Author: Gemma Fanning EAL Specialist Teacher
Marking and feedback is a crucial part of any teacher’s workload, and is essential for EAL learners. The importance of good-quality marking and feedback has been evidenced by many academic professionals, notably William & Black (1998) and, more recently, William (2018) and Hattie (2012). Hattie discusses the idea of rigorous approaches to marking and feedback, stating that through assessing learners, teachers themselves learn about their own impact: “As a professional, it is critical to know they impact. It may seem ironic, but the more teachers seek feedback about their own impact, the more benefits accrue to their students”.
Students’ interpretation of our marking and feedback is not something that happens organically. It takes time and training. Findlater (2016) comments that by allowing our learners time and space to interact with the marking and feedback provided, the bond between the learner and teacher is strengthened. This increases the impact of the feedback and builds a foundation for improved marking and feedback practice.
For EAL learners, the challenge of effective comprehension of marking might be more pronounced. We need to ensure that students engage with the feedback before we can take action to improve their learning. Findlater (2016) explains that it is important to train our learners to organise their own work, thus helping them to appreciate their journey and honestly reflect on their achievements. One way a teacher can support EAL learners with feedback is to offer models of the language that learners continually find challenging. As teachers, we can offer a model of good performance ourselves, or students can see and study good models achieved by other learners (Fisher, 2005).
Using Morrison McGill’s (2017) theory of really getting to know your learners, I recently surveyed a group of EAL learners who had been following an English curriculum for six months and had reached a certain level of English. The learners were asked what percentage of their work they would like to have corrected, choosing from the following options: 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%. The majority of the learners said that they wanted 100% of their mistakes corrected, with only a few choosing 75% – and none choosing the options below this. This led to a further question of how they wanted their work corrected, again offering a range of options: the use of a correction code; an explanation of ‘what and why’ the errors were; or a ‘what went well’ (WWW) and an ‘even better if’ (EBI) form of correction. Over 90% of the learners wanted an explanation of ‘what and why’ their work was wrong, with many commenting that they wished to understand why they didn’t achieve a particular grade and to know what would allow them to do so.
Once the research was gathered, it was clear that there needed to be some form of reflection on how to best support EAL learners with the feedback they were given, to allow them to learn from their mistakes and to become self-assured, risk-taking learners. This process requires the development of a ‘growth mind set’, as well as simply improving learning.
To begin with, marking should be diagnostic. Morrison McGill (2017) explains: “we should make it clear to the student how to improve a piece of work and overall learning, rather than simply giving them a grade”. Professor Carol Dweck gave an inspiring TED talk in 2014 using the words “not yet”. Dweck (2014) explains: “their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, their improvement […] Just the words “yet” or “not yet” […] give kids a greater confidence [and] create persistence.” The first aspect of marking these learners’ work is thus to remove the grade system, replacing the grade with the words “Not yet because…” This approach shows the learners whether or not they have achieved their targets and indicates how, as teachers, we plan to move forward. For EAL learners, Fisher (2005) further echoes the findings from Dweck in stating that “praise of children’s work should be specific and relate to both process and performance”.
Once this is in place, learners need to reflect on the frequent grammatical errors that appear in their writing. This requires the introduction of a focused marking method, offering learners specific criteria to work with and enabling the teacher to spot the gaps in the learning of particular grammar points. In this method, learners are each given a personal mistakes profile (for example, click here). This can be adjusted according to the needs of the learners, much like the resource in Anita Bamberger’s article ‘My Experience of Bilingual Schools’ (click here). Learners can find and fix their mistakes and are offered the opportunity to reflect on their work independently. The sheet gives them focused time to correct and to redo the work if necessary. As a teacher, you can take this further, using these recorded mistakes as a quick starter or plenary activity, asking learners to find and fix the mistakes either individually or in groups.
For lower-ability groups of EAL learners, you may wish to consider a simple marking code instead, which both you and your learners can quickly understand (for example, click here). Morrison McGill states that a marking code will enable students to engage with feedback quickly and easily, showing them where they are going wrong with their grammatical structures and indicating how to fix them. Scott (2012) describes a marking code as something for learners to use with their teacher or peers that provides a consistent and clear interpretation of marks.
This form of scaffolded error-correction should provide a safe, focused tool for learners, allowing them to feel comfortable making mistakes and to learn from them. In particular, the notification of grammatical errors should help learners to see where they are making continued mistakes and allow them to try to rectify them so that they become less frequent.
There are many different methods of marking learners’ work. For teachers, the aim should always be to develop a secure overview of the work, ensuring that our marking has a positive impact on the process of teaching and learning.
Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (1998) ‘Assessment and classroom learning’, Assessment in Education,5(1): 7–74
Dweck, C (2014), The power of believing that you can improve, TED, available here
Findlater, S (2016), Bloomsbury CPD Library: Marking and Feedback, London, Bloomsbury Education
Fisher, R (2005). Teaching Children to Learn. Stanley Thornes
Hattie, J (2012), Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximising Impact on Learning, Abingdon, New York, Routledge
Morrison McGill, R (2017), Mark, Plan, Teach.: Save Time, Reduce Workload, Impact Learning, London, Bloomsbury Education
Scott, C (2012), Teaching English as an Additional Language, 5-11: A Whole School Resource File, London, Routledge
Wiliam, D. (2018) Embedded Formative Assessment, Solution Tree Press, Indiana