Saturday, 25 January 2014

RAG123 as formative planning

I'm at risk of becoming a bit evangelical about RAG123 marking, but despite repeated pleas for balance to my enthusiasm on this I've still never EVER found anyone who has tried it that doesn't find it both beneficial to them and students and NOT a drain on their workload. Also so far nobody who has tried it has told me they are stopping! (or maybe they've both stopped RAG123 and stopped talking to me too!)

If you don't know what I'm talking about with RAG123 then see my earlier posts here, here and here. And also this post from Mr Benney (@Benneypenyrheol), who is almost as enthusiastic about RAG123 as I am!

Without a doubt for me, moving from what I would have classed as "good" marking every 2-3 weeks with formative comments to daily RAG123 has improved my practice, AND reduced my overall marking & planning workload.

Fomative marking becomes formative planning
A really important aspect is that having seen the books after one lesson I can react in the next one. I change/tweak plans, I target questions, I provide extra support, I revisit topics, I go and have a chat with specific students.

The students know I am responding to what they did in the last lesson - they link my reponses in the next lesson to their actions in the last, and this also shapes their actions in the next.

I'm finding that I don't need to give a worked example and model it as part of marking - this can be done as a natural part of discussions in my next lesson, writing it while marking serves no extra benefit.

I also don't necessarily need to write specific questions in response in their books - so long as I react in the lesson content and they know what they should be doing next (but that doesn't always need to be written down while marking). Yes this brings with it some issues in terms of evidence of feedback when doing a book trawl, but come and talk to my classes - I challenge anyone to find a student that doesn't know what they need to do to improve.

So they know what to do to improve, how does RAG123 do that?
Is it possible that all students really need to DO to improve is "put enough effort in and try your best to achieve the learning objectives in each lesson" and perhaps "let your teacher know when you haven't understood something"?

If I write in a student's book "you need to improve your algebra skills" exactly how does it help them really? If they struggle with algebra then just telling them that they need to improve it is basically just stating the obvious and misses a vital element of how to improve.

If I correct some work and give a model answer without other explanations/support, etc then that could just be showing them how to solve that problem, not addressing the misconception that caused the original error.

However if I am shaping lesson tasks to help them with their algebra skills then really what they need to do to improve is to put in as much effort they can to the tasks that I am guiding them through. They know that so long as they are putting in plenty of effort and trying to do the tasks I am planning they will make progress, because the plans are based around what they have shown me they can do and therefore what they need next.

Therefore I believe the single most important bit of feedback in RAG123 is the effort grade (RAG for us, but others do it differently). That's the bit the student has direct control over. If they are trying hard then it's up to me to design tasks that maximise learning. However if they're not trying hard then the key step for improvement may well be just try harder first.

I do give them other pointers too, they do get written comments, but often they are very short, and backed up with verbal discussion.

Errors don't accumulate
The most significant thing for me with RAG123 is I can see clearly if a class, a group of students or an individual is working at the level I expect for them. If not I can do something about it. However with RAG123 I do something about it next lesson, not in 2 weeks when the misconception has compounded to make bigger errors, or when the student has completely forgotten the thought process that took them there. Really importantly it's before we move off a topic, so I can re-teach or revisit aspects before leaving them.

For example I could draw the following graph for understanding over time with "traditional" marking - by this I mean big detailed feedback done once every 2-3 weeks.

Before you say it, yes I know learning is non-linear, but lets think of this as a rhetorical picture!

The important part is that with traditional marking, corrections must be big if the student drifts from the intended understanding. I may be exaggerating a bit and it may well be that the traditional marking does close any gaps perfectly between intended and acquired understanding, but equally it may not fully close the gap, simply because it's not timely enough. It's also harder to then check again that the gap has closed - does that happen in the next 2-3 week cycle? That may be too late.

By contrast a RAG123 graph might look like this

Obviously I'm idealising - I like RAG123! But doesn't it make sense that lots of little corrections stand much better chance of getting back or staying on target than fewer bigger ones?

Will it work for any subject?
I honestly don't see why not. Most people I talk to about this respond initially with "well it might work for maths but we mark things differently." Actually I know people using it in science, RE, English, MFL - how much more different can you get?

If you think it might work then why not try it? If you think it won't work why not try it anyway - within a week you'll know your students better than ever!

Actually you don't even have to do it daily - every 2 lessons or every 3 lessons with self assessment every lesson would still be beneficial.

I should stop sounding quite so much like a salesman on this - and my next post will be on something other than RAG123 - I promise!!

However, seriously, if you don't like RAG123 please let me know - I'm keen to understand its limitations and put some balance to my sales pitch on this!

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