The best advice that I have ever been given to help me create good quality summative comments when assessing pupils’ work came from Darren Mead. He explained that if the comments made are kind, specific and helpful, the pupil will be able to progress to the next level. If the comment is just kind: “I love your work!” the pupil will not know what to do next. Similarly, if the comment is just specific: “you have created a simple, compound and complex sentence in one paragraph,” you are stating the obvious and you are not providing feed forward that will allow the pupil to progress.
These three key words were accompanied by Darren’s excellent explanation of it in practice during a bird watching project at Cramlington Learning Village, during which, pupils were asked to critique each others’ work. As the famous willow warbler image, used to explain this method to me, is no doubt being framed ready for its move to the Tate Modern, this reflection will show you how this idea was adapted for use in my classroom.
During my A Level Art course, I drew some fish. I loved these fish but I had previously never found a place or a use for them. They only existed in a forgotten part of a cupboard in a pile of other useless junk; that seemed to be their likely resting place forever until…Darren’s willow warbler image, created by a student for their bird watching web site, had reminded me of the process that I had gone through to create these fish.
Removing the image from its forgotten place, I set to work drawing two other images, images that could have been a first and second attempt on the road to my aquatic masterpiece. Images complete, I was ready to make feed forward and peer assessment visual for my pupils.
The outcome of this demonstration was for pupils to know that peer assessment should provide not only summative comments but also an insight into achieving better work. The lesson began by me showing them my first set of fish:
I asked pupils to think of kind, specific and helpful comments to allow me to create a more realistic set of fish. The pupils recorded as many ideas as possible at this stage so that we could use their answers to find excellent examples of kind, specific and helpful advice.
We spent time categorising their answers into:
- Kind responses: “I like the colours that you have used.”
- Specific responses: “Changing the outline of the fish to be a more realistic shape could help improve your drawing.”
- And helpful responses: “You can improve by adding stronger colours to the fish.”
Of course, we had to categorise the ‘none’ examples too so as to avoid this kind of response. We sifted out:
- Unkind responses: “I think that they look like a two year old drew them.”
- Vague responses: “Something’s wrong with the fish.”
- And unhelpful responses: “I would start again if I were you.”
If you want to avoid a pupil getting something wrong, it’s good to show them what wrong looks like.
As pupils had now thoroughly critiqued my work, I showed them that I was able to now produce image two:
At this point, Pupils began to see the merits in feed forward as opposed to summative comments such as “good work” or “well done.” These comments are kind but not specific or helpful enough to make a difference to someone’s work. They can see clearly the difference between the images and how their comments could have caused that difference.
Following on from this, the second fish are used to get pupils to practice this newly acquired skill. They were asked to respond to the second fish and help me get even better. Pupils began producing responses such as:
- “Adding scales could help this picture to become even more realistic”
- “A bolder colour can help to make these well shaped fish stand out even more.”
Once I was happy that they had provided me with enough feed forward, I produced my final fish:
These fish are a metaphor for the work that pupils produce in class. They have proven to be an excellent tool to teach the merits of good quality summative comments when peer assessing each others’ work. For me, the fish help the pupils to visually make sense of what they should be helping their peers to create in their books; however, it is important that they are allowed to put these ideas into practice on real assignments in order to make sense of the connection between assessment and fish.