How considering feedback, rather than marks, after exams can improve attainment
7 simple rules for science teaching
Every Wednesday from now until September, we’ll publish a new article and resource supporting the evidence-based principles in the EEF Improving secondary science guidance.
Simply giving a student their grade after sitting an exam paper doesn’t tell them how to improve. It may initially thrill a high-scoring student but it could also lead to some complacency. If the student received a low grade, it could switch them off altogether.
A colleague from the English department gave me the idea to have students complete a reflection sheet after sitting an exam paper. Taking this idea, I created one to suit science. All pupils now complete reflection sheets after they have sat pre-public exams.
Completing a reflection sheet
After the exams have been marked, pupils complete the reflection sheet for that particular exam paper. The reflection sheet opens with questions about confidence, how much revision they did and what revision techniques worked for them. This can be a useful tool; my pupils have been honest telling me if they haven’t revised.
7 simple rules to boost science teaching
Click to expand and explore the rules
Build on the ideas that pupils bring to lessons
- Understand the preconceptions that pupils bring to science lessons
- Develop pupils’ thinking through cognitive conflict and discussion
- Allow enough time to challenge misconceptions and change thinking
Help pupils direct their own learning
- Explicitly teach pupils how to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning
- Model your own thinking to help pupils develop their metacognitive and cognitive knowledge
- Promote metacognitive talk and dialogue in the classroom
Use models to support understanding
- Use models to help pupils develop a deeper understanding of scientific concepts
- Select the models you use with care
- Explicitly teach pupils about models and encourage pupils to critique them
Support pupils to retain and retrieve knowledge
- Pay attention to cognitive load—structure tasks to limit the amount of new information pupils need to process
- Revisit knowledge after a gap to help pupils retain it in their long-term memory
- Provide opportunities for pupils to retrieve the knowledge that they have previously learnt
- Encourage pupils to elaborate on what they have learnt
Use practical work purposefully and as part of a learning sequence
- Know the purpose of each practical activity
- Sequence practical activities with other learning
- Use practical work to develop scientific reasoning
- Use a variety of approaches to practical science
Develop scientific vocabulary and support pupils to read and write about science
- Carefully select the vocabulary to teach and focus on the most tricky words
- Show the links between words and their composite parts
- Use activities to engage pupils with reading scientific text and help them to comprehend it
- Support pupils to develop their scientific writing skills
Use structured feedback to move on pupils’ thinking
- Find out what your pupils understand
- Think about what you’re providing feedback on
- Provide feedback as comments rather than marks
- Make sure pupils can respond to your feedback
The reflection sheet then becomes more targeted. Each question on the exam is listed on the sheet, along with the broad topics the question covers, revision guide page numbers are given to provide explicit guidance of where pupils can go to for help. The questions students struggled with are highlighted. No scores or grades are given at this stage.
Adapting the sheet
For higher attaining pupils or to save yourself time, the topics the questions covered and revision guide pages can be left blank for the pupils to fill in themselves. This improves engagement with revision for what appears on that specific paper.
For mid to lower attaining pupils, topics and revision guide pages are given. Pupils have struggled in the past to recognise what the question is about and have spent too long looking for this information. Giving the topics/page numbers guarantees pupils use time more effectively to respond to their weaknesses.
Finally, there is a task/actions box alongside each question number; these gave students explicit questions/instructions to complete This allows them to act on their areas for development. When I left this box blank for pupils to complete themselves, the responses were too generic. Often, they would simply write ‘revise more’.
Giving students enough time to act on the feedback is vital. I dedicate lesson time to filling in reflection sheets and ask students to start on their specific tasks. They then complete it at home and bring in evidence of what they have done in order to improve.
Going through the test
Pupils are then given their test paper back (with scores). We talk through the paper and pupils add in correct answers, useful tips and we discuss the common mistakes made on each question.
While those specific exam questions won’t be asked again, it is the process of reflecting on the exam which helps the students to improve (certainly more than just a numerical grade). In the mad rush to finish teaching content, it is good to pause and give pupils this much-needed time to reflect.
The reflection sheets tick all the features of what the EEF Improving secondary science report lists as quality feedback. The sheets:
- are ‘specific, accurate, and clear’;
- link to pupils’ success or failure on parts of a task;
- identify what requires pupil’s ‘extra attention’;
- give direction to pupils on how to respond; and
- provide ‘concrete suggestions for improvement’.
Download an example reflection sheet from the Education in Chemistry website: rsc.li/2Izjawj
Education Endowment Foundation report: A marked improvement?