Our specific research area at the beginning of the Research and Development project was focused around the area of feedback.
As the lead school or academy within the Trent Valley Teaching School Alliance we chose this focus area as we believed it would be applicable across all the key stages, and was broad enough in terms of pedagogy to allow other partners within the alliance to shape it to fit the specific needs of their students and organisations. Feedback from our unexpected Ofsted visit in May 2012 also identified the quality of feedback as an area for development across the academy.
The academy appointed nine staff on a temporary contract to lead the research and development project within the academy. The alliance decided to focus on four different themes under the ‘feedback umbrella’: Dialogic teaching, Effective written feedback, Pupil Improvement Partners and Co-operative Squares. We believed that this would give other schools, individual departments and teachers a wider choice in which area of ‘feedback pedagogy’ they would like to specialise their training and development. Recent articles and publications on pedagogy had also highlighted these as areas which appeared to have a positive and significant impact upon student learning and attainment. Schools within the Trent Valley Teaching School Alliance were informed of the R and D project and invited to become involved. The appointed staff did visit other schools in the alliance to gain examples of ‘best practice’ in regard to co-operative squares and effective feedback. The effective feedback team also gave CPD twilight to primary schools within the alliance and a regional teaching assistants CPD conference.
However, despite regular updates on the project, no other schools within the alliance became formally involved within the project. With hindsight, it may have been better practice to have involved more of the motivated schools within the TVTSA from the very beginning; especially in regard to choosing the initial research focus area. This may have engendered greater commitment and ‘buy-in’ to the R and D research project.
The intended outcomes of the project for staff were varied: increased and improved confidence of using the latest research strategies in regard to ‘student feedback’ to improve the quality and effectiveness of their own feedback within the academy and Teaching School Alliance; the hopeful subsequent improvement in their pedagogy and positive impact upon student attainment; increased staff confidence and motivation from their involvement in the project and their subsequent delivery of staff twilight CPD.
The intended outcomes for students was for them to have a wider range of feedback to help them make progress with their learning; students would have increased opportunities to participate in more effective group work scenarios and have more scope to be involved in higher quality discussions as well as receiving higher quality written feedback from their teachers and peers.
After a number of telephone conversations with our supportive and insightful external facilitator, Graham Handscomb, the research question, ‘How can we improve feedback to bring about higher quality learning?’ eventually evolved from the wider research focus area. The baseline data for the four groups was gathered from a range of sources including student voice, student questionnaires, staff questionnaires, staff and student online surveys, Ofsted Report (2012), formal lesson observations, reports produced by visiting colleagues as part of their NPQH project.
For the dialogic teaching Research and Development team some examples of the baseline survey included: 27% of staff and 32% of students valued discussions with either peers or teachers to develop and enhance their learning; students also valued dialogic teaching higher than practical activities at GCSE (37% compared to 21%); and students enjoyed learning through dialogic methods whereas staff where more apprehensive; encouragingly 63% of participants felt that Tuxford Academy offered students enough opportunities to learn through talking whereas 33% of participants felt that they were getting enough opportunities. which is quite a concerning statistic; surprisingly when students were asked what subjects offered more opportunities for learning through talking, the stereotypically non dialogic subjects all scored relatively highly (Science 19%, Maths 12%, ICT 9%) when compared to the stereotypically dialogic subjects (MFL 2%, RE 9%, Creative Arts 9%)’. From the effective written feedback R and D team the key baseline data from a sample of pupils who were asked at the start of the year (September 2012) “could teachers at Tuxford Academy improve their written feedback? The results were:
From the Pupil Improvement Partners Research and Development group some examples of the baseline data was based on 65 students who completed a questionnaire on the use of lesson outcomes and ‘the bigger picture’; the feedback found that 74% found that sharing lesson outcomes was useful. The Cooperative Squares Research and Development group’s key finding from the baseline data was that, ‘only one member of staff had used group work when being formally observed’.
All the baseline data was quite refreshing as it exemplified why the research areas were chosen and showed the potential benefits of the intended effective feedback strategies to have a positive impact upon staff and students.
On reflection, the R and D team could have been more robust in their baseline data, for example, they could have focused on a particular year group and used a random control group of students to make their following intervention strategies and subsequent impact more secure by comparing them against the control group.