not be rushed and for SEND students in particular this part is vital. Student motivation and receptiveness to feedback do directly affect its effectiveness. DIRT time done well can take a whole lesson if truly required. 

For our SEND students, many of these requirements take an extended period of time to build. Their comprehension of written feedback, ability to receive the advice you are giving and pressure from peers can all be barriers to learning. But with small, simple changes, providing them with the time and space to reflect and build, we can continue to close the gap for this core group of students. 

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