Ask any teacher whether it is possible to raise pupil outcomes while reducing their workload and most will probably answer the same – no.
However, a new book by Robert Powell called Live Feedback explores strategies that promise to engage learners, raise attainment, and reduce the time spent on detailed marking of students’ work.
Good outcomes start with good teaching
Powell begins by looking at the subject of attainment, and how the quality of instruction is an extremely powerful factor in the classroom. After all, a high standard of teaching is the single most effective way of improving performance, especially among disadvantaged pupils.
“Therefore, helping teachers become better is the most important responsibility we have as educational leaders” (Coe et al, 2020).
Even so, Powell is quick to point out that this requires better investment and training, not just for new trainees but also established, experienced teachers. Education policies have much to do with this, which can also impact accountability and the influence this has on teacher wellbeing.
Do recruitment and retention issues come down to leadership?
Another issue that Powell focuses on is leadership, which can provide much needed support to teachers under pressure, but often fails to do so.
Powell says that good teachers are leaving the profession and recruitment is getting harder primarily because of workload issues, something that could be improved upon with better leadership.
So, with 40% of ECTs leaving the profession within the first 5 years, the priority for many is building a recruitment and retention strategy that addresses this problem.
Unpicking teacher workloads
Something that Live Feedback does well is question the notion of marking reliability. For example, it highlights the stress that comes with scrutiny and how things like deep dives, book looks, learning walks etc. have been engineered to check in on the teacher, not the learning.
“Many schools have introduced marking policies much more responsive to the needs of their teachers, whether they be phases in the primary school or subjects in the secondary. Many more are in the process of doing so; some have abandoned marking altogether.”
In many schools, the least qualified members of staff are teaching the weakest and most needy students, which does little to alleviate marking workloads or help with retention strategies.
Is live feedback the answer?
Powell then starts to explore data collection and lesson planning with an abundance of visual examples of how teachers can manage these important aspects of the classroom. Much of the resources are focused on addressing the greatest teaching burden of all, marking.
Citing research on verbal feedback, peer feedback, self-assessment, electronic feedback and whole-class feedback, Powell identifies areas where the quality of a pupil’s understanding can be improved upon, and perhaps more importantly, where teacher workloads can be reduced.
Although this requires time to develop classroom routines featuring dual coding to support cognitive load, modelling and spaced practice, the end result is retention as the development of self-regulation.