Developing conversation and therefore children’s understanding during verbal feedback

Action Research Area: Developing conversation and therefore children’s understanding during verbal feedback
Autumn 2017-Spring 2018
Researchers: Bethany Massey and Donna Harding (Hardwicke Parochial Primary Academy)
Context: EYFS (Mathematics) and Year 4 (Literacy)
Desired Outcomes: To use ‘NIKI’ (Now I Know It) time as a tool to give verbal feedback to a group of children. Therefore, allowing them to respond to the verbal feedback they are given and take ownership of their learning.

Following a staff meeting, which focussed on the results of a book scrutiny, we discovered that pupil polishing pens and verbal feedback were not being used as effectively as they could be. Children were not responding to comments given and often ‘purple polishing’ time was seen as an extra job rather than a tool to accelerate learning. We decided that there must be a simple way to address this and worked together to create the idea of ‘NIKI’ (Now I Know It) time which is used alongside valuable and constructive feedback with a small group of children.

What is NIKI time?
In Reception, NIKI time takes place after all groups have completed their focused maths activities. The children with the same mis-conceptions or areas for development meet with the character NIKI to address this. A mind map is produced with the children and their comments and developments are jotted down to show the learning that has taken place.

In Year 4, we spend the first 5 minutes of every session looking back over the teacher comments and responding to marking. It is during this time that the teacher will take a small group of children who all have the same target/next steps. The teacher will explain what they need to work on and children will spend the time editing their work to reflect upon their learning. They will then be able to write out the letters NIKI into their books and to explain what they now know and have learnt with an example.


EYFS – general observations (target tracker) of children after completing a focused activity. Is the teachers input evident in their play?
Year 4 – interviews of children regarding their opinion of how marking effects their learning and if verbal feedback helps them to improve their next piece of writing.


Children in Reception have become aware that the character NIKI is there to help them learn. Children have been observed saying they, “Want to do it like NIKI showed them” when choosing or competing tasks in the enhanced provision.
Learner A – struggled to touch count during a simple addition focused task. They were included in NIKI time that week which focused on touch counting the total. In the following focused task learner A was able to touch count the numicon to find the new total. In addition to this was able to complete a ‘must do job’ involving an addition machine, touch counting his answer.

In Year 4, it is obvious to see the progress of children’s learning when looking at their next piece of work. Children are able to reach their target immediately. For example, if children have been given verbal feedback on using commas after fronted adverbials and have then used a ‘NIKI’ to explain what they now understand, they are more likely to use the commas accurately in their next piece of work. The evidence is seen clearly when looking through pupils’ books.
Children in Year 4 commented on our new NIKI time by stating, “It helps me to understand what I need to do to help me get better with my writing.”
“I think if helps me to write out my NIKI because it makes sense to me.”


1. Pupils have benefitted from understanding their verbal feedback
2. Our time has been used well, benefitting the children and not adding un-necessary workload
3. Pupils are more involved with their learning and enjoy taking ownership and explaining what they can now do.

Examining the Effectiveness of Talk Partners and Peer Tutoring

Researcher: L Jones and C Sibert- Dursley C of E Primary Academy
Context: Year 5/6 and Y 3/4 Mathematics.
Desired Outcomes: Pupils to develop a level of competency in supporting peers with learning. Pupils to make progress in terms of reasoning and problem solving through talking about their learning and explaining it to someone else.


Method 1:
Conduct observations of cooperative pairs, making detailed notes about how they interact, the impact on attitude and learning.

Method 2:
Interview pupils and complete a questionnaire exploring the following questions.
1. What do you think makes a good peer tutor?
2. Do you prefer to get feedback from teachers or peers?- why?
3. How does tutoring a peer help you?

Method 3:
Set up cooperative learning exercises and have class discussions- this is to be video-recorded and analysed.

End of Action research evaluation:
Repeat interview and observations.


