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Feedback, Marking and how they can Improve Learning

Feedback is one of the most common features of successful teaching and learning and amongst the top influences on achievement (Hattie, 2009). However, on closer inspection, the effectiveness of feedback is very variable. In some schools, feedback is seen as marking – a one-way process in which the teacher spends hours every week writing detailed comments in pupils’ books only for their ‘feedback’ to be poorly received and hardly used in the revision of the work. For some good history teachers, the damaging impact that a heavy marking load has on work-life balance is the main reason they leave the profession. It is time to start asking some serious questions. Why mark books? Is all that time spent marking worthwhile? What impact does it have on outcomes? What constitutes effective feedback and how can it be built into our schemes of work?

Feedback matters but feedback and marking are not the same thing. A teacher can spend hours marking but it might make little difference to pupil outcomes as little in the way of useful feedback is provided.

Student progress is determined not by the amount of feedback we provide, much more by how we provide feedback.

We have tried to address this by placing ‘marking’ within a 6 stage feedback cycle (see below). Our aims are to:

• reduce teacher workload

• increase the extent to which pupils take responsibility for their learning

• improve outcomes by developing effective study habits in history – routines that make sure students review, redraft, respond to feedback and reflect on progress

As you will see, this is very much work in progress and we welcome comments, ideas and further practical strategies from within the history teaching community. 


A PDF version of this article can be downloaded [ click here ]

Stages of the Feedback Cycle

In summary, the stages of the feedback cycle are:

1: When the work is set – establish clear success criteria HERE …

2: When pupils are working on the task – make the most of oral feedback HERE

3: Just before pupils hand in their work to be marked – build in self and peer assessment HERE …

4: When marking the work – aim to save time and maximise impact HERE …

5: Returning the work – build in opportunities to respond to feedback HERE …

6: Reflection – create a dialogue about learning HERE …

How does marking fit into the feedback cycle?

As you can see ‘teacher marking’ only occurs during one stage of the feedback cycle (Stage 4). We see marking as serving three main purposes:

1. Feedback for progress: To provide students with feedback on how to improve and thereby reduce the gap between where the students are and where you want them to be.

2. Diagnostic purposes: To assess the effectiveness of the teaching and learning that has taken place and to become aware of where students are struggling or their misconceptions. Evidence of student achievement is interpreted in order to make a decision about what to do next so marking therefore informs our next steps as a teacher.

3. Emotional purposes: To provide recognition to the student for their hard work. The pride that students take in their work soon drops if their books go unmarked for months. Pupils need to know that they are valued and that you care about their progress. The way we feedback to pupils has a significant influence on their motivation and self-esteem (which are in themselves a crucial influence on learning)


Teaching is about building relationships. Student attainment is partly determined by the teacher’s relationship with students and that teacher’s ability to shape a culture of learning within the classroom.  The nature of the feedback provided from teacher to pupil, pupil to pupil and pupil to teacher plays a key role in shaping the right culture for learning. It is what goes on in the classroom that makes the real difference.  The aim of the strategies outlined in this post is to create a dialogue between the teacher and the pupil about learning.

For Alexander, dialogic classrooms are:

• collective (doing tasks together);

• reciprocal (sharing ideas);

• supportive (no negative repercussions from making errors);

• purposeful (clear success criteria).

In order for this type of classroom to become a reality we need to create an atmosphere of trust – a climate in which it is ok to make mistakes – and a climate in which students are engaged in the process of learning. Within the history classroom success should not be measured by out-performing your peers but about improving yourself as a learner and achieving ‘personal bests’.

As John Hattie argues, we need to recognise that all students can progress. Achievement for all is changeable and not fixed. There are no short-term fixes for raising attainment but the good news is that the ideas and strategies outlined in this post do not cost anything, they can be easily adapted for any age group and they do not require endless hours of teacher time preparing resources or marking books.


Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

Feedback, Marking & Improve Learning


  1. Establish criteria

  2. Oral feedback

  3. Self & peer assess

  4. Maximise impact

  5. Respond to feedback

  6. Create dialogue



Full Article


Raising Attainment

Introduction: Starting Points

Visible Learning: Key Principles

Themes at GCSE

Depth and Period Studies

Feedback, Marking & Improve Learning

Independent Learning
at A Level