Feedback and marking in SEN

Here are some of my thoughts on the role of feedback and marking used for SEN students. These are my own thought and observations based on my experiences with students diagnosed with ASD and severe communication difficulties. Assessment of students working within the P-Levels can be tricky and progress over a short period of time, such as a lesson almost imperceptible. Not all progress is linear this is why we must celebrate those magic moments when a student has a breakthrough and attempts or achieves something for the first time.

Feedback assists students to recognise and celebrating their own and their classmates learning it should infuse an element of fun and encourage pride in their work. It also serves to instil a culture of high expectations and promote the next steps for learning. I think it is imperative that any feedback or marks given are for the learner not just to prove to an observer that you are doing it. The methods we use may be very subtle, a touch on the shoulder, a quick smile, or thumbs up. I have taught some students that find positive attention overwhelming and a cause of anxiety, this is where constructive feedback and concrete next steps can be used rather than praise. Some children find eye contact difficult to manage but a Makaton sign delivered at chest height is acceptable. Receiving feedback is often a skill that needs to be taught. As much as all students enjoy positive interactions it is the feeling of completing a task and being in an environment where they are valued that will provide the greatest benefit to their education.

To make marking and feedback relevant and meaningful its needs to be done during or immediately following the task for two reasons:

  1. Once the student has completed the task or activity they often consider it finished and attention shifts to the next activity, usually a motivator. You can build either visual or tangible self-assessment into the task or part of the worksheet.
  2. Student’s recall of information is limited so they may not link the marking with the task completed. We use repetition of tasks over a number of weeks to ensure the skills are embedded (and it is about skills, independence, etc).

First and foremost the teacher (and observer) must acknowledge the importance of the Students level of understanding. Often the receptive language skills of many students may appear greater, for example, they can read words and sentences but they can’t comprehend the meaning. Someone who does not know the student may assume written feedback would be effective and needed but this would not be the case.

This article originally appeared in the free April 2016 online UKEdMagazine – Click here to view.

Joe is Assistant Headteacher of a residential special school for autism and communication difficulties in Kent. He tweets at @jw_teach and blogs about SEN, technology and leadership

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