Through my initial observations, it became clear that although pupils enjoyed talk partners, the quality of talk was not apparent. Pupils often spent the least amount of time discussing the task and the majority talking about unrelated matters. Most pupils did not use correct maths language in their discussions, which led to very basic, vague responses resulting in confusion amongst peers. Pupils found it difficult to verbalise their thought process; they knew how to reach the answer but found it hard to convey this to someone else in a way they understood. Pupils did not feel compelled to use equipment or pictorial methods to support another pupil, believing this was ‘something we do in key stage one’. A key issue was the lack of resilience in a number of pupils which led them to give up when the challenge level surpassed what they believed to be their ‘level’ which made it hard for the talk partner to engage.

After the initial observations, I carried out a series of actions to prepare the children for group work.

We began discussions based on what was helpful and unhelpful when working in a group. Many children thought group work benefitted them in many ways, as they were able to encourage each other and support one another by sharing different approaches to complete tasks. However, there were several comments that showed a more negative outlook towards group work. They did not feel it was helpful when other children made comments such as “I’m better than you”, and that they felt under pressure to work within time constraints. They also commented that the working atmosphere was often too noisy and distracting which meant they could not work effectively as a team. Some children mentioned that members of the class would dominate group tasks and not accept ideas from the rest of the team, which led to arguments, and feelings of isolations amongst the group.

As a result of this discussion, we looked into an approach to developing cooperation within a group using the ‘broken circles’ activity adapted from ‘broken squares by Dr Alex Bavelas ( ). The purpose of the activity was to develop pupils’ sensitivity to the needs of others within a group. They needed some guidance and training in how to understand and respond other people’s needs as well as the need to work together effectively to achieve a shared goal. The task involved them working without speaking or gesticulating to create their own circles from the pieces they were given. This required them to be actively aware of each group member and what they needed or could provide for the group to be successful. Some groups of children found the task to be quite a challenge, especially in Y3/4, as they could not think beyond themselves and consider what other pupils needed. Others found it challenging not to dominate or lead the group through verbal or physical means. However, some groups were successful in completing full circles because of good non-verbal communication and proactively looking at every member’s pieces to find the missing link.

Pupils completed evaluations of the task that were analysed. The results were as follows:
• They needed good communication- not only speech, but also eye contact, patience, listening and awareness.
• They needed to be aware of the needs of other people in order to support them.
• They became aware that they couldn’t leave anyone behind, they needed to support every member of the group for the group to be successful.
• Learnt that effective groups shared the workload; Everyone was important in equal measure, no dominating.
After the cooperative learning activity, we modelled good talk partners to the children and classes discussed all the ways they could support their tutee in developing skills and understanding. We introduced ‘maths help desks’ which we actively encouraged them to use when acting as a peer tutor. We adopted the C3B4Me approach whereby pupils were encouraged to exercise autonomy in seeking support from the book, board and buddy before seeing the adult.

Pupils are now intuitively seeking support from their peer tutor without prompting, recognising the value of talking through their methods. Pupils are more equipped to accurately explain their thinking using a variety of tools such as place value counters, base 10 and pictorial representations which then support their peer’s understanding of the concept. Pupils are more enthusiastic about group work and because of this, their mindset has improved and motivation has increased. Pupils are making good progress in reasoning and problem solving as they are more practised in explaining their thinking to someone else.

Self-Assessment in Relation to WALT

Action Research Area: Self-assessment in relation to a WALT Autumn 2017-Spring 2018
Researcher: F Corbett (Winchcombe Abbey Primary)
Context: Year 2, all subject areas
Desired Outcomes: To analyse how pupils reflect upon their learning and how accurately they can do this at 6/7 years old. To provide pupils with the language skills and confidence needed to self-assess and reflect upon their learning accurately.


Method 1: General observations made of four pupils. Notes made about their ability to engage within a lesson, the way in which they verbalise their thoughts and then how they can summarise what they have learned and what their challenges were within a lesson or an activity.

