Formative dialogue – Developing a fresh approach to Marking and Feedback

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April 16, 2015 by dragonflytraining

Author, Steve Garnett, @Garnett_S
Dragonfly Training

I’ve just spent two days at Victoria College Jersey working with their staff on developing their approaches to marking and feedback – it was a privilege to see a great many staff committed to developing an approach to teaching and learning that sought to put dialogue with students at the heart of how they (both!) could improve the quality of learning.

It soon became clear as the two days developed, that any ‘dialogue’ with pupils could take many forms. These ranged from a clearly structured/formalised approach such as ‘cover sheets’ attached to formal assessments to informal almost ‘on the fly’ exchanges in the classroom between teacher and pupil.

The upshot of all of this was that the focus for the school then became broader to one that sought to encourage teachers and students to engage and participate in this phrase ‘formative dialogue’.

What does it mean?

Fundamentally its a commitment by the teacher to try and understand the extent to which a pupil has met and understood both the objectives of lessons but also the necessary skills required to meet those subject objectives.

What would it look like?

Example 1.

The Biology teacher hands back some classwork – part of the marking involves the teacher writing the phrase ‘Good diagram’ next to, well….a good diagram. However the critical bit comes next.

The teacher then puts a Question mark next to the comment.

The implication here critical. The pupil has to write a comment next to the question markthat tells the teacher why it is a good diagram. The pupil should make reference to any checklist/matrix/rubric that the teacher has already shared about what is required in a successful diagram e.g. drawn with correct scale, labelled correctly etc

What this does is essentially confirms that the pupil does understand why their work is good. Too often pupils will submit work which appears to be correct and well understood but in fact was submitted in hope rather than expectation.

Example 2.

The Geography teacher is moving around the classroom as the pupils complete a written assignment. The focus of the assignment is on geographic processes and so they need to ensure that their paragraphs are explaining rather than describing. The teacher has already done some preparatory work on what an explained paragraph looks like through some careful modelling (using explanations formula and coloured annotating).

Glancing over the shoulder of a pupil, the teacher looks at one of the paragraphs being written, sees that it has followed the guidance given so the teacher simply double ticks the paragraph but then puts a question mark next to the double tick.

The pupil has to comment briefly in the margin why the paragraph has been successful.

The formative dialogue would begin if a pupil responds with ‘I don’t know why it’s right’!!!


I have been doing a lot of Inset with schools around Marking and Feedback. My focus has been trying to move them to a model that focuses less on how to manage their marking load to one that is focused more on techniques that ‘force’ pupils to not only engage with the feedback ‘systems’ but more crucially force the pupil to reveal back to the teacher their understanding of the skills required to be successful.

This then begins to draw teachers and pupils into the realms of metacognition i.e. a pupil who knows why a piece of work is successful is a different pupil to one who just produces successful work. Once we get here we are into genuine independent learning

So the next time you feel the urge to put a ‘double tick’ next to a paragraph, still do it but put a question mark next to it – then ask the pupils why you thought it was a good paragraph.

To view the courses that Steve Garnett will be delivering this term for Dragonfly Training, please click on the following link:

Get in touch! If you would like to get in touch with Dragonfly Training then drop us a tweet via @Dragonfly_Edu!


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