To start, I think it helps to begin with a laugh.
I stumbled upon the programme 'Mr D' while on Christmas holiday in Canada (my home and native land, for those not in the know). Now in its fourth series, at the time it was 'a brand new comedy' about teaching. I watched it and could not stop laughing. The comedian, Gerry Dee, trained as a teacher before going into stand up, so the show is loosely based on 'real' teaching experiences, with an obvious comic edge. The clip above shows a rather hilarious view on marking, one which I would argue is held by many students. It's certainly how most students who were interviewed for my Masters project seem to think teachers mark.
Obviously, most teachers will (hopefully) recognise that good marking is nothing like that practiced by Mr D. It requires much more thought and consideration. The part where he writes comments like 'WHAT WERE YOU THINKING' and 'Too vague' made me laugh, but my research suggests there's an element of truth in there. Many teachers DO provide feedback like that; a few years ago, I might have been guilty of it myself. However, I'd argue that it's not necessarily the teacher's fault. How are teachers expected to know what good feedback looks like if they've never seen it themselves? I only learned how to improve my own feedback by reading the literature around what makes good and bad feedback, and through consultation with the students themselves.
This is where my own thesis comes in. Entitled 'How do Year 8 and Year 11 students perceive and make use of written feedback? A case study with student researchers', I sought to understand what students within my own school felt about the feedback they received. My own interest in feedback came after a poor Ofsted performance a few years ago. They singled out feedback as being an area for improvement and I was able to admit that it was a weak spot in my own practice. I did some very informal data collection with my own teaching groups, and realised that their ideas were immensely helpful to improving my practice. When the opportunity arose for me to do my Master of Education at Cambridge, I jumped at the chance, recognising that it would allow me to take my informal interest further.
It wasn't until I attended the fourth Cambridge Student Voice Conference in 2014 that I realised the potential for engaging with students AS researchers. Prior to that I had always been keen to consider what the students had thought about feedback, but the seminar gave me the final piece to the puzzle. The rest of the seminar was about how I felt the students as researcher (SAR) side of the project went.
I started by briefly discussing some of the literature, as seen on the following slide.
Ultimately, it was the final, blue, box (above) that best summarises my opinion of engaging with SARs; the students I worked with were able to show incredible maturity, skill and sophistication throughout the process, with minimal effort on my part. They were an amazing team to work with, and I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone considering working alongside students to do it.
The slide above shows (rather small, apologies) the statements made by the SARs on their exit-survey. It was clear to me that the students had enjoyed being a part of the process as much as I had enjoyed their presence on the team. Many of them expressed a desire to attend university, something which they hadn't given thought to before. This is of particular importance given that all of the SARs were Pupil Premium. It's widely recognised that Pupil Premium students often lack the aspirations of non-Pupil Premium students, so this was extremely heartening to hear.
Most importantly, as stated on the slide, the data gathered by the SARs was given added value and depth because they were able to analyse the data with me. As such, not only was the data generated by students it was analysed by them as well!
I then went on to highlight some of the interesting things that the SARs picked out themselves; these topics were of course noted by myself when watching back the interviews and typing the transcripts, but it was the SARs who felt that they were of particular importance, which is why I highlight them here:
The SARs were really interested in exploring 'the Ofsted effect'. In their own terms, this referred to the idea that a lot of feedback going on in school was linked to our impending Ofsted inspection (we were, unfortunately in an inspection year), and was therefore (in their opinion) not for the benefit of the students but purely to 'look good' for Ofsted. I won't go into too much detail here, but I certainly think there's more to be explored here.
Another area they found interesting was the idea of 'teacher effort' (below). I included Mr D on this slide because this is where I feel students perceptions of marking match to Mr D's version of events. It's unfortunate that students feel some teachers mark this way, or that teachers only mark for surface value, but I think it highlights an interesting area for further exploration.
Clearly a lot of work needs to be done to ensure that there are less teachers marking like Mr D and more teachers marking in ways that inform proper engagement, reflection and work with feedback, but it won't be an easy fix.
I ended the session with some tips for anyone looking to engage students in the research process (below).
I also provided people with the list of references found below. There are also various links in some of my previous blog posts, which are available here and here.
Bland, D., & Atweh, B. (2007). Students as researchers: engaging students’ voices in PAR.Educational Action Research, 15(3), 337–349.
Bucknall, Sue. (2012) Children as researchers in primary schools: choice, voice and participation: London: Routledge.
Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P., (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: a guide for faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Fielding, M., & Bragg, S. (2003). Students as researchers: making a difference. Cambridge: Pearson Publishing.
Jenkins A and Healey M (2009) Developing the student as a researcher through the curriculum, in C. Rust (Ed) Improving Student Learning through the Curriculum. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, 6-19
Leitch, R., Gardner, J., Mitchell, S., Lundy, L., Odena, O., Galanouli, D., & Clough, P. (2007). Consulting pupils in Assessment for Learning classrooms: the twists and turns of working with students as co researchers. Educational Action Research, 15(3), 459–478.
Nash, J., & Roberts, A. (2009). Supporting students as researchers: making a difference to your school : a handbook for teachers. Cambridge: Leadership for Learning : the Cambridge Network.
Steinberg, S. R., & Kincheloe, J. L. (1998). Students as researchers: creating classrooms that matter (Vol. 15). London: Falmer.
Thomson, P., & Gunter, H. (2007). The Methodology of Students-as-Researchers: Valuing and us-ing experience and expertise to develop methods. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 28(3), 327–342.