Method 2: Dylan Williams’ suggested approach of ‘Student Reporter’ mixed with the strategy of ‘Secret Student’. Before a session begins, the teacher will pick a pupil at random. The name of this pupil will not be shared. At the end of the session, post-plenary, the name of the ‘Learning Reporter’ (termed within our context) will be shared and it is this pupil’s responsibility to share the intended learning outcome for the session (WALT), how they achieved it successfully or what challenged them and the certain area in which they need to practise further.


The aim of the observations was to see how the pupils currently engaged with their learning and how they responded to self-assessment style questions. I deliberately chose four pupils who I knew were currently finding it challenging to verbalise their self-assessment or found it difficult to make these assessments in the first place. During a Maths lesson, all four of these pupils found it difficult to verbalise how they had been successful in their learning and, when asked about moving forward, responded with comments such as ‘do more practising’ etc. The ambiguity and vagueness of their answers told me that we needed something to ensure these pupils were getting maximum opportunities to be responsible for their learning and verbalise their self-reflections.

Once the observations had been made, the research was begun by introducing the ‘Learning Reporter’ role and asking the pupils what they thought would make a good learning reporter. Nearly all pupils agreed that learning reporters should work “well with their learning partner” because team work helps us to learn. Many pupils explained that ‘good’ Learning Reporters would need to listen well during a lesson and contribute during whole class discussions. Some pupils suggested that Learning Reporters would need to have the confidence to tell the class what went well and what they would need to improve on to help further their learning. Straight away it emerged that the majority of my class already understood how one would be successful at evaluating their learning, it was just a matter of allowing the opportunities for the rehearsal of these conversations to happen.

Following this discussion, we came up with four key questions that would be asked of the Learning Reporter:

• What were we learning about today?
• What helped you to learn?
• What do you need more practise with?
• How did your learning partner get on today? (dependent upon activity)

It was made clear that the Learning Reporter had a responsibility to engage well during lessons and think carefully about what they were learning and what helped them to learn. Due to the Learning Reporter being chosen secretly, I noticed an increase in pupil engagement and contributions to discussions, as the pupils were aware that any one of them could be asked to evaluate their learning.

I have found that the Learning Reporter approach has provided many pupils with an opportunity to speak openly and honestly in front of the class about their strengths and areas of improvement, which ties well with the work we are continually doing upon ‘Growth Mindsets’. I was concerned that some pupils with higher abilities in some areas may respond to the ‘What do you need more practise with?’ questions with answers such as ‘nothing’. However, due to our work on ‘Growth Mindset’ all pupils were able to offer something they could further their learning with. The Learning Reporter responsibility gives pupils the vocabulary needed to answer self-assessment style questions.

I wanted to explore this strategy as a way in to providing my pupils with the opportunity to talk about their learning. In response to evaluative questions about self-assessment I so often heard my pupils say something along the lines of, ‘Yep, I can do this’ or, ‘I worked with my learning partner’ rather than being able to pin-point what it was they learned or the exact method or object that helped them to learn it. I am aware that age and language development have a large part to play in this but I am sure that the Learning Reporter strategy has already impacted upon this greatly. Now, many of my pupils are able to explain what they have learned/not learned yet and what helped them to learn. This explanation of learning and verbal self-assessment is key and I believe that the Learning Reporter strategy is a good starting block for the development of this – if only that it provides the time to allow for this self-assessment and reflection of learning to take place.

I am certain that my class have enjoyed this approach to learning as, on one busy occasion, I forgot to reveal the learning reporter and many pupils asked “When are you doing the Learning Reporter, Miss Corbett?” I also heard them say: “I hope I’m the learning reporter today”. The fact that the pupils are holding positive views about assessing and evaluating their learning gives me reassurance that this strategy has benefited the pupils far more than I initially thought it might.

1. Pupils enjoyed the responsibility that this strategy brings
2. The Learning Reporter ensures that pupils are given dedicated time to evaluate and reflect upon their learning and opportunities to practise the language needed for this (and to have it modelled to them)
3. Pupils are even more engaged within their learning because they may be asked to report on it at the end of a session

Developing Self and Peer Assessment

Action Research Area: Developing Self and Peer Assessment Autumn 2017-Spring 2018
Researcher: R Clargo (Winchcombe Abbey Primary)
Context: Year 5, English and general classroom practice
Desired Outcomes: To improve the quality of written and verbal feedback within Self and Peer Assessment

Rationale: Across our school there is much evidence of both peer and self-assessment; the children are used to looking at and responding to one another’s work. In response to our discussions and reading around Dylan Wiliam’s research, two areas touched a nerve with me: quality of assessment and pupil’s views about, and responses to feedback (i.e. the emotional versus the ‘thinking’ response). We are ready now to take this to the next level; to finely tune the quality of the feedback given to further promote learning, moving away from the tick-box type culture of assessment.

Area 1 – Quality of feedback and self-assessment

Evaluation 1:

Context: English lesson. Children had ‘peer-assessed’ a piece of writing, instructed to refer to the ‘Writing Toolkit’ and give their partner a ‘What Went Well (WWW) and an ‘Even Better If You (EBIY)

Samples of children’s real written feedback were collected and typed up. Children were asked to evaluate and sort the comments according to different criteria (e.g. kind/unkind; helpful/unhelpful, made me think/didn’t make me think; general/specific).

My own analysis showed that roughly 50% of the feedback was of general/unhelpful/generating a feeling kind of feedback).
It was also noted that when assessing using checklists, children ticked boxes (for example, ‘has a conclusion’) but were unable to demonstrate where it was in the text!


As part of the lesson and to date, we have looked at how we could improve feedback to make it more helpful for the learner- how could we generate thinking and reflection rather than feeling?


To date the quality of feedback in improving, demonstrating increased use of more focused feedback, relating specifically to the task. We will continue to develop this in English, and begin to look at developing peer feedback in maths, looking at how to move beyond simply marking each other’s work,

Evaluation 2

Context: English lesson. The use of WAGOLLs (What a Good One Looks Like- an exemplar piece of writing)

The class are used to using WAGOLLs as part of the unpicking of text type and genres; highlighting features of the text etc.
I was interested in further developing this to improve the use peer and self- assessment, by using not one but several WAGOLLs. I presented the class with 3 different, but high quality pieces of writing and charged them with ordering the pieces of writing. They would have justify their ordering, referring to evidence in the texts:


• The children really enjoyed this activity, seeing real work of ex-pupils
• The quality of discussion was high
• Children were observed picking out features of the text (‘they have a balanced arguments’; ‘the conclusion sums up the discussion’)
• They were able to justify their opinions, supporting it with evidence.
• They were not all in agreement about which was the best, which generated further high quality discussion

Conclusion: The activity had definite impact on the quality of writing; the use of different example gave children a deeper pool of ideas to draw on. I will continue to use this strategy when introducing new text types and hope to encourage staffing other classes to try it.

Area 2 Pupils’ views of feedback and responses to it

Context: General learning- discussion about types of feedback (teacher, peer and self-assessment)


I wanted to gain the views of children about the different types of feedback, so generated an online questionnaire for the children to complete anonymously, and add comments if they wished. The results are here to view, but broadly the children still seemed to favour teacher’s feedback, and feedback generated emotive responses.

Conclusion: I plan to repeat the questionnaire at the end of the year, with a view to seeing how/if after improving the quality of feedback (Area 1) this impacts on their views about feedback.

Different uses of secret student to engage pupils

Action Research Area: Different uses of secret student to engage pupils
Researchers: V.Turner and M.John (Primrose Hill C of E Academy)
Context: Years 5 and 6, all subject areas but with a particular focus on English and PE
Method 1: A new student is picked at random daily to be Secret Student. All teachers, supply teachers and TAs involved in their learning are aware of who they are, and observe their behaviours and attitudes throughout the day in accordance with the success criteria which the children were involved in creating. If the student is successful, the teacher reveals who it was and why they have been successful, with examples of criteria being met throughout the day and a sweet is put in the jar. If the student was not successful, the class is informed but the student remains anonymous. Once the jar is full, the sweets are shared around the class.
Method 2: During group work within specific lessons (PE and English), one secret student is chosen per group. The children are aware of this and observations are made as above, with the added criteria of good teamwork, compromise etc.
For most children, having secret student has made individuals aware of their own and other’s behaviour and attitudes to learning. At the end of each day, or lesson, the children are asked, had they been secret student, would they have been successful and why. This has encouraged self-reflection and they refer to the SPLAT criteria, giving examples of when these have been achieved. Sometimes, children are asked who they think might have been successful and why. This has not only developed their self and peer assessment skills but has deepened their understanding of what is needed to be successful in their learning, enabling them to reach their full potential.
We felt that it was essential to involve the children in developing the success criteria for secret student. This helped the children to fully understand what successful learning behaviour is and why it is important. Through discussion, the children decided upon the resulting SPLAT criteria:
• Seek help when needed
• Positive, persevering and proud
• Listen, and follow instructions
• Always do the best I can and be the best I can be
• Thoughtful, helpful and considerate

Overall, we have seen an improvement in engagement with learning and behaviour. The children seem to really care about the sweet in the jar at the end of the day (although the reward obviously could be something else that accumulates such as a marble in the jar) and give a round of applause to the successful student. Students have reported that they feel proud when they find out they have been successful. They are disappointed when they don’t get it . We have heard comments such as, “It must have been me because…” or “ I think it was …… because…” The most pleasing change has been hearing the children reflecting on their learning behaviour and the change in attitude of pupils whose behaviour needed improving.
Children are conscious that their behaviour is not just for their own benefit, but also how it affects their class or group. This has linked well with our core values of Trust, Respect and Friendship.
*We are pleased with the overall outcomes that the Secret Student enquiry has generated without incurring increased workload.
*We are happy with how the children have embraced the idea of Secret Student and how it has made them more aware of their learning.
/ We feel that Secret Student can be developed further and used in different ways to keep it exciting and fresh.

Pupil Evaluations of Teaching and Learning

Researcher: N Moss: Minchinhampton
Context: Year 5/6 French
Desired Outcomes: Feedback from pupils that leads to a cognitive rather than an emotional response in the teacher; that has a positive impact on the way teaching and learning is delivered.


Method 1: Informal discussion with pupils in lessons … ‘How do you feel about learning French this way?’…. ‘Is there any other way you would like to learn French?’

Method 2: ‘Two Stars and a Wish’ slip handed out to pupils who wanted to give an evaluation. Made clear to evaluation partners that evaluations had to be positive and build on strength (see feedback policy). Also the feedback would not be anonymous.

At both stages the feedback was constructive / instructive and led to changes in the way the French was being taught- in the first place towards more opportunities for conversational French- to culminate in a French day and in the second place towards the use of drama in French lessons. As a teacher it felt positive and also right that the pupils themselves were the ones defining how they learned.
The feedback worked especially well because careful parameters were laid down for the ‘evaluation partners’ (in line with the school’s new feedback policy) including the need for all feedback to be overwhelmingly positive in nature and where suggestions/ constructive criticism was to be offered, it was best if it built on an existing strength, rather than a flaw in the teaching. It was made clear to those doing the evaluation that they had a responsibility, as evaluation partners, to consider carefully the possible impact of their words on the person being evaluated; to ensure it led to some good thinking as opposed to anyone taking offence.
Typical feedback was carefully written and qualified. For example: ‘I like the way everyone is calm about French and if anyone lacks confidence they know no one will make fun of them…….I like the way we can work with different people and act it out and if neither of us knows how to say something, we can ask the teacher…..I think it would be great to turn our conversations/ acting into a film or a drama for younger pupils.’
There is no doubt in my mind that the pupils felt a little more empowered in their learning because someone had asked their opinion about how they would like to learn, especially when this has then been put into action- eg with the proposed French Day of conversation.

1. The anxiety over asking pupils about the teaching was allayed by the positive parameters within which the evaluation partners had to work.
2. The quality of the feedback was refreshingly fair and useful.
3. Asking the pupils their opinion felt right and seemed to empower the pupils.